The Route du Vin (Wine Route) runs for approximately 80 miles (130 km) north-south through some of the most beautiful landscapes of the Alsace region in north-eastern France, connecting various picturesque and pleasant wine villages and the vineyards which provides the inhabitants their livelihood. The Route follows a paved, mostly 2-lane road that winds through the long, flat valley that borders the Rhine river and Germany on the east, the Vosges Mountains on the west, from near the Swiss border and Basil on the south, up through Colmar, a larger yet comfortable and picturesque small town with all the amenities and activities that a city provides, and then continues north along a stream of small quintessential wine towns and villages until the outskirts of Strasbourg. The whole region has, over the centuries, been fought over and claimed by either Germany or France, and as a result, the architecture and culture and cuisine are an interesting mix of the two. This is evident in the half timber construction and lots of restaurants that serve sauerkraut and sausages, both of which are German in origin.
All along the Route du Vin, the landscape is dotted with ancient ruins of castles and wine towns and villages and the ever-present vineyards. All are easily accessible by car, bus, bicycle, hiking, or you can take mini-van tours. Colmar, mentioned earlier and covered in an earlier blog article, makes a great home base for the area, and was my home for four days. Having previously explored the wine town of Eguisheim south of Colmar, my next adventure along the Route du Vin was a day trip through three small wine villages north of Colmar, along the foothills of the Vosges Mountains surrounded by the ubiquitous vineyards. All three villages are characterized by narrow cobblestone lanes lined with shops, galleries, café’s, and restaurants on the ground level and residents on the upper levels. The main livelihood here is wine-making and tourism. There is not a lot to do here except stroll through the towns, enjoying the medieval sights and flavors. There are only a few small museums and no grand palaces.
I began my trip in Ribeauville (pronounced Ree-bow-vill), population 5,200, approximately 10 miles north of Colmar, an easy 30 minute ride on a comfy and inexpensive regional bus that stops in front of Colmar’s train station. Ribeauville is a linear town, the old town being about a half mile long, and can be easily seen in an hour (or two if you stop for lunch). The friendly tourist information office at the southern end of town provides a good free town map with a list and description of the main buildings and sights. The locals are friendly and are anxious to assist tourists find that perfect token or gift. I try to avoid buying tourist trinkets as much as possible, but often succumb to some small item that catches my eye, like a painted tin chicken (chickens and roosters are a main feature in cuisine and artwork here) that will look great on a shelf or even the dining table.
After soaking up my morning fill of Ribeauville’s medieval goodies, I next did an approximate 3 mile hike through the vineyards and through the tiny village of Hunawihr and then on to Riquewhir. The hike, along the foothills of the Vosges mountains was hilly, but very manageable, and, as always, was a pleasant excursion through the vineyards. I did encounter a few other day-hikers and even a young couple pushing a double baby stroller when I neared Hunawihr. I did not stop in Hunawihr (population 611) except long enough to do a quick sketch. Hunawihr’s huge medieval village church was very visible for a good bit of the hike and makes for a very nice composition amidst the vines.
Back on the hike, the Route du Vin passes through a stretch of hilly woodlands before finally entering the next wine village of Riquewihr (population 1300). The outer medieval walls of the village form the shape of a rectangle with the main street cutting through the middle. The whole thing is very compact, being approximately a quarter mile at the widest point. Some of the main features of Riquewihr (pronounced Rick-wheer) are two beautiful churches and a tall stone medieval clock and bell tower at one end of the main street, and, of course, a lot of colorful half-timber structures. As with Ribeauville, there are lots of cafes, restaurants, and shops, all mainly courting the many tourists.
However the trip is done, visiting these three small villages in the heart of Alsace is well worth the time and effort, and offers a great opportunity to explore the this historic and scenic part of rural Alsace.