Cycling through Alsace - Part 2
Leaving Breisach and going back into France...
After reaching Breisach and spending the night there, I decided to head back into France by crossing the Rhine and cycle to the historic city of Colmar. I had seen a lot about this city in guidebooks about Alsace and how pretty the ‘Centre Ville’ was, so it made sense to go being so near.
Normally I like to stick to the pre-prepared plan and had decided on continuing along the Rhine following the German segment of the Rhine Cycle Path, however as Colmar was only a 40 km cycle away along a named cycle route, I thought why not? I could go to the central square, get some breakfast from a nice bakery and then carry on down to Mulhouse from there. Easy!
Neuf-Brisach and circling Colmar...
Once I had finished taking the obligatory border crossing photo, I re-entered Alsace without ceremony and stopped off at the UNESCO World Heritage Site – Neuf-Brisach. A fort town built by the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV who is possibly better known in contemporary life as the main character in the excellent, yet erotic BBC/Canal Plus drama – Versailles.
The octagonal-shaped fortress was completed in 1699 to protect the French from the Roman Empire. Whilst being very well preserved, this is certainly a place that is better seen from the air to appreciate the size and distinct shape of the settlement.
I didn’t stay long in Neuf-Brisach and set off pedalling through some of the pretty villages of Alsace. I passed through numerous wheat fields, quiet rural roads and traffic-free cycle paths. The sun was shining and all was going well until I approached the outskirts of Colmar. I even saw a group of fellow riders on a cycling holiday riding the same bike as me!
The problems started when a ‘Direction Colmar’ sign was missing and I ended up on the main road. Not sure if I could cycle on this, I took a detour off the dual carriageway at the first opportunity and found myself near the pretty village of Eguisheim. After lapping the village a couple of times to find a quieter road route to the city centre, I finally reached Colmar around 11 am. I had spent an hour going round in circles all because of a missing sign!
Busy times in Colmar City Centre...
I arrived into Colmar with what seemed to be half of all of the American tourists in Europe taking photos, on guided tours and following the clipboards held by the reps of the major river cruise companies. This caused a slight issue as the city centre and the area around 'Little Venice' was so tightly packed with people that I struggled to wheel my bike through!
I was a tad disappointed by my detour and frustratingly added another 50 km to my day. I was even more annoyed when I discovered that the way out of Colmar was retracing my journey back along the same route, was directed onto the main road and I ended up back in Eguisheim - again!
I finally left Eguisheim deemed to be ‘one of the prettiest villages in France’ after meandering around for an hour and headed out into the lower foothills of the Alsace vineyards. There were dozens of wine-growing areas that followed the route of the cycle path down towards to Mulhouse all on the official cycle route.
Through the vineyards to Rouffach...
The cycle route ran parallel to the main road on minor rural roads and I stopped for a snack from my bag at the sleepy town of Rouffach. The architecture was very German in style with a rather grand church at the centre of the main square. Once again, all of the shops were shut in a typically French way despite riding on a weekday and just after 1 pm!
After leaving Rouffach, I decided to head across towards the Rhine and picked up the Rhone-Rhin Canal which at this point is no longer in use as a waterway, but instead is a long, straight cycle/walking route made up of rough gravel and shale.
Progress was slowed by the loose surface and was a complete contrast to my first day following the canal closer to Strasbourg, however, my call was correct as it stopped me from going dot-to-dot through various sleepy villages. I even found a small shop open and quickly demolished two cans of peach ice tea and a Mars bar because I was running really low on energy. It's a good job that I have inner reserves!
My hybrid bike performed admirably along the rough surface (and throughout the whole tour) and I stayed on the canal towpath for around 20 km to just outside Mulhouse before heading into the city via the uninspiring suburbs.
Into the 'Manchester of France' - Mulhouse...
My main reason for visiting Mulhouse was to go to the National Railway Museum of France and the Automobile Museum. Mulhouse is an industrial city with cotton and cars at the heart of the city’s history. In fact, Mulhouse is called ‘The Manchester of France’ and like another place I have visited with a similar title – Tampere in Finland was built on heavy manufacturing industry. Peugeot-Citroen have their main factory in Mulhouse and the city was a hub of cotton production in the 1800s.
As I arrived in the city, I was surprised to see a 100-metre tall skyscraper called the ‘Tour de l’Europe’ that dominates the skyline and looks like something that has landed from post-war Eastern Europe. This was a complete contrast to the neo-gothic cathedral less than 1km away. Mulhouse was rebuilt after extensive damage during World War II and most of the city is a mish-mash of architectural styles.
The town square is a lovely spot to get something to eat and I ate a lovely Alsace flan that was covered in goat’s cheese, olive oil and garlic. On the way back to the hotel, I noticed that there are a couple of housing estates on the edge of the city centre that seemed to attract a lot of dodgy looking youths; one of which became a bit aggressive outside the Carrefour supermarket.
Because of my detour to Colmar, I arrived into Mulhouse too late in the day for the museum visits which was disappointing, but I realised that the cycle tour was on too tight a schedule to go around local attractions. If I have had another day then I probably could have cycled shorter distances and made more time to explore the area in more detail.
In summary, day 2 was certainly more challenging than the first day of cycling from Strasbourg to Breisach and I saw many of the different sides of Alsace on this ride. The scenery is superb and riding through the vineyards was a quiet, tranquil experience. Colmar was lovely but was probably too busy to be fully appreciated on a hot summer's day. Mulhouse was a convenient place to stay over for the night before setting off for Basel for the final stage the next day.