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Mountains and more mountains on the penultimate stage of the Tour de France Femmes but also lovely small towns with lots of flowers. And a castle.
Just after the start, the riders pass the magnificent Chateau de Haut-Koeningsbourg. The first castle was built here as a fortress overseeing the plains in the 12th century. The first mention of the fortress was in 1157 when it was named Koeningsburg, or royal castle in early German.
The fortification work accomplished over the 15th century did not suffice to keep the Swedish artillery at bay during the Thirty Years War (more about this on stage 8). The Hohkoenigsbourg defences were overrun. Besieged, pillaged then finally burnt to the ground in 1633, the castle was left abandoned for two hundred years.
Its ruins were classified as a historical monument in 1862. There were ambitious plans to restore it but funds were limited since this part of France changed between France and Germany often in the century to follow. The German Kaiser 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 match a medieval fortress, unlike, for example, Carcassonne which was more of a romantic interpretation of the past.
Many of today’s villages are on the list of Villes et Villages Fleuries. Ville Fleurie is the official quality label of the annual French National Competition for Flowery Towns and Villages. There is a sign attached to the place name sign when you enter a village with one to even four flowers.
The competition has grown in popularity over the past forty years. What was unthinkable in the 1970s is now a national event in France. People are enthusiastic about improving the green living environment of their village or city. Schools actively participate in this, especially in villages and small municipalities.
The jury report of start town Sélestat – 3 flowers – is as follows: The plant palette of flowering 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 this is only one third of it. It is serious business. One last quirky fact. Sélestat has the honour of the city in France where we find the first mention of the Christmas tree in 1521.
One last cheese sampling then for this year of Hors Course. We pass Munster at about 35 kilometres from the finish line. Munster is the name giver of a particularly smelly cheese. Think: open the fridge and then faint, that kind of smelly.
Around the year 660, monks belonging to the obedience of St. Benedict settled in the valley of Munster. They named their monastery after Saint Gregory: L’Abbaye de Saint-Grégoire de Munster. Its monks were perhaps the first manufacturers 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 did warn you.