An Excursion into the World of the Vosges. (France)

A dream of freedom and infinity … France invites you to the Vosges! The routes through forests, fields and settlements can be tailored to suit your individual hiking plans.
One path stands out: in a charming way, the GR 5 offers the most impressive viewpoints, sunsets and villages. Its hidden lakes and magical trails let you almost forget how to spell the words “high-rise” and “television”.

Vogesen

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From the Train to the Mountain

Colmar is the popular starting point of various tours. The city is decorated with historic buildings and small cafes.
Insider tip: The family-run restaurant Hammerer.
In the morning, a train carries my boyfriend Jan and me within 40 minutes to our starting point, the village Metzeral. A small supermarket receives us with sweet peaches.
The hike begins with a few kilometers along a rural road. At a narrow wooden bridge, we come across the first signpost – to the left is the GR 5, a red square.
We are entering the realm of the Vosges. A hilly landscape (in no way inferior to a mountain range) waiting to be conquered. At the foot: mossy rocks, stony paths and trailsigns that cannot be overlooked.
A magical forest leads us to a tearing mountain stream – such clear water is rarely to be seen.
We continue to the Fischboedle. The lake – quiet and reverent, surrounded by hills densely covered with trees – proves to be an insider tip. A wooden pavilion with a view onto a waterfall invites you to linger. Here I decide that it is way too boring to follow the well-trodden trails as the rocky slope looks so much more adventurous.
I prove to be right. 1.5 hours of climbing at hail and rain, slipping again and again, thus collecting abrasions, and… we are richer in experience.
Driven by the onsetting darkness of thunderclouds, we hurry past abysses, cows, and fields. Soon we will find the original path and pass through the Lac de Schiessrothried and another 800 meters, Petit Hohneck (1,289 m).
We walk downwards, soaking wet from the rain and shivering. The sun setsa – hopefully we will soon find a refuge. What do the mountain goats think of us? They cross our path, stand a few meters before us on their hind legs, hurriedly disappearing in the green thicket of the trees. As if we are not there…
Finally, we find a refuge in the Frankenthal – closed, but with enough space to erect a tent outside, protected and dry.
 

Rocks, Gorges and the Lake

Woken up by a group of hiking boot-testers in front of our tent, we head out in the day as soon as possible. The sun appears, but the rain continues to dominate the weather.
Our current destination is Lac Blanc. For this purpose, the most demanding path of the Vosges is to be overcome: the Sentier des Roches. This fixed-rope route leads along the Krappenfels – the narrow surface is accompanied by views into distant valleys and hills.
Equipped with firm shoes, we climb over hill and creek, before a ladder leads us to a cleft in the rock. In the sunshine, the bluish-sparkling walls point the way. It feels like walking through a gateway as we walk on the other side of the rock.
A few moments later, we are standing in front of a wooden table in the midst of hills, with views over valleys and pine-tops. We do not let this opportunity pass – almost by impulse our provisions are spread out on the table.
The next stage leads to the Col de la Gorge. The mountain pass is a popular starting point for day trips and awaits us with ample parking facilities. Furthermore, there is a snack shop in the French style – expensive and sweet.
“Three hours” says the sign and points towards the ascent to Lac Blanc. The initially bright forest way is soon replaced by a path among bushes and shrubs – surrounded by an interplay of rock formations, flower meadows and mountain lakes. Moreover, the next panorama hill is not far away.
A long dirt road along the slope leads us past the small Lac Noir and finally to the Auberge du Blancrupt – a huge meadow in front of it, the Lac Blanc in its reach. If we would not have had a tent with us, the pricy lodging would be our only option.
After a warm-hearted conversation with the owner, we are allowed to claim our own space for the night: a piece of the meadow, some valuable route tips and a bottle of red wine.
 

Puddles are there for Drinking …

A day without coffee? Unimaginable to me. So, at this point – Thank you, Jan for your caffeine servings in the morning, regardless of mood and weather!
This is followed by a stunning start on the route of GR 5.
The sun is shining, a buzzard rises majestically above our heads. The path winds through the forest, past memorials and cemeteries of the First World War. Bunkers and a stony assembly hall are pointing towards a deceptively distant time…
Amiable lakes lead us to a large flower meadow. Welcome to the village Bonhomme! The only restaurant offers a sumptuous, delicious and convenient lunch menu. In the attached grocery store, the owner surprises us with Roquefort and goat’s cheese – the red wine in the backpack … a perfect supper.
Under the blazing midday sun, we follow several kilometers on a country road. Fortunately, a forest is to one of our sides and provides us with much appreciated shadows. The pitch of the trailwinds up and down. At the highest points, we pass along the remnants of small campfires set against enchanting views. At some of the level passages, we meet hikers taking breaks while grilling sausages at camp fires made from scratch.
Pale-red rays illuminate a cottage – the day’s goal has been reached.
A hill in a sea of fir trees, a prepared fire place, beneath us the inviting valley … But something is missing. We look around, run around, search – unsuccessful. There is no water here. Unfortunately, our containers are also empty.
A great puddle serves as a thirst quencher. Just fill up the filter, insert the purification drops and enjoy. Almost as beautiful as the wine and cheese in the sunset at the Pierre des trois Bans.
 

Of Tartes Flambées and Storks

Through the forest of the lonely hill, we arrive at the small village of Aubure. It is abandoned and melancholic with its many buildings for sale. At the bubbly water fountain, however, these sentiments cannot dampen our spirits.
In order to escape the upcoming storm, we decide for a faster alternative route, remote from the GR 5. After the exciting trails of the last few days, the road transports monotony and boringly stretches out for miles on end.
Tree by tree, to a distillery. Like a royal reception it opens the doors just for us and closes them again right after a private tour through the facilities. Jan does not seem to be as enthusiastic as I am – men, typical…
The last stretch to our present destination leads us back to the GR 5. Guided by high trees in an increasingly violent rain towards Ribeauvillé. Narrow streets, stork nests on the rooftops and an irresistible tarte flambée – a place touched by the late Renaissance.
The atmosphere and the storks, who are also proudly parading on the camping site, convince us to spend the night here.
 

Hot, Hot, Hot …

We start with the last leg early in the morning. Before the thermometer has risen to 35 degrees centigrade, we want to have travelled as many kilometers as possible.
We exit the village across the weekly farmer’s market and follow a forest trail from hill to hill. We pass old churches, fallen trees, abandoned vantage points and bridges along narrow river transitions.
Our feet carry us to the castle hill, on which the ruin Bilstein from the 13th century is located. There, we find only remnants of a wall from the old castle. However, the panoramic view is breathtaking.
At the Kaysersberg we cross the wine route – maybe our route next time around?
We descend to the valley, accompanied by the heat of midday sun, until we reach the Katzenthal. A small village surrounded by vineyards, which would have given us more pleasure if the weather was cooler.
After ten hours and several ascents and descents, we neither feel our feet nor any other body parts. Unfortunately, there are no buses going to Colmar on Saturdays. The only way to get there is via the motorway.
It feels like crawling half of the stretch by now. Somehow, we eventually reach the city limits of Ingersheim in one piece. Five kilometers left. At the traffic lights, a car is stopping, a glimmer of hope. The lady in the car was just about to turn into her carpark, when she and her daughter decide to make a detour for us, back to Colmar.
Thanks to Noura and Nourchade Sayari! You have saved us, made us smile and made us experience the fastest kilometers of our tour.
 

Summary:

The Vosges are a world of hills and experiences. Extensive highlands, in which it is worth to get lost.
The hikes are suitable for everyone, as duration and difficulty levels can be individually composed and revised at any time during the hike. Continuous markings point the way.
The GR 5 reigns supreme – leading through a remarkable part of the mountain range, he leaves behind a trace in your heart for quite a while. The prospects are unique. In our memory, the hardships we had to endure continue to fade away.
In addition, those who walk out of summer’s high season will soon enough have the feeling of being the only people on earth.