Alsace: The Other Side of the River

Alsace: The Other Side of the River

(Tales Told From The Road continues its month-long virtual European journey.)

Although we had a lot of fun watching the cows come home yesterday at the Almabtrieb festival, it’s time for us to pack our bags, jump in our rental car, and move on to the next stop on the itinerary: Ribeauville in France’s Alsace region, just across the Rhine River from Germany.

 While Google Maps suggests that we go straight north on the A7 Autobahn to Stuttgart, then head west until we reaching France, and finally, drive south to Ribeauville. But we’re going to follow the suggestion of an American friend who lives in France and take a more scenic route, stopping for lunch at Lindau on the Bodensee (aka Lake Constance) on our way to Freiburg where we’ll cross the Rhine and enter France.

Espaliered apple trees and grape vines cover much of the hillsides leading down to the highway above the Bodensee, and except for resort development near the lake, this area seems to have remained quite rural.

A little over two hours after leaving Lindau we’ll leave rolling farmland behind and descend  a steep, winding road into a canyon whose sides appear to be made of black shale type rock. By late afternoon we’ll pull into Freiburg on the German side of the Rhine, refill our car’s gas tank, and cross the river for the final hour or so drive to Ribeauville.

Castles Tower of Ribeauville, France

Ribeauville is a small, and quite old town, with narrow streets snaking their way up toward the 4,000+ foot high Les Vosages mountains. We’ll be staying at a hotel run by two sisters located near the top of the town.

After unpacking, we’ll stroll a couple of blocks through narrow lanes and dine at restaurant where the cuisine, like the history of the trans-Rhine region, has French and German influences. So in the Alsace Coq au Vin dinner is made not with a red wine from Burgundy, but an Alsatian Riesling, and the side dish will be Spaetzle instead of potatoes.

Narrow Lane Collage

After spending the better part of yesterday sitting in our rental car during the two-hundred mile trip from Austria to Alsace, today we’ll use our feet rather than a vehicle for touring.

Sauntering downhill along the  the Gran Rue, the main street which runs from the top to the bottom of Ribeauville, we’ll arrive at the main and most visited part of the town.

Walking Down the Grand Rue, Ribeauville, France

Last night we only walked a short distance traversing the upper part of the town in order to reach the restaurant where we dined, giving us the impression that Ribeauville was a fairly tiny little village. But in the light of day, and with tourists rising like the tide up the Gran Rue as we flow down it, we realize that although relatively small, Ribeauville is much larger than we originally estimated.

Ribeauville Collage

Storks that build huge nests on rooftops here  are an iconic symbol of the Alsace, and shops sell many stork-themed gifts such as children’s mobiles, mugs, backpacks for toddlers, and snow globes avec stork.

Baby Delivery System, Ribeauville, France

We’ll wander into a bucherie/charcuterie just to smell the wonderful aromas of giant quiches, roast chickens, and thick pork chops waiting in glass cases for some lucky person to snatch them up and wolf them down.

Ribeauville Food Collage

A local biscuiterie may offer us samples of his macaroons, gratis, enticing us to buy a bag to insure that our afternoon would not go snackless.When the satiation from the macaroons wears off, we’ll lunch at Chez Marie on the Gran Rue.

Then we’ll set off back uphill towards our hotel, but then veer left and head south to walk a mile and a half to Hunawihr, the next village along the “Wine Road.” The narrow paved road connecting the two towns is so lightly traveled the only vehicles we’re likely to encounter or bicycles are those used in the grape harvest.

Vehicles Collage

Ascending steps carved into the stone wall supporting the uphill embankment along the road will give us a chance look east over the vineyards and toward the Rhine.

After about an hour of easy walking we’ll reach Hunawihr. The local church was built centuries ago the town was so poor that both that the Protestant and Catholics had to share the sanctuary for their services, as they continue to do so today.

Hunawihr Collage

A fortified wall around the church was built with narrow slights so archers could loose their missiles at approaching enemy forces. But perhaps during times of war only the Catholics were allowed within church and the Protestants were left to fend for themselves outside, since only the Catholic graveyard lies inside the wall and Protestants are buried outside of its protective circle.

Its now the third week in September, so we retrace our steps to Ribeauville, we’ll pass by vineyard workers hand-picking grapes that will become Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris wine.

Sparking wine is made in the Alsace, too, but to really experience local “flavor,” we’ll sample Vin Nouveau,” a high-alcohol libation made to be drunk (and that’s what it can make you in short order) within days after the grapes are crushed.

Vineyard Collage

And at dinner we can try another local specialty dish, local specialty, “Bäkeoff”, a sort of stew made with two kinds of meat, potatoes, leeks, and carrots, slow cooked, and then served hot in individual casserole dishes.

Tomorrow: Big City Alsace

(Click here to read more stories about the month-long Tales Told From The Road virtual trip across Europe.)

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