Vosges - Un peu différent
Text: Rüdiger Becker, Photos: Rüdiger Becker & Dominique Polk
A bit different can be a lot and sometimes much more than one would think. When you let the familiar surroundings behind you and open your eyes, you often learn really quickly that a bit more of the new means much less of the old. Definitely a play on words – but anyway suitable to draw the reader’s curiosity to my story. Because every motorcycle traveler wishes their chosen destination to be a bit different, wants to experience contrasts and to sense other appeals than the ones of the very well known environment they call home.
The force powering our spontaneous weekend trip came essentially from two ingredients: the desire for new motorcycle routes and the longing for a bit of holiday. We soon felt the effect of this shaken and mixed cocktail when we intuitively chose our destination: France instead of Germany, the Vosges instead of the Black Forest. We should find there enough new motorcycle routes and everything should be a bit different…
We load the bikes in a practiced manner and roll with relish out of the garage. Less than forty-five minutes later, we are chugging in Iffezheim over the Rhine and therefore over the German-French border too. Even if I grew up near to the frontier, it is every time something special for me to reach in such a short time the national territory of our neighbors and friends. And there it is again – after only two, three kilometers on the French grounds – this well-known and yet always tingly feeling of distance and liberty, of pioneer spirit and adventure. Sometimes in life, you only need few things to get to the inner satisfaction.
With a turn on the accelerator handlebar, I blow any negative thought away. Now, I’m only focusing on the countryside that is flying by. We’re already cruising through the Northern Vosges Regional Natural Park. I feast my eyes on the extensive hilly countryside. And I can’t help but think about my pun of the beginning: that’s right, here, everything is a bit different than in my home territory, the Black Forest. The scenery is a bit more lonely, the villages are a bit more cosy, the cars a bit more dented, the bikers’ clothes a bit less secure, their greetings a bit more friendly, the wine bars a bit more stylish, the smell from the numerous restaurants a bit tastier and the bread at the baker’s a bit whiter. Ah, I love France.
At Phalsbourg, we continue our way to the south. We want to get to the alpine heart of the eastern French low mountain range. We gain our first elevation meters at the peak of the Donon and immediately lose them when we ride downwards to the picturesque valley of the Bruche. Along the silver valley and always following the Lièpvrette, we reach Ribeauvillé while the sun is low in the sky. This small city of the department Haut-Rhin is a pure jewel. Sat at the feet of the cliff castle Château de Saint-Ulrich and framed by an extensive vine countryside, Ribeauvillé turns its visitors’ head with colorful half-timbered houses along small serpentine alleys and with wine bars in which the noble and famous nectars of the Alsatian wine-growing areas can be savored.
As much as the local wines, the D 415 stretching out before us knows how to turn one’s head with its asphalt of the highest quality catapulting us up to 949 m to the Col du Bonhomme. Then, we move leisurely on to the D 61. We stroll at a tranquil pace in the cold altitude air on the Route des Crêtes, the route of the peaks of the Vosges, through the Ballons des Vosges Nature Park. When piloting a bike, such moments have nearly a meditative character: the light vibrations of the single-cylinder engine, the whistle of the wind in the ears, the eyes feasting on the wonderful nature. There is nothing else here. No appointment, no constraint, no everyday routine.
Like mountaineers, we climb meter after meter. At the Col de la Schlucht, a well-known place at which every single cycling fan must stop one day or another, we allow ourselves a breather to take photos. In 2014 for the last time, the best climbers of the world fought here for the honor to win one of the stages in the Tour de France.
We are accompanied in the air on our way to the Treh, near Le Markstein. A few pilots are circling cheerfully under snow-white cumuli showing the thermal upcurrents. The colorful hang-gliders on the endless sky look like spots of paint on an abstract work.
But we don’t have much time to gape in amazement. Another highlight seeks our attention: at our right-hand side, deep under in the valley, the Lac de Kruth-Wildenstein stretches out. Its deep blue creates an attractive contrast with the lush green of the mountain pastures. We slide with relish on the winding route down to the valley.
We scout the south Vosges in an extended loop. After Saint-Maurice-sur-Moselle, on the upper course of the Moselle, the countryside becomes deserted and lonely. Sewen, Dolleren, Oberbruck: we admire the isolation and the idyll of a few villages, can’t feast our eyes enough at the extensive scenery with its deep forests, its sun-yellow fields and its pastures glowing in the distance. Once again, we ride like in a trance. To our great joy, there is here almost no traffic.
On the next morning, we go to a small, smart bakery in Thann to buy ourselves enough to breakfast in the mountains. A baguette goes to our cases. For the dessert, we choose an éclair, an oblong pastry made with choux dough, filled with cream and strawberries and topped with icing. We switch the motors on, wind our way through the rush-hour traffic out of the city and head for our breakfast place that we are already able to see in the distance: the Grand Ballon, which is with its 1,424 meters height the highest point of the Vosges. The road surface allow us to ride with a sportive inclined position, and so, we use our ascent on two wheels to burn already now some of the upcoming high calorific breakfast.
A bit below the peak, we find our perfect place. We prop our bikes, get down from them and eat our morning meal on a nearby mountain pasture. The French art of baking pleases our palates while the panorama pleases our eyes. We look at distant places to the east, let our gaze wander through the striking west foothills of the middle and the south of the Black Forest and can even look at the mighty giants of the alpine chain.
I smile to myself when I realize that a bit of a voyage is much more than just being a bit at another place. Because en route, everything is un peu différent…