A personal account from Péniche Alsacienne
Nestled in the Northeast of France, bordering Germany and Switzerland is the Alsace region, rich in history and culture showcasing the influence of both French and German traditions, architecture, cuisine and language. This area of France makes for the perfect pairing of relaxing canal journeys and fairy-tale castles settled between luscious forests and valleys.
My journey began at London Heathrow; while travelling in 2021 was somewhat different to before, the process from check-in to meeting our guide at the airport on arrival was smooth and efficient. Yes, our journey involved providing extra paperwork, but this did not distract from the excitement of travelling again.
Once we arrived at the airport, we met our guide/driver for the day and made our way to the picturesque town of Riquewihr nestled between mountains and vineyards. The village offers some of the most beautiful scenes in Alsace - a picture-perfect selection of shops and restaurants showcasing wonderful wines and foods from the local area. Towards the middle of the main street, you will find a little Christmas shop offering a slice of Christmas all year round with toy soldiers, trains and decorations; just imagine the street covered in snow at wintertime - the perfect postcard picture!
We departed Riquewihr and made our way to Strasbourg to board the Péniche Raymonde and meet our crew. Cruising on the Marne-Rhine Canal involves passing through a series of impressive locks, including the unique feature of engineering that is the Arzviller inclined plane, removing the need to pass through a ladder of 17 locks to reach your destination.
Our first day exploring the area of Alsace began with a visit to historic Strasbourg, a blended and entwined city of romantic backdrops, medieval buildings, narrow streets and alleys leading along the waterways running through the city. The city’s cathedral was our first visit, the original Romanesque crypt remains, and the impressive building is sorrowed in a Gothic style, with 142m spire towering above the neighbouring buildings. Inside, a must-see is the Renaissance astronomical clock, with a mechanism that dates back to 1842. We were lucky enough to admire the parade by the apostles at the time of our visit, which happens each day at half past noon. A short walk from the cathedral we boarded a small boat to take a guided tour around the Petite France district.
While the French are famous for their cuisine, and our barges offer the very best menus paired with perfect wines and delightful cheeses, one of the highlights on this tour was a visit to a local restaurant to taste an Alsatian speciality - the Tarte Flambée. We sat together in our group surrounded by local families and friends all enjoying this speciality dish.
An afternoon visit to Château du Haut Barr provided us with far-flung panoramic views of the Alsatian plains - you can truly understand why this is often called “The Eye of Alsace”. Perched on the hills of Saverne you can see from above The Black Forest and on a clear day the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral. Saverne has a mix of traditional buildings including the 14th-century Récollets Monastery and the Notre Dame Church with its 12th-century steeple, and modern shops and cafes serving local pastries - the perfect spot to watch the world go by.
The Réchicourt-le-Château lock opens up the network of canals to the lakes allowing cruising to our final stop - Sarrebourg, located below the Vosges Mountains. We visited the Chapel of Cordeliers to view the impressive stained glassed window; the Chapel itself dates to the 13th century. We made our way to the Museum of Sarrebourg, which houses many artefacts of local and cultural importance to the region.
Our tour concluded with a gala dinner on board Péniche Raymonde with all the crew.
I have been fortunate enough to experience many different journeys with Jules Verne, and when someone asks me if I have a favourite, I struggle to choose just one, however, I always share one of my favourite experiences of being on board one of our European barges; they are the perfect way to explore with likeminded travellers in an intimate setting, enjoying superb food and wine along the way.