I’m a planner. Always have been and probably always will be. But every once in a while, I’m reminded why planning trips down to the last minute means there are things I’ll miss out on because I didn’t find it in my research. One trip where I learned this lesson was during visit to Strasbourg. While there, I learned about this small town that was supposedly picturesque and a great example of ‘small town Alsace’. Train tickets were cheap as was a hotel room for the night – so I went! And that is how I discovered Wissembourg in northeastern France.
Wissembourg is near the border of France and Germany, about 60km north of Strasbourg. The train ride between the city and the town is a mix of rolling fields of wheat swaying in the sun and green green grass dotted with wildflowers. And every once in a while, the train stops at a village, each name more German than the last. Wissembourg itself is extremely historical and picturesque – you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re making your way into a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. It was so pretty and sweet, my teeth almost started to hurt.
The name of the town, Wissembourg, means “white castle”. Unfortunately, as far as I know, no traces are left to signify why it was called this as I certainly didn’t find any white castles while there. The town was founded in the 7th century with the establishment of a monastery. It wasn’t until the 13th century, however, that Wissembourg got its fortifications (walls and towers).
A visit to Wissembourg is primarily for the atmosphere and the architecture. As such, I recommend just wandering around all day and see what you can discover. Here are some things for which to look out:
Church of St. Peter and St. Paul
The bell tower of the Gothic church dates to the 11th century while the body of the church dates to the 13th century. It is richly adorned as is generally the norm in larger RC churches but I found it to be a bit dark and since flash photography wasn’t allowed, picture taking was not exactly the best. One pretty cool thing to see is the fresco of St. Christopher. It apparently is 11m long and as such, is the largest painting of a human figure on French territory.
You have to look carefully to find this chapel at the back of the above mentioned church. The chapel is the oldest part of the church still intact (consecrated in 1033) and is accessed through a courtyard. It isn’t always open but sometimes there are art exhibits within the chapel – if there is such an exhibit while you’re there, it increases your chances of finding it open for a visit!
Maison L’ami Fritz
This Renaissance-style home was built about 1550 as a tanner’s house. It got its current name from being the setting for a book and movie called L’ami Fritz. It’s a beautiful structure and whomever had it built, clearly he had a lot of money…
Built in the 1740s as the original burnt down in 1677. That’s all.
Stanisław Leszczyński was the King of Poland from 1704 to 1709. He was, however, exiled to Wissembourg from 1719 to 1725. But all wasn’t bad for him: his daughter, Maria, became queen consort of the French king, Louis XV. This building was where he lived during his Wissembourg stay (unfortunately for him, this wasn’t his last exile).
La Maison du Sel
This building was constructed in 1448. It started its life as a hospital but was eventually turned into a salt house. The size of this building gives an idea just how important (and expensive) salt was in medieval times. It sucks that one can’t go inside it but the crooked lines, giant roof, and many windows can still be admired from the outside.
Some of Wissembourg fortified walls are still around and you can walk on and along them – so strap on your walking shoes and go for a wander. There are some lovely views on the town and parts of the walls are surrounded by trees and parks so it can be rather green. Keep your eye out for the dry moat and for towers.
I found this place quite by accident but if you keep your eyes peeled for the sign, you too can find it. The sign announcing a picturesque view points to a narrow passageway that leads underneath a house called Schlupfgasse. Once through the passageway, there is a little bridge across a small stream. Stand in the middle of the bridge and you’ll be treated to a very pretty and postcard-type view. I can only imagine the romantic cheesiness that goes on here…
As I said, Wissembourg is all about the wander. There are so many 15th and 16th century homes with fantastically preserved timber frames and bright colours to be found. There are fragrant flowers, meandering canals, thatched roofs, and anything else that you could want in a medieval town, here in Wissembourg.
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You can now download this article on to your smartphone or tablet with the GPSmyCity app; for a small upgrade fee, you will be able to read it offline as well as get a city map with GPS directions! Pretty neat, eh