We continued on from our travels in the Black Forest into the Alsace region of France. I didn’t know a whole lot about this area. I had heard of Colmar and that was about it. When our German friends suggested we should include it as part of our road trip, I jumped at the chance, but left all the arrangements up to them. Just a few days later I saw a photo of Riquewihr on Instagram, and sent it to them asking if perhaps we could visit this town. In the end we stayed there for two nights.
I don’t know about you, but I will see things online, and often find that the reality does not quite match what I have seen. I therefore did not get my hopes up about Riquewihr. I am happy to admit though, that this time my fears were unfounded. From the minute we accidentally drove into the main street of the old town I was besotted. The buildings here really are all those amazing colours of the Instagram photos.
We stayed in an AirBnB right in the old town only minutes from the main street. I would love to share it, but it seems to no longer be listed which is a shame because it was lovely. If you do choose to stay in Riquewihr a place close to the centre would be the best.
After we squeezed the car into one of the smallest lanes and then garages I have seen, we immediately made our way out again to go and buy ingredients for dinner the following day. The next day was May Day, and we didn’t want to get stuck with no shops open. The nearest decent sized supermarket (which is still pretty small) is in the town of Ribeauvillé, just a few minutes drive away. We did later discover there are some small stores in Riquewihr with some of the basics, but it would be hard to put together a whole meal from there.
That chore sorted, we finally got to explore the town a little before dinner. We walked slowly up and down the main street, admiring all the traditional buildings, cute little stores and narrow alleyways. This town looks much today like it did back in the 1500s so its a real step back in time. While the street was busy, it was not completely over run with tourists and still had a nice vibe to it.
For dinner we chose to eat at La Grappe d’Or, mostly because it was in the right place at the right time and it had local food from the Alsace region.The food here is more like German food than French since there is a lot of influence from over the nearby German border. The food was good, with large serves, without being exceptional.
On the walk home we got to see Riquwihr in the dark which gave it a whole other feel to it. The best part was the gate tower at one end of the street was lit up with lights, with a changing display illuminating it with lovely colours. We stood there for ages watching the patterns change and swirl – even though it was freezing cold.
The next morning myself and one of the other girls got up as the sun was coming up to go out and take some photographs without too many other people around. We were absolutely shocked to discover not one single other person out doing the same. We saw a handful of locals doing deliveries to some of the businesses, but apart from that we had the streets to ourselves.
I took dozens (hundreds?) of photos, but will try not to completely inundate you and I will just share a few here.
After breakfast our whole group went for a walk around the town and to look around outside of the walls. Riquewihr sits in a valley and is surrounded by vineyards. It’s possible to be amongst the vines only minutes after walking down the main street. We climbed up amongst the vines to have a fantastic view over the town and surrounds. Even better, for the first time in more than a week, the sun had come out and we were having lovely weather.
Riquewihr is part of the Route de Vin, or the Wine Road, that winds through the Alsace region. Not surprisingly that means there are many wineries in and around the town. As we walked we stopped at a few and asked about tastings, to be told that they were only done at the shops in town (or at least that’s what we understood).
On heading back into town we discovered not every place would let you taste the wines, but we were able to taste at Dopff au Moulin. There was a €6 charge for each person to taste as many wines as you would like, and if you bought a bottle, then that would come off of the price. Four of us did the tasting, and therefore we bought four bottles of wine! Happily too, because the wines were really good. The person serving us was fantastic. She was really knowledgeable about the wines and the region, and it was interesting to talk to her and learn. We also discovered some of their wines are stocked by one of the big retailers here in Australia, so we will be keeping an eye out for them. In general, I much preferred these Alsace wines than I did the Bordeaux wines we tasted last year.
Now that we were stocked up on wine we just needed a few more accompaniments for our lunch. And there is no shortage of fresh, locally produced foods available in Riquewihr. We walked along and were able to pick up some local cheese, some salami, olives, bread – everything we needed for a delicious lunch. We also picked up some coconut cookies and a type of ginger cake traditional to the area for afternoon tea.
Once we had enough food, we retired to the terrace of the AirBnB we were staying in and spent the rest of the afternoon sipping wine and nibbling on the local foods. This was the first (and in the end, only) sunny afternoon we had during our whole trip where it was warm enough to enjoy it. We then took advantage of the AirBnB and cooked dinner in too.
In the morning we backed our bags and left Riquewihr quite early. We only had a short drive before stopping in Colmar to have a quick look around this town renowned for being another one of the loveliest in France. And the first thing we had to do in Colmar was to get some breakfast, and that in France of course means coffee and a croissant. We got ours from Jupiter Cafe, right near the impressive St Martin’s Church.
We meandered through the streets, heading in the general direction of La Petite Venice. Even though we had just eaten, we were soon drawn to the delicious smells of the morning markets. We looked but managed to restrain ourselves from buying more. These street markets lead us to the Covered Markets of Colmar. A great big building filled with stalls of all types. On a nice day it would be lovely to grab breakfast or lunch here and then nab one of the coveted seats out on the little deck that sits in the canals.
After admiring even more cute half-timbered buildings (these never get old!) we had a little time left and decided to do the touristy little boat ride up and down the canals. It was kind of fun, and would have been a great way to learn about the town of Colmar because the guy driving the boat gave a commentary the whole way. Unfortunately for us it was all in French. I’m not sure if there was an option of an English boat or not, but we did not have time towait for a later boat, so it was in French or not at all.
Our German friends understood some of the French, so were able to translate a little. We learned that the colours of the houses in Colmar represented the jobs of those who lived in them. One colour was for butchers, another for fishermen and so on.
During the ride we came across a swan who was obviously very familiar with these little boats. He came straight up to the side of the boat and pecked my leg a few times. At first I though it was strange behaviour, then, on looking behind me, noticed the driver feeding him. Apparently his name was Mike – as in Mike Tyson, so sounds like this is fairly normal, and honestly, it was pretty cool in a section of canal where there were only trees.
Then it was back across the border into Germany! If you have been following along with my SIM card saga (see the last couple of Travel Diary posts for details), it should be noted our SIM cards were still not working. We had thought that perhaps that was because we were in France, so had hoped that when we came back across the border they would magically kick into gear.
But no, that didn’t happen. We were on our way to Freiburg im Breisgau to pick up our rental car, and in anticipation of this scenario, I had saved the location of a phone store on the way. When we called in and spoke to them, they looked up on the computer to discover the first person we had dealt with days ago had not correctly set us up! He pressed two or three buttons, and as I was standing there I started to get notifications and emails. Yay! We needed the SIM for the GPS for the car we were about to pick up, so we got it working in just the nick of time!
We picked up our car and said goodbye to our friends. It will likely be a year or two before we see them again. Then we were heading south, onto our next country.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.