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Bird of Peace Alsace has had a long association with its storks, known as störig in Alsatian, with a folktale dating back to 817. Louis the Pious, Emperor of the Carolingian Empire, wanted to divide his land among his three sons. Unfortunately, he was persuaded by his second wife to gift the full entitlement to her son only, which caused the other two sons to wage war against their father. The peaceful storks saw the devastation and bloodshed that followed. And with blood staining their beaks and feet as they surveyed the land, decided to dip the tip of their wings in black and lose their voice in mourning. Storks have remained silent ever since. Conservation of the white stork Mute from birth, storks communicate by body language and clapping their beaks. A fact that I learned at the NaturOparC, a stork sanctuary and wildlife education centre in the village of Hunawihr. In the 1970s, due to human expansion and loss of habitat, the stork population in Alsace hovered between extinction and survival until less than ten breeding pairs were sighted throughout the region. In 1983, a stork reintroduction programme was begun. One of the first repopulation centres was established in Cernay, whose 30 stork couples are often seen flying around the town centre along the river looking for food. Today, the region of Alsace is home to more than 600 couples. NaturOparC was part of this successful program, and continues to provide a safe, open sanctuary to storks that come to nest in the treetops. Other than the storks undergoing medical treatment, the birds are free to come and go as they please, and the fact that so many stay is a sign that the environment is ideal for them. Strategically built ladders and walkways allowed me to approach some of the nests at a safe distance (for the storks) and view them up close. Watching the storks relaxing in their nests, sleeping, preening, clapping their beaks – perhaps a couple in argument over whose turn it was to look after the baby – was a fairy tale moment, truly captivating. The wine bringers No visit to Alsace is complete without going to a few wine cellars for some tasting. And it is also of no surprise, that the storks have a beak in the wine business too. “Oh, there are plenty of storks this year,” chuckled the bartender at the Bléger winery in Saint-Hippolyte, a town famous for Alsace’s only red wine, Pinot Noir. “When there are plenty of storks in spring, you know we are going to have a good harvest in autumn.” Not only do the storks symbolise fertility, the Alsatian consider the storks to be the bringer of luck and wealth, and for the many winemakers of the region, they also bring a year of good harvest, meaning more wine for everyone. You can visit NaturOparC in Hunawihr as part of the Inntravel self-guided walking itinerary in Alsace. For more information visit: inntravel.co.uk 66 | The Good Life France The Good Life France | 67
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