September 29, 2014
Friends from Seattle were visiting and we were excited to show them something more than Basel. We planned a day off from work, rented a car, and took a drive into the French countryside, to explore the beautiful Alsace region. Unfortunately, my camera’s settings somehow got moved and the photos turned out with a bluish haze. I tried to correct them, but they’re still disappointing.
We didn’t have a set route but did have a couple of points of interest that we’d try to hit – if they were convenient. The sun was out and it was a good day to be on the road. We looked for a place to get coffee and something for breakfast, but we had already left most of civilization behind and had a hard time finding a likely spot to stop.
I don’t even know the name of the town we first stopped in, but it was tiny and had no coffee. We stopped at a bakery for some tasty pastries to tied us over. There wasn’t much on offer, but there were some baked goods in the counter that looked good. In a mixture of French and German, the woman in the tiny shop suggested a couple of towns about ten minutes away where we might find some coffee.
We didn’t find coffee, but the pastries were delicious!
The next town didn’t have any coffee either, but as you can see, we were getting deeper into wine country.
We gave up on finding coffee and instead decided to find wine. I saw a sign for an open tasting room and pulled in. We walked into a modern-looking building to find a large, older woman setting plates down on two long tables. She seemed busy, but eventually sat us for a tasting. It wasn’t the best experience, but it was a start.
Because we were visiting in October, the roads and vineyards were bustling with activity. The roads were littered with tractors hauling trailers full of fresh grapes and we could see people deep in the rows with their pruners. And as we were soon to find out, those people had to be fed. The tables that the woman had been setting were for the laborers who would soon be streaming into the building for their lunch. I spied an enormous pie in the kitchen and the smell of fresh bread was intoxicating.
Turns out this was in preparation to feed the vineyard workers
Tubs full of fresh grapes
I suggested that we go north on the main motorway and then return south on the smaller roads that make up the “Route du Vin”. It was a good choice.
Along the way we made a quick stop to see the church in the small village of Gueberschwihr. While we were there we noticed another tasting room and gave it a try.
Church in Gueberschwihr
Domaine Humbrecht Jean-Bernard in Gueberschwihr
The hours were passing and it was getting near to lunch time. We did a leisurely walk around the town in search of a suitable place. What we found didn’t entice us and we decided to continue and find something in the next town.
We found lunch in the town of Barr. It was a cute little town, but it was a busy street where we sat for our meal and there was some construction on a building across the main plaza from us which I found distracting. That being said, the food was good, the service friendly, and the view was more than acceptable.
Hôtel-Restaurant Le brochet in Barr
View from the restaurant
After lunch we took a little walk around town to stretch our legs. Actually, I could have use a nap, as everyone else had taken a nap in the car while I zoomed up the motorway. But the town was interesting and we hiked up the hill to the cemetery that overlooked the rooftops.
Cemetery on the hill above Barr
We left Barr behind and made our way to my favorite little spot in Alsace: Mittelbergheim. Funny thing is, when we pulled into town this time, it didn’t seem quite as charming. I guess that’s what familiarity can do to one’s senses. We didn’t intend to do any more wine tasting but decided to walk around and take in the sights. It was still a beautiful day, even though the clouds had moved in.
Kitties in the window
And then, just as we were getting ready to hop in the car and head home, I saw her: the owner of the Brandner winery that we had visited over a year ago. The owner is an elderly and frail-looking woman and I had made up my mind earlier not to call on her for a wine tasting, no matter how badly I wanted our friends to experience this type of tasting. But there she was, conveniently standing near the base of the steep staircase as if waiting for me. I asked her if she was available to give us a wine tasting and she smiled and said yes. She led us into the old blacksmith shop where ancient tools still hung on the walls and the tables were covered with red and white checked clothes. We took a seat while she pulled out bottles of wine to sample.
My German had improved slightly since my last visit and I was able to hold a light conversation, as she speaks only French and German. We decided upon a couple of vintages and followed her out into the courtyard and down into a dark cellar. The first room was full of massive wooden casks and draining tubes, but the room beyond was dark and cool and almost empty. An old, scarred table stood in the middle of the room and a stack of wooden crates lined the wall. Raw slate covered the crates, each with scrawling chalk text indicating the contents of the bottles underneath.
The winery owner (file photo, June 2013)
The blacksmith tasting room (file photo, June 2013)
The wine casks (file photo, June 2013)
At the Brandner winery
By now we had enough wine tasting but there was still more to see on our way home. We made a few stops along the way to get a taste of the villages. First stop was in Dambach-la-ville, where Ron asked me to stop when we had driven through the city gate.
City gate of Dambach-la-ville
After a brief foot tour of Dambach-la-ville we hopped back into the car and continues on the Route du Vin, enjoying the countryside and the rows of vineyards. I was pleased to see that we would pass through the town of Riquewihr before reaching the end of our tour. I had driven through this town once before, but at that time it had been full of tour buses and tourists. I couldn’t bring myself to join them and had kept on driving. I was optimistic that today would be different, as it was near 5 pm on a Monday in early October.
We parked the car, passed through the city gate and entered a fairyland of colorful half timbered homes and cobblestone streets. And tourists.
City gate and outer wall on the far side of Riquewihr
The main “gate” to Riquewihr
At this point the light was fading and intermittent rain drops splattered on the cobblestones. We headed back to the car and the motorway. Twenty minutes later it was pouring rain – perfect timing to the end of a perfect day.