If you’ve been following me for a while then this post should come as no surprise to you. One of the first things I do after any trip is to look through my photos and start organizing my thoughts regarding the travel experiences. It takes me a while actually to really come to some conclusions about what I liked and didn’t like but, more often than not, my initial impressions tend to remain very accurate. Those impressions are perhaps best seen through the Instagram posts I posted during the trip, which is why today I want to share those photos and stories with you all today. I have a lot to say regarding my time exploring the Upper Rhine Valley region of Europe and I think that this is a good place to start the storytelling.
I started my exploration of the Upper Rhine Valley region with a visit to Basel, Switzerland. Just a few miles from both France and Germany, the city is a curious mix of both but with its own flair of course. I started my day off doing what I always do in a new city, I climbed to the top of the tallest building I could find and in Basel that meant scaling the steps of the main church in town, Basel Münster. From there I enjoyed amazing views of the city itself as well as the Rhine River on which it sits. I also got an inkling of the vibrant and just plain fun city I discovered in the afternoon. I didn’t know what to expect from Basel, but I was surprised by the energy all around town. This is a place where people love life, and the feeling is definitely infectious.
Before leaving Switzerland I spent the entire morning exploring the rural landscapes close to Basel known simply as Basel-Country or Baselland. Famous for rolling hills, sweeping vistas, cute little villages and pastoral perfection, the hours flew by as I ventured deeper into the countryside. The highlight wasn’t a particular church, village or even a viewpoint, it was the simple act of driving itself. I love visiting new places that are so overwhelmingly beautiful I feel the need to keep stopping every few minutes to get out, take some photos and enjoy the moment. That was the case in Baselland and I could have spent the entire day doing just that. At this stop I may have annoyed the cows, but I wanted to share the sensation of what the drive is like, to impress upon you all what the act of exploring this region of Switzerland is all about. It’s also the longest I’ve ever spent in Switzerland and given these views, I’m now aching to return and see even more of this beautiful country.
Usually when I travel I tend to visit new cities and towns, but there are exceptions and Freiburg, Germany is one of those rare places I always love returning to. Known as Germany’s sunniest city, it also sits adjacent to the Black Forest, making it a fantastic home base from which to explore the region. Freiburg also has a massive student population and the energy throughout the city is amazing to experience. Hot and sunny was the order of the day, which is one reason why I found myself strolling along the city’s canals, forming a sort of Little Venice and even a small intra-city island. There are few things I enjoy more than sitting at an outdoor cafe with a friend, soaking up the warm sun and just enjoying the moment. That’s essentially what I did in Freiburg on this, my third visit, but somehow I think it’s the ideal why to experience this laid-back city.
I love southwest Germany for many different reasons, but the landscapes always manage to put a broad smile on my face. While I spent the morning in the Black Forest and the afternoon in super-posh Baden-Baden, it wasn’t until I drove out into the vineyards near my hotel when I had my “a-ha” moment. Driving through yet another impossibly picturesque village (they are all amazing) I saw this and just had to stop. Baden is one of Germany’s largest wine growing regions and yet it’s sadly largely unknown. While the vintages are amazing, even if you don’t drink there’s no doubt that with views like this one it’s a part of the world that’s not to be missed.
I have to confess, I knew almost nothing about the city of Karlsruhe, Germany before spending a few hours there but that lack of familiarity meant it was a blank slate – a wonderful opportunity to “meet” a new city. I quickly realized that it’s unlike most other cities I have visited in the region. Large and industrial, technology has almost always been important to Karlsruhe but, curiously enough, so has art and media. That’s why one of the first stops for me was a visit to one of the most unique museums in the world, the ZKM. It exists at the intersection of art and technology, showcasing cutting edge modern art and is actually really hard to explain. Experiencing it is best and for me the museum came to define Karlsruhe in large part. But there’s also a more traditional side to the city, which is why my last stop was at the large palace and surrounding grounds. If you know me, then you know I never pass up an opportunity to climb for panoramic views and luckily at the palace you can do just that. The city was designed in a hub and spoke grid, which is perfectly seen from the top of the palace tower. From there I quickly understood the layout of the city, and got an appreciation for the massive green space located right downtown. While my time in Karlsruhe was brief, it was a fantastic first introduction and I can’t wait to return some day and get to know it even better.
One aspect I loved of exploring the Upper Rhine Valley region is how easy it is to go from one country to another, including the final country on my trip – France. I’d been to Strasbourg before but it was wintertime and the weather wasn’t all that great. That’s why I was so excited to see this beautiful city in the bright sunshine. Since I had visited a couple of years ago, I decided to do a food tour all about Alsatian cuisine; a fun way to better understand the city and entire region really. Along the way I also enjoyed the many sights of the city, including this one. What many people might not expect to see in Strasbourg are the gorgeous waterways, especially the incredibly important River Ill. For centuries this was the city’s conduit to the rest of the world, a river that also brought it incredible wealth. That’s why today we can enjoy the massive cathedral, the old half-timbered homes and all of the other architectural marvels found around town. It also makes for a nice place to relax on what was a perfect summer’s afternoon.
I couldn’t imagine a better final stop on my road trip not only along the Alsatian Wine Route but also around the Upper Rhine Valley region than in the storybook town of Colmar. To be fair, Colmar is fairly well known for scenes like this one, an extremely well preserved old town that clearly reflects its ties to nearby Germany. Colorful half-timbered houses, canals where you least expect them and a history that goes back for centuries – these are all reasons enough to enjoy spending time in this remarkable city. The last time I was here was in the middle of winter and to see the colors come alive in the bright summer’s sun immediately seemed like to best way to experience Colmar. Parking my car, I spent hours visiting museums, enjoying the views and taking my time to get a better sense of the town. As usual though, my favorite moment was a simple one. Stopping at an outdoor cafe for a Nutella crepe and coffee, sitting there along the canal and watching everyone walk by to me seemed like the best way to understand Colmar. Regardless of what you do there though, if you’re in the region this is another one of those must-stop highlights in a part of Europe full of them.