I am constantly talking about French history. Whether it’s on tour, over Zoom, or annoying my friends with ‘Laura’s fun facts about Paris’, I’m constantly telling stories about the history of France. And one of the many, many things I love about living in this country, is that most of the historical sites in these stories are just a train ride away. For example, earlier this year, I revisited the story of the Affair of the Diamond Necklace. I reacquainted myself with all of the major players, including Marie Antoinette, Jeanne de Valois, and the Cardinal de Rohan. I learned some new details, including lots of delicious court gossip. And I read about the extravagant castle that the Cardinal built for himself in Alsace. A castle whose price tag horrified his bookkeepers. A castle I immediately wanted to see in person. A quick check of the map later, and I was planning a trip to Saverne.
I arrived early one morning on a bright and sunny day. My first stop, as always, was the tourism information centre on the town’s main street. I asked for directions to the chateau, and was crestfallen to discover that due to COVID-19, the chateau was currently only open on weekends. And it was a Wednesday. I must have looked properly dejected, because the woman leapt to reassure me that there was plenty more to see. And she was right. Saverne is a beautiful town, home to many other sites of interest.
The town’s emblem is a unicorn, so my first stop was the Unicorn Fountain on Main Street. I then walked by the Maison Katz, the oldest house in Saverne. The building is an example of German Renaissance architecture, and it was at this point that I discovered that Saverne has changed changed between Germany and France several times in recent history. I then walked further into town and paid a visit to a 14th century cloister, followed by the Église Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité. They both were beautiful, but my favourite part was definitely the mural in the cloister that depicted a flying crucified Jesus shooting laser beams at the earth below him. Don’t believe me? I of course took a photo.
After a traditional Alsatian lunch, I took a taxi up into the hills to visit the ruins of the Chateau du Haut-Barr. The site offered stunning views of the surrounding countryside, including the distant spire of the Strasbourg Cathedral. I then decided to walk back into town, and was rewarded with a beautiful hiking trail that led me right to the centre of Saverne. The sun was still shining and the scenery was spectacular. It was a perfect end to a wonderful day.
But what about the castle that started it all? I may not have been able to go inside, but I absolutely walked around it several times and photographed it from every angle. The Chateau de Rohan is often referred to as the Versailles of Alsace, and it certainly was impressive. As I sat in the park in front, I thought about all the historical figures who had passed through its doors over the centuries. Kings, Cardinals, Emperors, the list goes on. And that’s why France will never stop amazing me. It doesn’t matter how big the city or how small the town. There will always be historical sites and fascinating stories to explore and discover. Even when the main attraction is unexpectedly closed, there will still be enough to see to fill your day. I know I certainly did in Saverne.
Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.