Click on highlighted text to view photos.Weather: Paris, France
Related stories and sitesFebruary 8, 1997
(CNN) -- Dozens of storybook cities and country villages line the fertile countryside along France's La Route du Vin, also known as the Wine Road. They all share the pride of the Alsatian wine country, but each holds its own treasures.
The Wine Road winds 75 miles through the Alsace region in the northeastern corner of the country. The region is about the size of the state of Rhode Island and lies parallel to the Rhine River, forming much of the Franco-German border.
The city of Colmar, which calls itself the capitol of the Route du Vin, boasts many jewels away from the region's vineyards. The tiny town's Unterlinden Museum, which is housed in a restored 13th century convent, is the second most visited art museum in France, after The Louvre in Paris.
Visitors flock to see the Unterlinden's display of the Isenheim Altarpiece, which was painted by Matthias Grunewald between 1512 and 1515. The magnificent work features religious scenes depicting the life of Christ and many of the saints. In the Middle Ages, many believed Grunewald's masterpiece had miraculous healing powers.
"The Isenheim Altarpiece ... is the most important example of art, of German art, from the beginning of the 16th century," said Colmar tour guide Mary Schmidt O'Hare. "The altarpiece is composed of various painted panels which theoretically open and close according to the religious festivities of the liturgical year."
The altarpiece is so large the museum divided it up into different sections to avoid continuously opening and closing the panels. Visitors are the direct beneficiaries because they can now walk around the front and back of each panel to gain a better perspective of the work.
After a visit to the Unterlinden, a stroll through the cobbled streets of Colmar awaits. Just a few blocks away from the museum is the aptly named Maison des Tetes, or House of Heads. It now houses a restaurant, but it's the multiple carvings of heads on its facade that entice tourists.
American travelers are often interested in a work of art by Auguste Bartholdi which sits atop the head-adorned building. Bartholdi was born in Colmar, but is internationally known for designing the Statue of Liberty, New York's famous beacon of freedom. His smaller Colmar statue is of a barrel-maker who, appropriately, holds a bottle of Alsace wine.
A few blocks away, canals and bridges form Colmar's picturesque La Petite Venice, or Little Venice. It's the half-timbered houses and quaint tourist trails, like those found in this tiny village, that add to the flavor of the wine road and draw visitors off the beaten path into storybook surroundings.
There's no right or wrong place to begin or end a trip on La Route du Vin, and there's no particular order once you're en route. As the saying goes: "It's not the destination that counts, it's the journey."Weather: Paris, France
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