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Oak

Gazeteer of France’s great oak woods – Haguenau, a forest sacred and undivided

25 June 2019

The forest of Haguenau in the Bas-Rhin extends north of Strasbourg over 13,400 hectares (33,100 acres). This magnificent expanse of forest is famous for the quality of its oak, but also for its Scots pine.

Published in October 2018, the book The oak in majesty, from forest to wine highlights the concept of forest terroir: a specific soil, aspect, and rainfall, as well as a particular exposure to sunlight, to which should be added the species or variety of tree, the density of plantation, as well as average age, all of which will influence the grain and quality of the wood. The value of a mature high forest will thus depend on both the terroir and in the way in which it has been “led,” as French winegrowers say, or managed, in the words of the forester.

The book, fully illustrated with photographies, compile, through a gazeteer with a lot of details about geography, mesoclimate and history, a list of twenty-six beautiful oak wood forests, as the forest of Haguenau.

 

The forest of Haguenau in the Bas-Rhin extends north of Strasbourg over 13,400 hectares (33,100 acres). This magnificent expanse of forest is famous for the quality of its oak, but also for its Scots pine. Tall and slim in form, the pines of Haguenau cover 34% of the surface area, on an equal footing with sessile and common oak. The diameter of the oak trunks can sometimes exceed a meter and the ONF has listed 800 of these venerable trees. On the alluvial plain of the Rhine they find their terroir of predilection, on sandy and argillaceous alluvions deposited by three rivers, the Sauer, the Moder, and the Eberbach. Both municipal and national, this continental type forest benefits from an original status, since it belongs jointly to the city of Haguenau and to the state. After a conflict lasting several centuries between the population of Haguenau and the monarchy, Louis XIV decided to grant these trees dual possession status in 1696.

For Claude Sturni, member of parliament and mayor of Haguenau, “the forest is part of the city’s history and is in its DNA.” This stretch of forest is therefore managed jointly with the ONF’s territorial delegate, Jean-Pierre Renaud, who, acting with the mayor, has begun the procedure to obtain the ONF’s coveted “exceptional forest” label.

Now classified as a special protection zone within the framework of Natura 2000, in the Middle Ages this “holy forest” attracted numerous hermits and it hard to count all the convents and churches within it. In the 7th century one such recluse, Arbogast, even became Archbishop of Strasbourg. One great oak, of which only the stump remains, is the destination of a yearly pilgrimage on the last Sunday in July. Bronze and Iron Age tumuli and burial mounds testify to the mystic nature of this forest of somewhat Scandinavian appearance. The inhabitants of Haguenau (pronounced Hawenau in the Alsatian dialect) sometimes meet at a Stammtisch, a convivial round table at which anyone can raise questions concerning their forest… and propose solutions.

Haguenau, whose name comes from the German Haag, meaning “kindling”, is situated at an altitude of about 150 m (c. 500 feet). It shelters many game animals and is rich in vegetation (wood anemone, yellow iris…), as well as many proto-historic vestiges over more than 1,000 hectares (2,470 acres), together with sites where clay was extracted by the potters of Soufflenheim and Betschdorf. There are even oil wells in its northern sector that locals call the Outre-Forêt. Yet it is the pines and the oaks that remain the green gold of these woods.

 

Find out the entire gazeteer of France’s great oak woods, and much more, in The oak in majesty, from forest to wine written by Sylvain Charlois and Thierry Dussard.

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