Nestled between the Vosges Mountains and the famous Alsatian vineyards of France, lies a beautifully preserved romantic medieval renaissance village. Riquewihr is officially one of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (one of the most beautiful villages in France) and a stroll through the charming narrow 16th century cobblestone alleyways easily shows why. Colorful and delightfully crooked-half timbered houses are graced by small terraces filled with spirited people enjoying la bonne vie – the good life – traditional Alsatian dishes and local wines in the company of good friends.
This is a place which truly makes you feel as though you have stepped back in time.
What to do:
Riquewihr itself has been protected for over seven centuries by the Dolder Tower – which also happens to be the highest point in the village. Outside of the Tower’s walls are 16 neighboring towns and villages – 11 of which are wine-growing and contribute to the famous Alsace Wine Route which consists of 170km worth of wine trails running along the foot of the mountains.
Take some time to get lost in the enchantment of these traditional medieval and historical villages, their age-old traditions, and their charming cuisines.
Soak up the history of the region through a guided tour available via local tourist offices, or browse through one of the many interesting museums attributed to everything from wine to witches. Castle tours, horseback riding trips and wine cellar tours and tastings all offer the best of local tradition year-round.
Unique wildlife parks are surprisingly abundant. Hunawihr is home to a butterfly garden and a monkey park. A little further off the beaten path and you will find a park which works towards the preservation of white stalks and otters, specifically. For a unique eagle sanctuary, head to Kintzheim and enjoy a bird show within the walls of a ruined castle.
Summer time offers many light hiking trails and walks as well as bike routes for both mountain bikers and road cyclists. After a light summer hike, relax in one of the several open air or indoor swimming pools. For an extra dose of loisir, treat yourself to a little break in one of the many spa and wellness centers. If you are a lover of gardens, you may enjoy one of France’s first; the Schoppenwihr gardens complete with a reflecting pool, ponds and over 40 acres of serene gardens.
Wine lovers will feel right at home and there are many options to enjoy an abundance of different wine festivals offered throughout the summer and early autumn months.
And last but certainly not least, Christmas is a wonderful time to visit Riquewihr and the surrounding area for fairy-tale enchantment with small markets and ongoing traditional holiday events.
What to Eat:
The Alsatian kitchen is wholesome and rustic and presents the very best of two very different cuisines – the gastronomic richness and splendor of the French kitchen has been influenced by hearty and traditional German recipes. Farm-to-table and locally grown ingredients are popular and in a region which prides itself on locally grown wine, it may come as no surprise that many dishes are cooked in what else? Wine!
If your German or French is a little rusty, here’s a short list of my favorite regional dishes which I suggest you try!
- Foie Gras is a pate made of duck or goose liver. Most people either love it or leave it. But Foie Gras is one of the most famous culinary things to come from Alsace! If you are going to be adventurous then this is THE place to try Foie Gras.
- Tarte à l’oignon / Ziwelküeche is an Alsatian onion tart in a pâte brisée pastry often served with béchamel sauce
- Escargots à l’Alsacienne / Schnecke are snails cooked in regional white wine and butter with a host of wonderful spices and fresh herbs
- Sauerkraut / Sürkrüt is quite simply sauerkraut and is a popular side dish for hearty meals, usually served with pork and other meats. Unlike most German versions of Sauerkraut, the Alsatian kind is often fermented in white wine, beer or cider and may be seasoned with pepper or juniper berries
- Tarte flambée / Flammeküeche is often compared to pizza but this make a foodie cringe. A thin dry bread dough crust is topped with a layer of crème fraîche or regional white cheese and other toppings and then baked in a wood-fired oven. Most popular toppings are onions and lardon (bacon) but flammeküeche comes in a host of varieties
- Coq au Riesling / a Güller nooch Elsasser Art is the Alsatian twist to the famous French Coq au Vin, and it is hands down, one of my favorite Alsatian recipes whereby chicken is slowly braised in regional white wine, and complimented with bacon and onions. This is a perfect winter meal!
- Boudin / Bluetwurst is another regional specialty. Translation? Well. Two words: blood sausage.
- Fish is also popular in the Alsatian kitchen as there are a lot of streams and the catch is very fresh. Often the fish are stewed in Riesling or other local white wines, or served marinated in cream (Herring). Try your hand at Carpe Frite the Alsatian version of Fish n’ Chips!
- You’ll see the word Charcuterie everywhere. Traditionally it was the word for a pork-butcher’s shop but most Charcuterie’s today will also sell other meats and function more as a delicatessen. It is also the term used for meats and meat products you may find finished (such as sausages, platters, etc) to-go or in a restaurant.
What to Drink:
I do hope you like wine.
As a little bit of background: there are three Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC, or controlled designation of origin) wines in Alsace; one for white, rose and red varietals (Alsace AOC), Alsace Grand Cru AOC and Crémant d’Alsace AOC for sparkling wines.
To boot, there are more or less 7 main grape varieties in Alsace:
Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Gris, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir (being the only red varietal).
Other grape varieties such as Chasselas may still be spotted on labels across Alsatian cellars, however the annual harvest of such a wine is very small, especially in comparison to the 7 main varieties mentioned above.
The wines of the Ribeauvillé-Riquewihr region are known to be the best wines in Alsace, and this is mostly likely due to the unique microclimate which sees the least amount of rain in all of France, as well as being home to unrivaled soil types… and of course thousands of years of wine-making tradition!
Alsace is also home to some wonderful Brandies and the best way to discover these regional delicacies is to visit and taste-test for yourself!
Have you been? Tell us about your delicious adventures! Feel free to comment and share your experiences on this wonderful region… we can’t wait to return and discover more!