The purpose of renting a car during our trip was to tour the tiny towns and scenic roads that are otherwise missed by sitting on the train.
So, when we learned about the Route du Vin we were more than excited to cruise down it. We hopped into our trusty steed, popped in a CD (yes, we just went back in time ten years), and plugged our next hotel location into the GPS.
Now not actually looking up the starting point of the Route du Vin was a bit of a mistake, which we realized after spending the better part of half an hour on the Autobahn. After scouring our trip guide, we looked up a few nearby cities, and turned off the Autobahn and onwards to Barr.
Thankfully, after a couple roundabouts we were smack dab in the middle of half-timber homes, colourful low-rises, and tiny roads. Spotting the tourism centre, I skipped in looking for a map – and managed to succeed using my somewhat limited French. (Check out a similar copy of it here)
Back on track, we spotted our first official “Route du Vin” sign – pointing us onwards down a side road, surrounded by yellow grapevines and rolling hills.
The fields and fields were only interrupted by the odd castle sighting, perched atop a hill and surrounded by forest.
We proceeded to drive through the towns spotted throughout the route, around each entrance and exit roundabout, and back again into wine country for the better part of a few hours, following the map and plugging in each subsequent town to the GPS for good measure.
Ideally, you could park quickly and stroll the streets of each tiny town – or perhaps stop at a few wineries along the way (as long as you aren’t driving!) and really get the feel of Alsace.
I wouldn’t say any particular town was more spectacular than the bunch, but a few of my favourites were Chatenois and Dambach la Ville, plus the tiniest of little town smushed between a couple of mountainous hills – the name of which I’ve completely forgot.
You’ll be able to spot it right away though, with red roof tops nestled in the valley and a massive church overlooking them.
Somewhere around mid-afternoon, we happened upon a sign pointing to Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg, and decided to take a little detour.
Not entirely sure where we were headed, or what it was, we drove around and around the hill top, switching back and forth, until we reached the peak. And what was hidden behind all the trees? Oh you know, just a giant medieval castle.
If you haven’t heard of it, Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg was built in the 12th century, abandoned, and then restored in the late 1800s. It represents a true version of what a glorious castle resembled back in the 15th century. It’s even been mentioned in a Sherlock Holmes novel.
After somewhat of a debate, we purchased tickets and headed on in.
I’ll admit by this time I was feeling a little hangry, and wasn’t thrilled at the thought – but, after devouring a few lindt balls I was again feeling ready to explore.
We walked up winding staircases, through elaborate dining rooms, and around the artillery room – admiring the quality of restoration that took place so long ago.
We stopped at each guard window to take in the view. Beneath us were fields and fields of yellow grapevines, forming rows up and over the hills, and in between those rows of grapevines were swarms of colourful fall trees – painted in red, orange, yellow, and green. It was truly beautiful and not something you see every day (or at all) back in Calgary.
Once our tour finished, we wound back down the hill, took a right at the next Route du Vin sign, and onto our last stop before resting for the night: Ribeauville.
Unfortunately, the stores closed at 6 and we arrived at about 5:55 – just in time to stroll through the narrow and winding streets, headed in no particular direction, before the sun set.
Shut out from the tea and cake shops, we kicked rocks and headed on towards Riquewihr – looking up a list of best restaurants on the way.
After a quick check in and an even quicker change of clothes – we headed towards the main centre and thankfully grabbed a table at the Michelin star restaurant, La Table du Gourmet.
And boy, did it not disappoint.
We started with a variety of amuse-bouche and a warm baguette (or three) made from organic multigrain bread.
The first appetizer was a dish of steamed kalamansi in a pumpkin puree broth, with radish leaves, specks of saffron, and crunchy citrus shells.
Before moving onto mains.
The first was a slice of sea bass placed in a bowl of warm konbu water with a dollop of cream, swimming with fresh seaweed chips, cucumber balls, and lima beans. We were instructed to blend the cream into the water, which turned it into a delicious salty cream sauce. This was definitely my favourite dish of the night – and I need to learn how to recreate it.
Lobster with roasted potatoes (which I foolishly neglected to snap) – and which I accidentally ordered due to my 50% French comprehension. Luckily, Cole said it was the best lobster he’s ever had so I didn’t feel too guilty. It came with small potatoes, hard alsace cheese, and bacon bits.
And finally, alsace venison in a red wine sauce, with pear mustard, onions, beetroot, wild mushrooms and candied celery.
Before of course finishing with dessert.
Sour green apply favoured ice cream with toasted apple slices, sticky caramel, and crushed bits of meringue.
Cole chose the wine pairings for each course and was treated to quite the taste of Alsace. Not usually a white-wine lover, there were a couple bottles that he actually considered buying. If you’re in the area, I would highly recommend sampling what they have as you might be surprised.
Make sure you book a reservation.
We ate and drank until late in the night before reluctantly heading out into the cold and back to our hotel.
In the morning, we took a brief spin around Riquewihr – one of the more recommended spots along the Route du Vin – to see what the fuss was about.
After a little walk, it was pretty easy to see why it’s such a tourist hotspot. Vines grow up the medieval houses, the doors are grand and wooden, and each street is covered in cobblestones – begging for you to walk down them and see what’s behind the next corner.
After touring each tiny street, we finally said peace out to France and crossed back over the Rhine to Germany.