Thursday, September 4, 2008

Riquewihr, Alsace

The hike from Ribeauville to Riquewihr takes you through vineyards and the forest, following the rolling hills. It took me about 1.5 hours at a moderate pace and was a good way to work off the Tarte Flambe and beer. (Did I mention that Alsatian beer is the best in France? Probably the combination of German and French cultures.)

The trail enters Riquewihr at the 'top' of the village (see photo above). Similar to Ribeauville, Riquewihr is an oblong-shaped village with a main street (rue du General de Gaulle) running through the middle. Unlike Ribeauville, Riquewihr still has its medieval walls and gate houses, so its filled with tourists (for good reason). The main street slopes down (relatively steeply) from the western gate to the eastern end of the village. The village is filled with historic buildings and is mostly free of cars. The photo below is from this year, it was raining!

There are many restaurants, small hotels, wine tasting shops and souvenir shops in the village. There are also several small museums: one for the post office and communications in Alsace, one for the local artist Hansi and another one (there seems to be one of these in every historic city) on medieval torture.

My interest in visiting Alsace is more on the food and wine side. My favorite Alsatian food is Tarte Flambe - the Alsatian version of pizza. It's made with a very thin dough, next they put creme frache then the toppings which generally include bits of bacon (spec in German, lardons in French), onions and other things. I love to have it with Munster cheese, another local specialty.

There are many good restaurants in Riquewihr, so take a walk through the town, check the menus and stop at one that appeals to you. We ate at Au Cep de Vigne (also a hotel) located at 13 rue du General de Gaulle, and La Taverne Alsacienne (17 rue du General de Gaulle), and both were excellent (both times Tarte Flambe!).

La Taverne Alsacienne offered a beer brewed at a Riquewihr microbrewery on draft. The beer is called Hollbeer and the brewery (Brasserie) is about 100 meters from the east end of the village (8 avenue Jacques Preiss). I was lucky because the brewery was open the day I visited and so I enjoyed a small glass of fresh beer (La Hollbeer PRESTIGE - 6.5% alcohol) while talking to the brew master about the growth of microbreweries in the USA. The family also makes schnaps and sells a large variety of them in the shop adjoining the Brasserie. The people working in the shop and Brasserie were very friendly and helpful.

Walking back into Riquewihr I stopped at my favorite wine degustation room/shop, Hugel & Fils. The family has been making wine since 1639. The tasting room staff are very knowledgeable and helpful, it is clear that they take their work seriously. I tasted several wines and they were all good. My favorite was their Classic Riesling 2007 ... when I tasted it I had one of those ethereal moments where your eyes roll back into your head with pleasure ... the salesman must have seen that and so he asked, good? Heck yeah! I bought six bottles to carry home with me on the bus and train!

Of course wine was not the only thing I purchased in Riquewihr, I also needed to buy some Munster cheese, which is unlike any other cheese. It pretty much defines the term 'stinky cheese' but the locals know that and they vacuum wrap it for traveling, although when the shopkeeper learned that I would be taking the train she suggested that I unwrap it so that I could have the train compartment to myself. Combining the cheese - served a bit runny at room temperature - with a bottle of Hugel & Fils Gewurztraminer Tradition (2006) is another of those ethereal experiences (and helps explain why I have gained so much weight living in Europe).

The bus stop is located across from the post office at the eastern end of the village. The photo above is looking at the Marie (city hall) and up into the vineyards surrounding the city from the bus stop. The bus (see earlier post) takes you to the Colmar railway station. I took the local train to Strasbourg, where I caught the overnight train back to Vienna, quite satisfied from my day hiking, eating and drinking in Alsace.

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