The city of Strasbourg in France’s Alsace region offers quaint architecture in its La Petite France area, delicious salted-butter caramel crepes to be enjoyed under the shadow of the Notre Dame Cathedral, and an irresistible mélange of French and German cultures.
Wine lovers come to Strasbourg because it makes a good base for exploring the Alsace Wine Route; but Strasbourg has its very own wine tourist attraction that wine lovers (and history buffs) need to know about: the Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg.
The Historic Cave (or cellar) of the Strasbourg Hospital is at Place de l’Hôpital, which is south of the Notre Dame Cathedral and across the river. It’s walking distance from the key tourist sites of Strasbourg, but in the summer heat, you’ll be glad to descend the stairs and enter the cellar.
At the entrance of the cellar, there are crates of Alsatian wine for sale while further inside there is a small museum. This museum tells the story of how wine was used for centuries to help the sick with pain relief and to generally enhance morale (including the morale of the poor).
The caves have been there since 1395, and in addition to offering a vivid way to appreciate the role wine has played in history (and in medical history), the caves display a wine cask from 1472, which apparently contains the oldest wine preserved in a barrel in the world.
In French, the sign for Le Vin de 1472 explains that the wine from this legendary vintage is still perfectly clear and gold-yellow in colour. The sign also indicates that the wine is still drinkable, since it has an amazing (or ‘surprising’, I’m not sure) taste of straw. The wine was served at three historic events, the last being in 1944 to General Leclerc who liberated the city of Strasbourg.
The caves of the Strasbourg Hospital are worth the visit if you’re in the area.
Cover photo: Inside the historic caves at the Strasbourg Hospital