Just minutes by car from Riquewihr is Ribeauvillé, at the foot of the Vosgnes Mountains. It is another of the villages which is on the “routes des Vins” the Alsace wine route. It is a very pretty town full of colour and when we went it was clear it’s a tourist magnet – it was busy but not horrendously so, we still managed to park easily right in the centre (after we’d got lost in the maze of little cobbled streets for a bit).
This town, like so many others in Alsace, has preserved its medieval authenticity and boasts some great shops including the most delicious cake shops! In the middle ages the town was ruled by the aristocratic Lords of Ribeaupierre and they built three fortified castles. The castles are ruined now but you can see the remains from the town, sitting peacefully high up on the slopes of the mountains around, you can walk up to them via a footpath apparently but I’m sorry to say after I’d eaten my trois chocolat gateau from Villemain’s Patisserie in the town, I couldn’t muster up the courage for a mountain hike!
We wandered about the town just drinking in the sights, at one point I meandered off down an alley and ended up in someone’s garden, I tried to beat a hasty retreat but an old couple came out and beckoned me to come and have a look. They had decorated their little courtyard garden with stuffed animals, stuffed people and glorious plants which were in full flower and covered every bit of wall and nook and cranny they had. They had been growing various squashes and gourds which climbed the walls and tried to get me to take some, such friendly and generous people, I got the feeling that they loved having stray tourists turn up and “ooh and ah” over their beloved garden enterprise.
Back out on the main rue I wandered under the “Tour des Bouchers” (The Butchers Tower) which dates back to the 13th century and looks quite similar to the one at Riquewihr. Such a picturesue place, flags were strung across the streets creating a riot of colour. Even the rubbish collector did his work by horse and cart; everywhere you look flowers cascade from window boxes, the base of fountains, giant street plant pots, out of cracks in the walls. At one point I looked up and saw a huge stork’s nest on the roof of a house. This area is famous for its stork population and I did actually see one flying along when we were driving near the Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg, they are huge and fabulously alien looking birds and I was thrilled by my sighting, so much so I forgot to get my camera out!
I ended my visit with a look around the lovely traditional toy shop in the town; outside on the wall an automated teddy bear blew bubbles which floated down the street and were chased by small children. Everyone who passed looked up and smiled at this whimsical creature and when I went inside the magic carried on, full of beautiful wooden toys, puppets, traditional games, it was wonderful. I couldn’t resist buying a few toys which the shop owner then wrapped so beautifully with paper and ribbons that I might have to keep them like that and never open them!
That night back at our Riquewihr base I tried chou croute, or sauerkraut. A huge steaming bowl of pickled cabbage, it came with a choice of 5 or 8 garnishes which seemed to consist of various boiled sausages or fatty pork chops. Almost everyone in the restaurant seemed to go for this choice and I always like to try the regional specialities wherever I go (I’ve told you before that I’m no culinary coward!) but I can’t say that it was me, a little bit too heavy and hearty in the heat of early September. It was a fun night though, I think our waitress had been on one of the town’s famous wine tasting tours, she kept knocking into tables and spilling things and laughed a lot – very loudly, especially when I told her that the chou croute dish was “my first time”.
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