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Soultzeren, Alsace Event June 2009

Alsace is the most easterly region in France encapsulated between the Vosges Mountains and the River Rhine, which is France's border to Germany and Switzerland. Its capital, Strasbourg, is one of the locations for the European Parliament. Strasbourg has a population of 300,000, which is about a sixth of the entire region. The population balance is distributed largely in small rural communities, some relatively isolated in the mountains. Most people seem to speak French and German and in the more remote areas the local language "Alsatian" is also spoken. The region has an interesting history. The word Alsace is Germanic as it was historically part of the Holy Roman Empire until annexed by France in the 17th century. Germany took Alsace back in 1871 following the Franco-Prussian war but it again came under French control following the First World War. Germany temporarily occupied it again during the Second World War. Each change of control involved migration and settlement which has created a people not wholly French or German. Alsace is also an enclave of Protestantism in an otherwise Catholic France. From a visitors perspective is a country of contrasts. The Vosges mountains and their foothills with the ribbon of picturesque villages and small towns is largely rural, dependent upon farming (cheese and butter), tourism and skiing in the winter. The Rhine flood plain is naturally flat with slightly larger towns, some industry, lots of vineyards but still obviously benefitting from tourism.

The June event was an idea of bringing together the Twinning Associations connected to Mont Saint Aignan (MSA) with that group as the hub. In practise the only representatives to attend were French, German and English. The cost may have deterred the Poles and Rumanians. The English went as foot passengers to MSA and then to and from Alsace  in the French coach. The Germans drove to Soultzeren and joined the French coach for outings. The stay was at  "Les Fougères", Soultzeren; an Associations de Tourisme en France (VTF) holiday village. The deal was for full board, including guided tours.

On our Way to Soultzeren
The start for the English attendees was to reach MSA to join the French coach. We opted for a journey as foot passengers. In practise this meant other EDTA members driving us to Newhaven; then Transmanche Ferry to Dieppe where we were collected by MSA 'twinners'. Hosted by the French on the Saturday night, we departed by coach on Sunday from various pick-up points in MSA and were on our way by 09.10. After a number of stops for comfort breaks, coffee and lunch, we finally arrived at the chalet village at about 19:30 just in time for our evening meal. There was some admission admin and key allocation and we were done for the day.                                                                                                      Picture Gallery of "On our Way"

Our Accommodation
The Associations de Tourisme en France (VTF) was formed in 1956 as a means to give French families the opportunity to enjoy all inclusive holidays at a reasonable price. "Les Fougères", where we stayed, has 13 self catering apartments plus 26 rooms in chalets  with bar with terrace, lounge, dining room, entertainment room, games room, fitness centre with steam room and jacuzzi in a central building. "Les Fougères" is up the hill from Soultzeren, at an altitude of 750m, in the Vosges Mountains. Although not compulsory all the excursion tickets were inclusive and a guide was provided.                              Picture Gallery of "Accommodation"

Monday 8th - Cheese Farm , Munster and Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg
Monday was not the brightest of days. After a hearty breakfast the first excursion of the week was to Ferme Roess Daniel (Vente de Produits Fermiers), a local cheese farm.   After a couple of hours we drove on to Munster, one of the larger towns in the area. We returned to "Les Fougères" for a splendid lunch then set off in the afternoon for Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg. At this time I need to point out that at Lunch and Dinner there was unlimited quantities of libre wine so some of my recollections are not as sharp as they might be. The evening event was a group discussion of the EU election results; great fun.                 Picture Gallery of Monday Tours

Tuesday 9th - Strasbourg
Breakfast at 06:30 due to a very early start to Strasbourg. Our guided tour of the EU Parliament Building was booked for 09:30hrs but as with all cities traffic made us slightly late, however all found it an interesting and topical tour. Time for a tour of Strasbourg including the Cathedral and its splendid astronomical clock. . Lunch was at a restaurant that provided one of the local speciality dishes. The afternoon was mostly taken up with more walking and a waterbus tour of the waterways that divide Strasbourg. Back at Soultzeren we again enjoyed a very pleasant meal (more wine) followed by a quiz on the EU legislature. The UK team did not win any prizes.                                                                                           Picture Gallery of Strasbourg Tours

Wednesday 10th - Riquewihr and Colmar
Not so far today so time for a leisurely breakfast and then into the coach for a trip to Riquewihr; the 5th most visited village in France, and justifiably so. Visited brewery then meandered (yes that's the word) around the village. Back to Soultzeren for a spot of lunch before heading off to Colmar in the afternoon.  Following the evening meal we assembled in the resort Salle and heard Charles play a number guitar pieces which was followed by a disco. My John Travolta routines were much admired!
                                                                                                     Picture Gallery of Wednesday Tours

Thursday11th - Walking Day
This was effectively a free day which many intended to use for walking the mountains. Armed with her trusty map Marie-Line led us down to Soultzeren using the scenic route then back up for lunch. The intention of the afternoon walk was to find  the Green Lake (Barrage Du Lac Vert) at the top of the mountains. This long walk was made longer by losing our way more than once but we made it and successfully retraced our tracks to "Les Fougères", where we found the rest of the party snacking on the bretzels (Alsatian pretzels) they had made while we had been taking our strenuous walk.                                                             Picture Gallery of Thursday Walks

Friday12th - Turckheim, Katzenthal and Kaysersberg,
The morning was dedicated to a tour of Turckheim, a particularly pretty village. Lunch was a coach ride away at Katzenthal. The Caveau Bacchus was a restaurant that provided traditional Alsace dishes which provided an experience as well as an enormous meal. The afternoon tour was at Kayserberg, made famous as the birth place of Albert Schweitzer. We returned to Katzenthal to have a tour of a winery. This vineyard grew 8 different grapes types which they blended into no less than 22 different wines. Not everyone seemed to enjoy the tasting session as a lot of spitting was going on. However I enjoyed them all. Back at Soultzeren our after dinner entertainment was a traditional dance troupe with musicians who managed to drag a good number of protesting onlookers to successfully accompany them on the dance floor. The 'volunteers' acquitted themselves well!                                                                                                             Picture Gallery of Friday Tours

Homeward bound and Mont Saint Aignan Fireworks
Some sad goodbyes to new friends with promises to repeat these events in the years to come. Into the coach and off back to Mont Saint Aignan. We stopped for a picnic at one large service station plus other comfort breaks before arriving back in MSA by early evening to be kindly accommodated overnight again by our French hosts. On Sunday we had time to visit old friends before being ferried back to Dieppe for our onward journey home via Newhaven. With other 'twinners' waiting to take us home from Newhaven we completed a very enjoyable, if intense, break with friends in France. I will definitely be signing up for the next one, with Germany being the possible next venue in 2011.                                        Picture Gallery of Return and Fireworks


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