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Quick Trips: Riquewihr, Alsace’s jewel

The colorful houses of Riquewihr, an old walled city in the heart of the Alsatian wine-producing country.

MICHAEL ABRAMS / S&S

By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 28, 2004

It is called the “Pearl of the Alsace,” and a visit to Riquewihr makes it easy to see why.

Tucked amid the vineyards along France’s Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsatian wine route), this old walled city has medieval towers, cobblestone lanes, good food, good wine, museums and even a little sightseeing train that goes around the village and through the vineyards.

Riquewihr dates to the 11th century, and through the years, ownership of the town changed hands many times. It was besieged and pillaged in 1635 during the Thirty Years War and was under control of the Counts of Württemberg until the end of the 18th century. It was not until 1796 that it became a French town, and its churches and town hall were not rebuilt until the 19th century.

Exploring the town is quite easy. Its main street, the Rue du General de Gaulle, cuts straight through town, from the east Hotel de Ville gate to the Dolder tower gate in the west. Along the street are restaurants, shops and wineries. Most of the houses are colorful half-timbered structures, decorated with window boxes full of flowers.

Small intimate lanes lead off General du Gaulle in a maze of cobblestones. Along them are more restaurants and wineries.

Besides Riquewihr’s charms, the reason most people come here is for the wine and food. Most of the wineries either have shops on the street where you can try the wine, or the wineries themselves are open for tastings. It a good opportunity to actually pick a wine you like before buying it.

If you like good, hearty food, Alsatian cuisine won’t disappoint. Try Baeckeoffe, a casserole of pork, lamb, beef and vegetables, or Choucroute garni, sauerkraut with sausage.

Another Alsatian specialty is tarte flambée, a pizzalike dish with a very thin crust and different toppings, but traditionally with bacon, cream and onions. Most of the restaurants have signs posted outside with what they offer, and many have menus translated into German and English.

After your meal, mosey through town, and check out the museums if you like. There is one dedicated to Hansi, the Alsatian caricaturist who enjoyed poking fun at Alsace’s German neighbors; the Regional Post Museum of Alsace has mail carriages and the last telephone used by Charles de Gaulle on display; the Dolder Museum has a collection of old weapons; and the Thieves Tower features a torture chamber.

At the town hall, the little sightseeing train leaves for a tour around the village and through the vineyards.

But after a delicious meal and a glass of good wine, you might prefer to walk.


On the QT

Directions: Riquewihr is in the Alsace region of France, west of the Rhine River, which forms part of the border with Germany. From Germany on Autobahn 5, exit at Riegel and take the highway to Marckolsheim, France. From there, follow signs for Ribeauvillé, then signs to Riquewihr.

From Kaiserslautern, take A6 to A61, then A65 to Kandel. From there, take the highway toward Lauterbourg and Strasbourg; in France, it will turn into Autoroute 35. Follow it past Strasbourg toward Selestat and Colmar. Exit at Guemar and follow signs.

Figure about a 2½-hour drive from the Kaiserslautern, Heidelberg and Stuttgart areas.

Hours: Any time. Shops are open weekdays from about 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 6 or 7 p.m. The museums are open about the same time, from March through November. Restaurants serve between noon and 2 p.m. and again from 6 to 9 p.m., although some serve all day.

Cost: Parking along the town wall costs 2 euros for five hours. Parking is free on the outskirts. The sightseeing train costs 5.50 euros for adults and 4 euros for kids 6 to 14 years of age.

Food: There are plenty of restaurants in Riquewihr. Try Alsatian specialties along with Alsatian wine.

More information: The Riquewihr tourist office is about halfway up the town’s main street, Rue du General de Gaulle. It is open 9 a.m. to noon and 2-5 p.m. The phone number is (+33) (0)3-89-47-80-80. You can pick up a free map here, and a guidebook to the town for 6 euros.

Some Web sites for the town and area are: www.ribeauville-riquewihr.com/EN/; www.visit-alsace.com/riquewihr; and www.alsace-route-des-vins.com/NewVersion/ index.cfm/Language/En.cfm

— Michael Abrams

Rue du General de Gaulle, with its Dolder tower gate, is the main street of Riquewihr, France, an old walled city in the heart of the Alsatian wine-producing country.
MICHAEL ABRAMS / S&S