Explore France’s fairy-tale villageNov 22, 2021 04:15PM ● By Wynne Crombie
On a cool November day, our feet touched down upon the old mosaic cobblestones of the Rue Général de Gaulle in Riquewihr, France (population 1,308). Centuries ago these stones had been meticulously laid out in circular patterns.
Fall is a good time to visit Riquewihr as it can get crowded during peak times. Parking is outside the town walls, so visitors enter the village through a series of old gates in the large clock and watchtowers.
Even though the calendar said late fall, geraniums and other blooms spilled over flower box rims. Hollywood used this fairy-tale town in the Alsace wine-growing region as an inspiration for “Beauty and the Beast.” Hanging wrought iron signs artfully spelled out commercial establishments. The more you looked around, the more details you saw, including building dates and inscriptions going back centuries.
Designs painted on shutters and balconies utilized bright teals, pinks and yellows. Flower-decked balconies, sculpted windows and old paved courtyards were everywhere. Many of Riquewihr’s shops and restaurants catered to tourism with plenty of outdoor seating.
My husband, Kent, and I stepped aside as a sightseeing train rounded the corner in front of us. A few cars and delivery trucks rumbled past. Postal delivery was achieved with a bright yellow motorcycle with attached bags. We watched as a driver unloaded ingredients for Fortwenger Gingerbread and Confectionery, which has been in business since 1786.
Ramparts enclose the walkable center, part of Riquewihr’s original medieval charm. Famous for its Riesling and other great Alsace wines, the town looks today exactly as it did in the 16th century. That’s because Riquewihr was not greatly damaged by World War II, with houses dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries still viable.
The main street, Rue du Général de Gaulle, is lined with brightly colored half-timbered houses in bright blues, yellows and reds from the Renaissance period. Back alleys branch out from both sides of the street. Follow Rue Général de Gaulle and you’ll end up at the Dolder—a pink sandstone and timber tower that was built as a part of the 1292 fortified wall. The four stories of the tower housed the caretaker and his family, who were in charge of closing the entry gate to the village every night.
Beautiful window displays featured the unusual. One showcased a life-size wooden doll set amidst hanging geraniums. There was even a bright red scooter carefully balanced on a balcony. Water spigots jutted out from buildings with the signs reading “non-portabo” (not for drinking).
When visiting Riquewihr, don’t hesitate to wander. A stroll down the cobbled streets will take you to colorful and flowery half-timbered houses. The more we looked around the more details we spotted, including twisting lanes and hidden courtyards. Surrounded by vineyards, you can taste the wine at some 20 Winstubs—an Alsace cafe, restaurant or bar that specializes in wine. Or you may enjoy “Feerie de Noel,” a Christmas shop extraordinaire selling original, handmade Christmas decorations. It’s more like a Christmas wonderland.
Louis XIV’s army took possession of the village in 1680 and it joined the French Republic by the Treaty of Paris in 1796. However, the fairy-tale setting that is Riquewihr is a blend of both French and German influences. Many residents speak German over French, or a mix called Alsatian. The Alsace region has been controlled by both France and Germany.
Eating in Alsace, you get a taste of both French and German foods, as well as a blend of the two cuisines. We discovered La Grappe d’Or where we stopped for lunch. The inside décor was worth a look in itself.
Our meandering next took us to Au Four Banal, a pink half-timbered building that sells souvenirs. Nearby, the proprietor of Les Macarons de Riquewihr was handing out macaroon samples, and we even found a Foie Gras Shop (so French!).
After speaking to a few of the locals, the following were named as top winners of Alsace cuisine:
1. Choucroûte Garnie Alsace is a version of German sauerkraut, seasoned with juniper berries and black peppercorns served with potatoes and a variety of meats, including ham and sausages.
2. Tarte Flambée is the Alsatian equivalent of pizza, though extremely different. It’s made of a thin layer of dough, covered with crème fraiche (rich sour cream), cheese, onions and bacon.
3. Kugelhopf is similar to the Tarte Flambée but is shaped like the American bundt cake. It’s baked with almonds and raisins and topped with powdered sugar.
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