SAVERNE, seat of the exiled Catholic prince-bishops of Strasbourg during the Reformation, commands the only easy route across the Vosges into Alsace, at a point where the hills are pinched to a narrow waist. It's a small and friendly town, not as pretty as some of its neighbours, but possessing the region's characteristic steep-pitched roofs and window boxes full of geraniums. It's also the best launch pad from which to explore the northern Vosges.
the town has a couple of sights worth visiting, not least the vast red sandstone Château des Rohan, on place de Gaulle, built in rather austere classical style by one of the Rohans who was prince-bishop at the time, and now housing the Musée Rohan (MarchJune & SeptNov daily except Tues 25pm; July & Aug daily except Tues 10amnoon & 26pm; DecMarch Sun only 25pm; €2.50) and hostel. A feature of the museum is the collection of local Resistance journalist Louise Weiss. The River Zorn and the MarneRhine canal both weave their way through the town, the latter framing the château's formal gardens in a graceful right-angle bend. Alongside the Château, the church of Notre-Dame-de-la-Nativité contains another finely carved pulpit by Hans Hammer. Horticultural distraction can be found in the town's famed rose garden, La Roseraie (JuneSept daily 9am7pm; tel 03.88.71.83.33; €2.30), to the west of the centre by the river, which boasts over four hundred varieties; and the botanical gardens 3km out of town off the N4 MetzNancy road (May, June & first two weeks Sept MonFri 9am5pm, Sun 26pm; July & Aug MonFri 9am5pm, Sat & Sun 27pm; €4).
There are several relatively easy walks around Saverne (the tourist office can give details), the most popular being the one to the ruined Château du Haut-Barr (2hr return). Follow rue du Haut-Barr southeast along the canal past the leafy suburban villas until you reach the woods, where a signboard indicates the various walks possible. Take the path marked "Haut-Barr" through woods of chestnut, beech and larch, and you'll see the castle standing dramatically on a narrow sandstone ridge, with fearsome drops on both sides and views across the wooded hills and eastward over the plain towards Strasbourg. Approaching by road you'll pass the reconstruction of a late 18th-century relay tower that was part of the optical telegraph link between Paris and Strasbourg until the middle of the 19th century; an audiovisual presentation inside explains the pioneering system invented by Claude Chappe in 1794 (July & Aug TuesSun noon6pm; €1.50).
If you're driving, you can easily get to the several beautiful small towns and villages around Saverne, in particular Bouxwiller, Neuwiller, Pfaffenhoffen and Ingwiller, from where an alternative road to Bitche leads through the densely wooded heart of the northern Vosges. A focus to your explorations could be the Château of Lichtenburg (March & Nov MonSat 14pm, Sun 10am7pm; April, May, Sept & Oct Mon 1.306pm, TuesSat 10amnoon & 1.304pm, Sun & hols 10am7pm; JuneAug Mon 1.306pm, TuesSat 10am6pm, Sun & hols 10am7pm; €2.50), dating back to the thirteenth century and much restored, situated just a short way outside Ingwiller.
Pages in section ‘Saverne’: Practicalities.