Alsace in bloom

August weekend in and around Marlenheim, porte du vignoble, France.


Psychedelic Strasbourg

On Friday night of our Alsace weekend, Christel’s mum took charge of the kids so we could venture into Strasbourg, thirty minutes east of Marlenheim. The city was celebrating the millenial of its iconic cathedral with a stunning sound and light show projected directly on the building. Some photos and footage below (transition at 1:00 captures a little of the magic), or see the full-length version online.

Alsatian spirits

As the Swedish summer ended, Christel Lagier invited us for a final taste of the season in her hometown Marlenheim, in France’s eastern border region of Alsace. Route des vins (wine trail)Christel, husband Andy, and their three children were joined on the trip from London by equally longtime friends James and Amanda, and their toddler Cerys.

We guests found generous accommodations with neighbors Doris and Vero. But most days Christel’s mother Rosemarie hosted the multi-generation circus, including Christel’s brother, sister, nieces, nephew, and extended family.

We celebrated several late-summer birthdays with a choucroute garnie feast that tested even the stronger stomachs. Paul Lagier’s tartes flambées (savory and sweet versions) were a gentler flamboyant treat.

Marlenheim marks the porte de la route des vins d’Alsace (gate to the Alsatian wine trail); our bedroom faced the sloping vineyards. Wine tasting at Charles Muller was a revelation in pinot gris.

We were even luckier to score a tour of the Hagmeyer eau de vie stills in Balbronn; sureau noir (elderberry) and poire Williams (Bartlett pear) were especially divine.

Thanks to the London bank holiday, we extended the weekend with a visit to Christel’s classmate Lisbeth at her family’s spa-hotel La Clairière, outside the medieval village La Petite-Pierre. We attended Andy and Christel’s wedding here in 2009, and the hotel—especially its elegant mineral baths and steam rooms—lived up to all our memories. This time we worked in a hike through the neighboring Loosthal forest, with views across the hazy valley.

It’s something special to feel at home so far away.

Walk in La Petite-Pierre

Loosthal forest, France

Biking les baux

After preparing (but before consuming) the mechoui, Philippe and Catherine rallied the troops for a 15-km bike through the Parc Naturel Régional des Alpilles to a vista point facing the medieval village Les Baux-de-Provence.

In their words, Les Baux is a magical place of wide vistas, chateaux, odd limestone formations, and strong winds; the team hoped to see if we can climb half as fast as we did at our wedding.

Francis also provided a voiture balais (fig truck + broom) to pick up tired riders and lead the cars who would like to drive up the mountain. But we made it to the top on our own, in time for champagne!

Le méchoui

Warning–meat photos below.

Monday at Les Figuières brough the méchoui, or Moroccan-style mutton roast. Per the Honoré-Jones:

Philippe’s parents have celebrated their special occasions like this and are cooking up some great surprises for us. Les Figuières go carnivore!

We will be preparing the mutton the day before and we will take turns from early morning until the beginning of the afternoon, slowly turning them over hot coals.

As promised, Francis Honoré demonstrated the preparation technique Sunday afternoon, with plenty of butter and bay leaves. After 5 hours roasting Monday, the product proved duly divine.

Les Figuières

Before beginning our sabbatical work in earnest, we were lucky to join Philippe and Catherine Honoré-Jones for their tin anniversary at Philippe’s family fig farm.

Graveson, near Avignon, was hot even for the season, but the sunny afternoons were perfect for fig-drying. Neighboring fields burst with apples, pears, and berries.

BlastophageThey were relatively inactive this time of year, and too small usually to see–but the mutualism between each fig cultivar and its own breed of blastophage (fig wasp) has a special bio-poetry. Solan Honoré-Jones is the real expert, but in his absence, this infographic tells a compelling story.