France – Castles and Wine

My nephew is living in Germany for a while and we like to try to get together when we can. This was one such weekend.

Even though he lives very close to the Mosel River, Matt had never been wine tasting. His interest in wine was just one reason for our day together. His girlfriend was also visiting and the four of us would spend the day visiting castles, tasting wines, touring the Alsace countryside and eating good food.

We left Basel Saturday morning around 10:00 am and immediately headed north towards Colmar. I had made a list of potential stops and we reviewed them in the car. Three castles and half a dozen cute French towns. Wine tasting would happen when and where we found it. As I described the castles we narrowed it down to just #2 – we wouldn’t have time for much more.

On the way to the airport – to rent a car

I exited off of the motorway and headed upwards into the forested hills. We arrived at a gravel parking lot, having followed signs for the castle ever since we left the valley behind. A short walk later and we walked through the gates of Château du Hohlandsbourg. We paid an entrance fee and toured the grounds. The site had been used as a fortification since 1279, going through many stages of destruction and rebuilding, with the latest rebuild being somewhat lacking in details. We walked the parapets and enjoyed the fantastic view across the Upper Rhine Valley to the east, and across the Vosges Mountains to the west. Small villages dotted the mountain valleys: tiny pockets of people tucked in a vast, green forest.

Entrance to Château du Hohlandsbourg

View to the north

View to the west

View from within the castle grounds

Some old artillery on display

We had seen all there was to see of the castle and retreated back to our vehicle. It was already time for some lunch and I thought that the charming town of Kaysersberg would have a good choice of places to eat. It was a really quick ride back down the mountains and into the fertile, vine-covered valleys. The clouds moved in as we parked but we didn’t anything of it, as it had looked like rain off and on for most of the morning.

Kaysersberg has a long history, with a period of prosperity in the 16th and 17th centuries. Many were built during the 10 years from 1591 to 1601 – impressive! The historic center of Kaysersberg is full of half-timbered houses, most of them brightly painted and in wonderfully good condition. Because of the overcast skies there weren’t nearly as many tourists on the streets as I expected, but it was by no means an empty place.

Town of Kaysersberg

Our primary goal in Kaysersberg was to find lunch. We checked out a few of the menus posted by restaurant doors and finally decided on Restaurant Au Lion d’Or, sitting inside at the recommendation of the host. Matt and I chose the same meal, while Lisa and Dan chose other meals. This is important only because Matt and I watched Lisa and Dan not only get served their lunch – but also finish – it before we were even told our meal would arrive “in a couple of minutes”. Needless to say, Matt and I were not pleased. The meal, once it arrived, was good, but the long wait had dampened my enjoyment of it.

Meals (finally) complete, we set out to see the town. Less than ten minutes later it started to rain. As we huddled under an awning someone asked where the umbrellas were. In the car, of course. We huddled a while longer and eventually the rains let up ever-so-slightly. We decided to continue our journey by automobile.

Good food, slow service

Village of Kaysersberg

A river runs through it

Other people had umbrellas

We had barely left the borders of Kaysersberg when I saw a sign offering “Degustation” (“Wine tasting”, for those “not in the know”). Matt had been pretty excited about wine tasting so I parked the car and we walked up to the door and rang the bell. Because it isn’t really “the season”, and these places are generally family-owned and run, no one is just standing around behind a counter waiting for you to show up. You ring the bell and they stop whatever activity they were doing (washing dishes, reading the paper, feeding the dog – who knows?) to come and see what you need.

Our first tasting was good. The woman did not speak English, but fortunately she spoke German as well and we plowed through various grape and wine descriptions. That is what is so great about these tastings: You find out about the grapes, the history of the grapes, how the region a grape is grown in affects the outcome and some of the various blending and fermenting techniques used. It is much more than just getting free wine.

I probably should have taken some pictures of Matt’s first wine tasting but I was too absorbed by the information given and I never even thought of it. We bought some wine, thanked the woman and went on to the next town for some more wine tasting.

Mittlebergheim is a village that Dan and I really enjoy taking friends to and we made the point of visiting there today. Not only is it a charming town with a long history (most of the building were built in the 15th – 16th centuries), but they have free toilets. And some really great wineries. It was late in the day when we knocked at the door of a place we’d visited before (Pierre Reitsch). The owner was inside, tasting the newest batch of wines with some friends. Although he looked tired, he agreed to open some bottles for us and tickled the pallets with wine that were so new, they weren’t even bottled yet.

Long distance riders in Mittlebergheim

By now we were all getting hungry. We had spent a good portion of the day hiking or drinking and it was time to put some food in our bellies. I knew of a good restaurant in the nearby village of Barr and headed there immediately. We stepped into the nearly empty restaurant and asked for a table. The waiter asked if we had reservations – um, no? Fortunately he pointed us to an empty table near the front of the restaurant. As we ate, every table in the room filled up, “Reserved” signs disappearing as people appeared. The food was good, and served in a timely manner.

By the time we finished our meals it was late. The sun was fading behind the Vosges Mountains and everyone else in the car was either asleep or glued to their phone (I’m looking at you, Matt). I was tired but I dropped off the wine and half the group at the apartment anyway, simply because it was much easier that way. Matt pulled through and joined me on the return trip to the airport to return the car to the rental company (Thanks Matt!)

It was a great trip and it was fun to spend time with my nephew and his girlfriend. They left the next morning under much sunnier skies than we had seen the previous day.

Safe travels!

And we were left with wine boxes that the cats immediately commandeered.

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