Leaving Gruyeres we continued on Swiss roads, making sure we registered on the Via app again so that we were road legal.
The route took us through the Jura mountains. The trees on the hills were dusted with a thin white layer of snow and every now and again we would find ourselves driving through snow flurries. Luckily a tunnel took us under the higher reaches of the mountains.
When planning we had considered whether to drive north through Germany or France. My mind was made up when I read the blog of Lydia and Keith’s recent Adventures in a Campervan describing the pretty towns of the Alsace. We would make this stage of the journey via the Alsace.
We looked at a couple of options and decided that we would aim for Eguisheim where there is a large aire at the back of the main car park. The car park had obviously been designed to work on a barrier system but it was not working for the aire or for the main car park. Instead it was pay and display. It wasn’t a cheap aire, so I priced up the local campsite as well, but the aire was cheaper by about a third so that was our minds made up.
The aire was very busy and there were plenty of high end motorhomes. As it filled up it got more and more difficult for large vehicles to get in. A lot of the new arrivals tried out different options, to-ing and fro-ing as they tried to work out the space they were most happy to manoeuvre into.
We spent our first afternoon wandering around the town snapping photos as we enjoyed the photogenic buildings, the shops and the cafes. The air was fragrant with the aroma of bagels, spiced cakes and the sweet scent of the wine the area is famous for. I was really tempted to join a wine tour, the white wines of the Alsace are up my street, not too dry with fruity and floral flavours. Maybe next time.
Storks of the Alsace
As well as being famous for wine, the area is also famous as a nesting place for Storks. In Gruyeres the town had been named after the bird, but here in Eguisheim we could actually see them. We saw them gliding over the vineyards from our motorhome window, and we could see their nests on the towers of the town. As we were walking around we only needed to look for groups of tourists looking up to the tops of buildings and we knew that we were in with a good chance of seeing storks on their nests.
It seems odd to think that only forty years ago they were nearly extinct in this area of France. A concerted effort was made to encourage the storks back and now there is a thriving population again. There is even a small sanctuary on the edge of Eguisheim town, one of many in the Alsace region.
The Three Castles of Eguisheim
From our parking spot we could see the forested hills to the west of Eguisheim, and silhouetted against the sky, on the top of those hills, we could see the outline of three towers.
We looked on google maps to find out what those towers might be, and then did a little further research to work out whether we could walk to the towers. We found out that the foothills of the Vosges mountains have many castles, from small ruins of fortified towns to large fortifications. There were several in walking distance of Eguisheim and so we set off the following morning with a vague plan to walk a circular route that would take in the three towers on the horizon.
The walk started by going through Eguisheim and then heading west through the vineyards, their ordered ranks of vines starting to leaf up. The lanes between the vineyards had verges of lush green ‘weeds’ and colourful spring flowers.
As we started to climb uphill the vineyards gave way to woodland and we found ourselves on forest tracks. There were a few other walkers and some cyclists too and we reached our first objective, the 13th century Chateau Hagueneck in the company of a few other people. This castle is little more than a ruined tower but the best thing about this was that we were able to climb to the top of the tower, initially using a steel staircase and then the original cramped stone spiral staircase. This gave us amazing views over the forest and out to the Alsace plains. We sat here taking in the view and drinking hot tea and coffee from our flasks, watching a pair of elderly gentlemen work out how to fly their drone. Descending entailed a small battle of politeness with the people trying to ascend.
Next we walked further south through the forest to the three castles. Actually three separate towers build at slightly different times. The middle tower, the Wahlenbourg, is the oldest from the 11th century. The Dagsbourg to the north and the Weckmund to the south were constructed in the 12th century. It was busier here as there is a car park quite close by and although the towers were obviously once open to the public they are now all cordoned off so you can only walk amongst the ruins of the surrounding courtyards.
From here we walked downhill to the village of Husseren-les-Chateaux which was eerily quiet in the way that French villages can be at lunch time. Then it was back through vineyards to the aire.
The walk really piqued our interest in the area and we would definitely be back for some cycling through the forests to visit some more castles as well as the pretty towns. And next time there will also be a wine tour.