Unique stops in Alsace, by Rich Paschall
On my past trips to Alsace, a region in northeast France, we have always found time to visit some of the interesting buildings and unique attractions the area has to offer. The most recent trip this year was no exception. As always, I stopped into ancient churches. I always marvel at how they built such structures without modern equipment. On the other hand, some of these buildings took hundreds of years to complete and have undergone frequent restorations. In one of the churches, we sought permission to go down to the crypt. A caretaker opened the gate and we visited someone who may have been important in a previous century.
Being in wine country meant we found our way to some wine cellars. With a local vineyard owner as my escort, I am certain to get to taste the wine producer’s product. Despite my many trips to the wine-producing region, we never seem to run out of winemakers to visit. After this year I can cross off a few more.
I was staying in the historic section of Selestat. Just walking around the area is a trip back in time. It was hard to lose track of time with church bells ringing throughout the day. Sainte Foy and Sainte Georges are literally one short block apart and can be heard throughout the old section of town.
Just a short walk from where I was staying was a museum I had passed on previous trips but never found time to stop in. It was expanded in 2018 with additional exhibits and videos and we definitely had to stop this time.
La Maison du Pain d’Alsace
Yes, it is the House of Bread. Of course, it is more than that. It seems the history of bread making and French bakeries go together. You can find out more about the bread-making process than you thought was possible. From the earliest times, people have been making bread. Here you can see the various utensils used over the centuries in the fine art of making something we all eat.
Located in a building that was the Bakers’ Corporation in 1522 are various levels of exhibits you can wander through at your own pace. The woman at the front door checked our health certificates and made sure we were wearing masks before allowing us to enter. A small fee sent us forward to learn about bread. There was an elevator if you did not care for the winding staircase that would lead you up to the next level.
This is not a short tour if you want to see all the exhibits and video presentations along the way. We stopped to watch a video on harvesting wheat and making bread. It was in French so I could not follow much of it. I did not care because it was a large museum and we had a chance to sit.
On the way out, you will of course have to go through the bakery where you will find up to 18 different types of bread and plenty of French pastries. I resisted all temptation on this stop since we would have plenty of opportunities to gather sweet treats elsewhere.
Le Palais du Pain d’Espices.
“What is better than a House of Bread?” you may ask. The Palace of Gingerbread, of course. Fortwenger has been making gingerbread creations in Alsace since 1768 and has six locations throughout the region. We went to the location in Gertwiller where the store is really a palace and museum. Due to its small house-like facade, we were surprised at the overall size of the store and museum.
Again we were greeted with a surprising array of interactive displays. A history of bread making was on display again, and we saw the many devices used throughout time to cut the spiced bread into various shapes.
As we walked through the various rooms, we found plenty of gingerbread men and gingerbread houses. In fact, we found a whole village populated by Santa and his ginger elves. It was a delightful tour that took us past the kitchen where bakers were hard at work. Since it was nearing the end of November when we visited, we noticed a lot of St. Nicholas gingerbread being prepared for the holiday. Other forms were being artfully decorated for the Fortwenger stores and outlets.
This time it was necessary to take some gingerbread with us. Aside from Christmas, it is a good treat, especially with coffee I think. In the Middles Ages, people believed that gingerbread would scare away demons. I can’t say I found any of the gingerbread men to be very scary, but if you think that works, go for it.