We were in the car, traveling from Italy to France. Our itinerary was not completely defined, the main destination was Colmar and then we had in mind an escape to Strasbourg. Scrolling through the travel guides, the name Riquewihr suddenly appeared between the lines, we made a screenshot to be sure not to forget it…and magically opened an unimaginable world made of fairy-tale and fabulous villages. Half-timbered colored houses, charming alleys, fountains and storks on the roofs: today we tell you about the Alsatian villages that inspired the fairy tales.
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Riquewihr (14 km from Colmar)
It is said the village that inspired Walt Disney for the setting of “Beauty and the Beast”…and it is true. Colorful and well-kept half-timbered houses, stone arches that run between adjacent buildings, cobbled streets, ancient shops: Riquewihr seems to come out of a fairy tale book. All around, hills and vineyards embrace the walls of this village in an enchanting setting, making magical the glimpses between the houses.
Whatever is your entry point in Riquewihr, head to Rue du Genéral de Gaulle, the main street that crosses the center from side to side: many of the historic buildings to see and main tourist activities are placed there. At one end you will find a square with the typical Alsatian circular fountain (it could be the one on which Belle in “Beauty and the Beast” sits reading her book surrounded by curious sheep), at the other end you will find the Dolder, an emblematic 4-storey tower cured and decorated with a clock, if you look at it from inside the town, or a defensive structure inserted in the walls, if you look at it from the outside; in its rooms there is a museum.
A little further on, the Obertor, the upper gate of the Riquewihr ramparts, which shows the remains of the drawbridge structure, dating back to 1500. Along Rue du Genéral de Gaulle you will find some of the houses to see in Riquewihr, such as the Maison Preiss -Zimmer, and the Musée Hansi (Jean – Jacques Waltzun, aka (Oncle) Hansi), an Alsatian caricaturist artist who railed against the German occupation. From his name was also born a brand of quality local confectionery products (La Biscuiterie de l’Oncle Hansi) and souvenirs that report his representations of these fairy tale lands (for info or for purchase confectionery products). Given the small size of Riquewihr, we suggest you to walk in all the secondary streets to not miss the other numerous points of interest and suggestive views, including:
- the Musée de la Tour de Voleurs (the Museum of the Tower of Thieves);
- the Maison Dissler, with a “sloped” entrance to the building;
- the Château des ducs de Wurtemberg (Castle of the Dukes of Wurtemberg);
- the Place des Trois Églises (Square of the Three Churches).
Riquewihr has benefited from his fame: it is full of souvenir shops, pastry shops, bed&breakfasts, restaurants. All year round it attracts crowds of visitors, especially in the spring, but it is during Christmas time that it brings out the best with the markets, lights and decorations that warm the atmosphere. If you can visit just one of all the villages around Colmar, undoubtedly come here.
Kaysersberg (12 km from Colmar)
A village crossed by a river, with many colorful and well-kept half-timbered houses, cobbled streets and dominated by the ruins of a castle (Château de Kaysersberg). We strolled along its streets, bought the Kougelhopf (the famous hat-shaped cake) in its artisan bakeries and ate the unforgettable Tarte Flambèe in its restaurants.
Among the attractions of Kaysersberg we point out:
- the Pont Fortifie, a bridge with the ancient signs of the defensive fortification;
- the Église de l’Invention de La Sainte-Croix, the church of the Invention of the Holy Cross;
- the Fontaine Constantin, the fountain of Constantine, in front of the church of the Holy Cross;
- the Maison Loewert (or “Maison de le Vierge”), a beautiful frescoed house with the painting of a baroque Madonna;
- the Maison Faller-Brief, a house that stands out in size and height compared to the other houses in the village;
- the Musée du Docteur Schweitzer, the home-museum of Albert Schweitzer (doctor and philanthropist – Nobel Peace Prize in 1952);
- the Musée historique de Kaysersberg, the museum of local history.
We have to admit that although Kaysersberg is a beautiful town, we liked it a little less because of the lack of a real pedestrian area inside the historic center: there were many passing or parked cars, probably authorized to transit in the LTZ, as well as the numerous vans for the supply of restaurants and shops, which in our opinion broke the fairytale charm of this village. Kaysersberg is however a very touristic and very popular village, almost at the levels of Riquewihr, but a providential rainy day allowed us to visit it and enjoy it with few visitors around.
Ribeauvillé (17 km from Colmar)
The center of Ribeauvillé winds through a long semi-pedestrian central street, the Grand Rue, lined with bakeries, restaurants, wine bars, souvenir and local craft shops. Attractions include:
- the Tour des Bouchers (the Butchers tower), a fortified gateway to the city;
- the Pfifferhus (the Pipers’ house), one of the most beautiful building of Ribeauvillé;
- the Église de Sainte Grégorie (church of St. Gregory), on the Grand Rue ;
- the small canal that passes between the half-timbered houses at the bottom of the Grand Rue.
All the villages we are talking about in this article are located on the Alsace Wine Route, but here in Ribeauvillé there is a peculiarity: there is the oldest French wine cooperative, the Cave de Ribeauvillé, founded in 1895, it is placed on the square in front of the Grand Rue (if you don’t have the opportunity to bring the wine with you, you can also buy it from home). In addition, unlike the other villages, in Ribeauvillé you can make a unique excursion. In fact, from Place de la République, a country road leads to the ruins of 3 castles, to be visited in one go: the Château Saint-Ulrich (the one best preserved), the Château Girsberg, the Château du Haut-Ribeaupierre (the one that rises higher)…if you have the patience and energy to get here, the view of the surrounding vineyards and the town will be absolutely priceless, but don’t forget to wear comfortable shoes for a 2-3 hours walk. Finally, we would like to point out a special occasion that takes place only in Ribeauvillé every first weekend of September: the Fête des Ménétriers (Festival of the Minstrels), an event that attracts a large number of musicians and street artists to the small town. Legend has it that one day a piper was in tears on the streets of Ribeauvillé for having broken his only livelihood; the gentleman of Ribeaupierre saw him and gave him a sack full of gold, saving him from misfortune. Shortly afterwards the piper organized a beautiful and animated procession of thanksgiving to the Ribeaupierre castle…it was 1400 and since then every year people celebrate with parades and shows this gesture of great generosity.
Eguisheim (7 km from Colmar)
It was love at first sight for us. We arrive and immediately notice that there are not so many tourists around, apart a compact and orderly group of Japanese tourists, but at least the most beautiful views are not spoiled by the continuous passage of people, such as in Riquewihr. Thanks to the circular structure in concentric streets of the inhabited center, we go around again and again, noting and capturing new details at each step. Oh yes, now we are convinced: the village is much quieter than the others we have visited, few souvenir shops, few clubs, some artisan bakeries and many, many wineries…this place reminds us of the true soul of Alsace, made of villages of winegrowers.
Restaurants are few, they crowd quickly and we are among the lucky who, playing in advance, manage to grab a table and once again to enjoy the indispensable Tarte Flambée. Despite being a small village, Eguisheim is not lacking in historical monuments and points of interest, in particular:
- the Fontaine St. Lèon, the fountain of St. Leo, considered among the largest and most beautiful in Alsace, is located in the market square and dates back to 1557;
- the Fontaine de la Porte Basse, the fountain of the lower door;
- the Château des Comtes d’Eguisheim, the castle of the Counts of Eguisheim, which gave birth to Pope Saint Leo IX, whose relics are kept in the adjacent Chapelle St-Lèon;
- the Église Saints Pierre et Paul, the parish church dedicated to Saint-Pierre and Saint-Paul.
Inside and nearby the village, there is a food and wine route of the circuit “Les Sentiers Viticoles d’Alsace” and you can go jumping from one winery to another, a sort of small wine road within the greater and well-known Alsace Wine Route. The village boasts 33 wineries, wine bars and wineries, we do not list them all but we leave you just a picture of the map that you can find directly in Eguisheim.
If you have enough time to spend in this area, you should also know that on the nearby Schlossberg hill stand 3 elegant manors, those of Weckmund and Wahlenbourg, built in the eleventh century, and that of Dagsbourg, of the twelfth century. Let’s say, Eguisheim has given us that pleasant feeling of being out of time. It was not by chance that it was the only village in which we found storks in nests built on the roofs of houses; evidently they perceive this relaxed atmosphere. In these lands, storks are thought to be good luck charms and it is said that when they build their nest on the roof of a house, its inhabitants will have happiness, health and prosperity.
Here ends our article on fairytale villages which are located a few kilometers from Colmar. The most attentive of you will have noticed that on our map we had indicated many more locations. So, we told you about the villages that we managed to see firsthand, which are also among the most famous ones. If you are lucky enough to spend more days in this land, we suggest you to make a stop also in Hunawihr, Ammerschwihr, Bergheim, Turckheim. However, the typical Alsatian villages are many more and to know all the possible itineraries we recommend you to consult the website of the Route des vins d’Alsace. Riquewihr is unanimously recognized as the most beautiful and touristy as well as the one that has best preserved its medieval character, but our favorite was Eguisheim, more peaceful and genuine. Have you already chosen your favorite?
See you soon