Obernai, all of Alsace in a single village – Meanderings through France n° 188
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
At only 25 km south of Strasbourg on the “Alsace wine road” Obernai is a concentrate of the Alsatian soul. With strong cultural, architectural and gastronomic traditions this small town typifies everything we are looking for in this attractive French region. You will get here driving through vineyards, hop gardens and fields of cabbages, the three iconic Alsatian cultivations, giving you hope for good wine, fresh beer and tasty sauerkraut!
Obernai, a charming little town and an absolute must see
Bright geraniums cascading down from every window, colourful tile roofs, timber-framed houses, you undoubtedly are in Alsace. Way back in Middle-Ages Obernai was entirely surrounded by high ramparts with no less than 38 towers and 12 doors. Today most of these walls are gone but you can still enter into the city through a monumental door and get to narrow streets lined with shops filled with typical Alsatian products. But before filling your bags with kouglofs, nougats or ginger bread, red and yellow potteries, goose or duck foie gras and of course local wines, beers and even Alsatian whisky or gin, go to the beautiful marketplace where most of the historical monuments are.
This square is like an outdoor architectural museum with its beautiful Renaissance city hall, its kappelturm, the 60-metre high belfry with a typical pointed roof surrounded by a sculpted neo-gothic balustrade, its ancient wheat hall ornate with two big bull’s heads, its 16th century hexagonal well… and many other typically Alsatian buildings and houses. With all these perfectly preserved monuments it comes as no surprise that Obernai is the second most visited town in Alsace after Strasbourg. If by chance you visit Obernai on a Thursday morning you will be able to discover its 700 years old market. Close to 200 different stalls welcome customers coming from the whole area to find a wide range of local products.
All summer long Obernai’s people and tourists meets on the market place for festive events. Every Wednesday’s night throughout July and August it’s time for folklore evenings. “Folklore et Tartines Obernoises” is a successful mix of music, dance and food. Tartines are large slices of bread covered with all kinds of Alsatian specialities such as raw ham, salami, foie gras, saveloy and vegetables. A tartine in one hand, a glass of chilled white wine in the other you will be able to dance to the music of live bands. On Saturday nights free unfussy live concerts welcome all party lovers ready for fun.
Mont Sainte-Odile, a unique pilgrimage site
It is said that Saint Odile patron saint of Alsace was born in Obernai circa 662. She was the daughter of Aldaric Duke of Alsace who was hoping for a boy. The born blind girl was banished to Burgundy and miraculously recovered sight when she was baptized at the age of 12. Defying the ban she came back to her parents’ home with the help of her brother Hugues. Mad with rage her father mortally wounded his son. Stricken with remorse he then welcomed Odile back home. Willing to devote her life to God Odile fled the country once again when Aldaric planed her marriage against her will. He chased her through the Black Forest but when he saw a rock open to give her shelter he finally understood what her destiny was. He then gave her Hohenbourg Castle on top of a hill now called Mont Sainte-Odile.
Odile turned the castle into a convent and 1,300 years later we can still visit this holy place. Every year over one million pilgrims and tourists go to Mont Sainte-Odile to pray, share and celebrate or simply discover a fantastic site. From the convent’s terrace you’ll get an amazing view over the plain of Alsace and its vast vineyards and in clear weather you will also be able to see the Black Forest, Strasbourg and the Vosges Mountains. In a serene atmosphere you will visit the basilica, the cloister and several chapels. In one of them, the Sainte Odile Chapel, you will see Odile’s sarcophagus made in the 8th century. Several restaurants and an 80-room hotel welcome pilgrims and tourists. More at www.mont-sainte-odile.com
“Le Parc Hotel” in Obernai, much more than a hotel
Since 1954 “Le Parc Hotel” has been a family business for three generations, each one succeeding to make it better. Maxime Wucher will warmly welcome you in this comfortable and cosy 4-star hotel and its gastronomic restaurant that attracts local regular customers who obviously know what good cuisine is about as well, as an international clientele. The hotel is only a 20-minute drive from Strasbourg airport and is a perfect starting point to explore the Alsace wine road with its unique wines and pretty villages.
Mixing traditional Alsatian and modern decorations the hotel satisfies everybody’s expectation. You can thus choose a vast modern style room with a fireplace or a cosy and warm traditional one. Set in a quiet area of Obernai you will enjoy quiet and restful nights. The two restaurants of the hotel is something that is not to be missed!
The “Stub” is a traditional Alsatian restaurant. Its elegant wood panelling made with wood coming from old local farms and an impressive tiled stove give it a warm atmosphere. The menu proposes an authentic Alsatian cuisine with a touch of modernity. “Granny’s style herring tartare”, “Stuffed pig’ s trotter”, “Pike quenelles”… A great place to discover the richness and variety of this cuisine, hearty but delicious!
Simply called “Le Parc” the hotel gastronomic restaurant is both sophisticated and unpretentious. The decoration is simple and elegant, the service is impeccable and the food is simply delicious! Marie Wucher, daughter of the house and third generation, and her husband Cyril Bonnard are back in Alsace after working in high-class international restaurants (Alleno, Robuchon, Ducasse, Gagnaire, Gordon Ramsay…). They make a contemporary and inventive cuisine that will surprise and delight you. Veal gravlax with truffles, sea bream with sauerkraut, escargots and beurre blanc sauce, poultry in pastry crust with tarragon and horseradish… are a few examples of this imaginative cuisine.
Marie makes mouth-watering desserts that you will remember! Her re-visit of the “Foret Noire” a famous chocolate cake made in Alsace and Germany, simply is unforgettable. But you will also love her “Almond calisson with melon sorbet” or her “Chocolate shortbread with coconut sorbet”. The wine list is full of good surprises with a wide range of wines from Alsace and from vineyards from other French regions and from abroad, all of them at reasonable prices.
Every Sunday the “Le Parc Hotel” proposes a buffet brunch for which local customers reserve well in advance! If you plan to enjoy the huge Sunday buffet make sure to book your table in due time! Whether you have a room at the hotel or not you can book the hotel special package including the Sunday brunch plus an afternoon at the hotel’s spa next to the beautiful indoor pool decorated with Asian antiques. A new huge spa is under construction in the hotel’s garden and should open by the end of the year.
The hotel also has a bar with a big fireplace and an outdoor terrace as well as a smoking room with deep chairs and a wide choice of rare alcohol and liqueurs. “Le Parc Hotel” will undoubtedly make your stay in Obernai a memorable one. www.hotel-du-parc.com/fr/hotel-spa-alsace
Text ©Annick Dournes
Photos ©Frederic de Poligny & Annick Dournes & O.T.