The French are lucky. They have such a beautiful country. Wherever I go there I am greatly impressed, and quite often the best places are those that I discover by accident. Except for Paris of course: can’t say that that was a surprise…
It happened again recently when I landed up in Vosges, a locality with the strange name of Xonrupt-Longemer, to be precise. I had never heard of the place, couldn’t even remember the name long after I had booked an Airbnb hut there, and after coming back I’m still unsure how I should pronounce it. In fact, I only learned of its existence thanks to the approximate nature of booking accommodation in a specific region through Airbnb. Our idea had been to spend the mid-autumn break in Alsace. I wrote the word in the appropriate search place on the Airbnb website, and a large number of house icons appeared on a map of the region and its surroundings. One of the nicer looking places at a better price was on the periphery. The reviews were good, so I booked there and then, still under the impression that we were going to Alsace.
Turned out it wasn’t Alsace at all, but Vosges, adjacent to it! However, as I said, if you’re looking for a nice place in France a good way to do it is to close your eyes and pick a random spot on the map.
Vosges is not exactly mountainous but quite hilly. They have lakes, forests, waterfalls, rocky viewpoints and many walking trails. Just what we needed.
And such good food. The humble lettuce is the main ingredient of one their best dishes: the Salade Vosgienne. A bit like Caesar’s salad, with added egg and bacon, but what makes it so special is the fact that, unlike most other regions where I’ve eaten lettuce, here it’s so crispy that you actually enjoy eating it and it’s even tasty – on one occasion also thanks to a dressing that tasted suspiciously like an alcoholic liqueur.
There are two main lakes and a smaller third one close to or within Xonrupt. One of them provides the second half of the full name Xonrupt-Longemer, and is called Lac de Longemer. Slightly bigger in neighbouring Gérardmer is the lake with the same name, Lac de Gérardmer, while at the opposite end going uphill is the more compact Lac de Retournemer, arguably the prettiest of the three lakes.
This was where we headed on our first full day in Xonrupt, starting at a deserted parking area at the edge of Lac de Longemer. The trail up through a forest was about 2 km long, with a little bridge and a waterfall close to our destination, the Lac de Retournemer. Bit by bit, a spectacular panorama opened up before our eyes…
After a short rest on a wet bench, we climbed further up towards the Cascade de Charlemagne – a grandiose name for a rather puny waterfall.
Coming back from the other side of the lake, feeling peckish, we were relieved to encounter an Auberge de Retournemer, with a wooden sign in front of the door inviting passers-by to taste L’Omelette de la Mère Clotilde between 12 noon and 2.30 p.m. An old lady served us absolutely the most delicious omelette I have ever had. It was the size of a pizza, soft at the top, with mushrooms, bacon and I know not what else. Typically, with a side dish of lettuce.
I may one day go back to Xonrupt-Longemer just to order another omelette.
That was just the first half day. It was the following day that I became acquainted with the Salade Vosgienne, seated at the terrace of the Brasserie les Rives du Lac, watching tourists stroll by on the promenade at the edge of Lac de Gérardmer. Even the weather was cooperating, global warming making itself obvious this calm, sunny and totally pleasant early November.
One out of the five days wasn’t sunny, but this didn’t hold us back from trekking up to the Saut de la Bourrique waterfall. Going up, the path becomes rough… for a while it seemed like the set for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s film Predator. I half expected a semi-invisible mirror monster to jump out from behind a tree and strike me down.
No, not really.
After another memorable lunch, we drove up to the Tour de Merelle – a large wooden structure high above the Lac de Gérardmer, offering a magnificent panorama of the entire lake. It was COLD up there!
And so it went on, from one beauty spot to the next.
Driving back home, we took a detour for a quick peek at where we had intended to visit in the first place: Alsace. We went to Kaysersberg, and quickly discovered that we’ll have to return to explore this region properly. My trigger happy fingers (ask Gianluca…) couldn’t stay away from the phone camera.
And who knows, while there I could hop over again to the Auberge de Retournemer in Xonrupt-Longemer for another Omelette de la Mère Clotilde…