Off Course Stage 7: Villages Fleuries
Mountains and more mountains on the penultimate stage of the Women’s Tour de France, but also pretty little towns in bloom. And a castle.
Just after the start, the runners pass in front of the magnificent Château du Haut-Koeningsbourg. The first castle was built here as a fortress watching over the plains in the 12e century. The first mention of the fortress dates back to 1157 when it was named Koeningsburg, or royal castle in early German.
The fortification works carried out during the 15th century were not enough to keep the Swedish artillery at bay during the Thirty Years’ War (more on this in step 8). The defenses of Hohkoenigsbourg are exceeded. Besieged, looted and then finally burnt down in 1633, the castle was abandoned for two hundred years.
Its ruins were listed as a historic monument in 1862. There were ambitious plans to restore it but funds were limited as this part of France changed between France and Germany often over the century to follow. The German Emperor Wilhelm II saw it as a symbol of German greatness and just before the First World War, when the region was German, he had it restored. It was done by scientific precision to really correspond to a medieval fortress, unlike, for example, Carcassonne which was more of a romantic interpretation of the past.
Many villages today are on the list of Villes et Villages Fleuries. Ville Fleurie is the official quality label of the National Competition for Towns and Villages in Bloom. There is a sign attached to the place name when you enter a village with one to four flowers.
The competition has grown in popularity over the past forty years. What was unthinkable in the 1970s is today a national event in France. People are enthusiastic about improving the green living environment of their village or town. Schools participate actively, especially in villages and small towns.
The report of the Sélestat city departure jury – 3 flowers – is as follows: The flowering plant palette is diversified and the choice of plantations is relevant. Wefts of colors offer harmonious blends. The local government carries out particularly careful maintenance throughout the year. The presence of perennial and native plants increases each year in order to act for the preservation of natural resources.
And that’s only a third of it. This is serious business. One last unusual fact. Sélestat has the honor of the city of France where we find the first mention of the Christmas tree in 1521.
One last cheese tasting for this year of Hors Course. We pass Munster about 35 kilometers from the finish line. Munster is the giver of the name of a particularly smelly cheese. Think: open the fridge, then pass out, that kind of smelly.
Around the year 660, monks belonging to the obedience of Saint-Benoît settled in the valley of Munster. They named their monastery after Saint Gregory: The Abbey of Saint-Grégoire de Munster. Its monks were perhaps the first makers of this soft, round cheese, of which more than eight million kilos are produced each year. The name Munster comes from monasterium, the Latin word for monastery. The smell is as strong as its smell. I warned you.