Alsace

Alsace wine route

Kaysersberg

We began our journey along [a section of] the Alsace (pronounced “all-sauce”) wine route immediately after checking out of hotel in Colmar. This was the first time driving our minivan-sized rental car since we arrived in Colmar and parked it in the garage that was only a few inches larger than the car itself.

I’d been observing traffic whilst walking around Colmar and one traffic law that is always questionable in every country we visit is this: Are right-hand turns (when driving on the right) allowed at red traffic lights and vice versa?

In Colmar, I noticed drivers making right-hand turns at red traffic lights and other drivers waiting until the light turned green. I decided it was best to wait until the light turned green and when we came to our first red traffic light (where we needed to turn right), I stopped and a few seconds later, I heard a lot of honking coming from the car behind us.

Based on the constant honking, I concluded that it was legal to make a right-hand turn at a red traffic light and I took my foot off of the brake and then I killed the car! How embarrassing.

There was more honking as I frantically tried to start the car and by the time I got it started, there was a car coming in the opposite direction making a left-hand turn and I almost hit the car. We were off to a terrible start.

Also, really quick, below is an updated Canceled Train Tracker which includes our Strasbourg to Basel train that we booked prior to departing Colmar that “replaced” our FlixBus return journey to Basel.

Description#
Total journeys9
Total canceled journeys
SNCF canceled journeys (x3)
Canceled journeys by association* (x2)
5
% journeys canceled**55.5%

*Eurostar train journeys that were not canceled by SNCF but could not be completed due to an SNCF canceled journey.

**Includes all canceled journeys.

We arrived in Kaysersberg at 10:15am after a 25-minute drive in heavy traffic and road construction. The roads we drove on were major roads, not idyllic country roads weaving in and out of vineyards and picturesque towns. It was a bit of a letdown for me.

The most accessible parking lot in Kaysersberg that I hoped to park at (located off of D415) was closed so we parked in a lot near the north end of the village. We found this parking lot by accident as we were aimlessly driving around looking for somewhere to park.

We paid €2 for two hours and I didn’t have to parallel park our giant car so I was a happy!

Protip: There are scenarios when Google maps masks/hides things based on the “map mode” you are using. Below are two screenshots of our Kaysersberg parking lot. The Google satellite view accurately shows the parking lot whereas the map view shows the parking lot as green space.

The weather was extremely poor that day (cold and pouring rain) so I thought parking would not be an issue but by the time we purchased our parking ticket, the parking lot had filled from half- to full-capacity and there were cars circling the parking lot looking for a spot. It was only 10:20am and with a little bit of luck, we had beaten the rush but then I realized that parking at our next two destinations, Riquewihr (pronounced “rick-vih-here”) and Ribeauville (pronounced “hree-boo-vee-ley”), were going to be an issue.

It was a two-minute walk from the parking lot to the main area of the village and we were already fed up with the weather so we popped into Peche Mignon for a coffee and a quiche. The quiche was excellent.

The terraces beyond the houses were covered in wine vines.

By the time we emerged from the cafe, it had stopped raining but damn it was cold! It was cold enough where you wanted to wear gloves but you couldn’t because you needed to have bare hands to work your phone/camera.

The buildings below were my favorite in Kaysersberg. In every village we visited, I was drawn to the cream houses with dark trim and green-blue shutters – don’t know why. Also, I found the bears on the shutters on this building to be cheeky.

Kaysersberg versus Colmar…

Similarities:

  • rivers/streams
  • cobblestone streets
  • medieval architecture
  • carbohydrate-heavy regional dishes
  • mulled wine

Differences:

  • Kaysersberg is smaller than Colmar
  • Kaysersberg has vineyards directly outside of the village
  • Kaysersberg has castle ruins

Realistically, two hours (including cafe time) is more than enough time to explore Kaysersberg. A lot of tourists visit Colmar and Kaysersberg (and Riquewihr) but due to the smaller size of Kaysersberg, it felt more overrun with tourists than Colmar. It also felt more like a tourist village rather than a village with families and kids in school and adults working in non-tourist professions.

Though we visited in late December, the period during which we visited was considered high tourist season because of the Strasbourg Christmas market. The Christmas market runs for 38 days (in 2019, it ran from November 22 – December 30) and draws about 2 million visitors to Strasbourg. Many of those visitors take day trips to the fairytale villages along on the Alsace wine route. I wondered if the villages along the Alsace wine route would be more or less busy in the summer months.

After our brief stop at the cafe, we walked around Kaysersberg for a bit before ascending up the short trail to the castle ruins.

The fast-moving river produced a freezing mist that spewed into the air.

Prior to visiting the Alsace region, I knew the following:

  • The cities, towns, and villages in the region had toggled between German and French rule and that there was as much, if not more, German influence than French influence in the region’s culture.
  • The food was very rich and heavy.
  • The majority of wines produced were white wines.
  • Anthony Bourdain committed suicide in Kaysersberg.

Similar to Colmar, there were Christmas market stalls selling mulled wine and other festive snacks (gingerbread cookies, cakes, and cheese) in Kaysersberg, just on a much smaller scale. There were many shops selling clothing, jewelry, and other arts and crafts but I do not recall seeing a single wine tasting shop.

The medieval architecture was quite special to look at but I was disappointed with the lack of wine tasting shops. Prior to arriving in Alsace, I had an image in my head that there would be wine shops lining the cobblestone roads and that just wasn’t reality. One of the reasons why we chose to visit the Alsace region was to understand more about the wine produced there and we were failing miserably at this task.

Our final stop before departing Kaysersberg was to get an aerial view of the village and valley and the only way to do this was to hike up the hill to the castle ruins. Note: The castle ruins consist of a mostly-intact tower and some piles of stone rubble.

We were the only people at the ruins and it was nice to take in the views without having to maneuver around other tourists. To the south, there were vineyards as far as the eye could see, which wasn’t very far due to the fog.

Riquewihr

The next village on our tour, Riquewihr, was a short distance north of Kaysersberg. I do not know if it was due to the time of day or because we were deeper into “wine country” but the drive from Kaysersberg to Riquewihr was one less traveled, therefore, a more pleasant drive. No one honked at me as I mistakenly drove the wrong way down a one-way which I appreciated!

I decided against using GPS to find a parking lot in Riquewihr and instead followed the road signs. We pulled into the first parking lot off of the main road leading to the center of the village and as we were pulling in, a car was pulling out and we snatched its parking spot. The time printed on our parking ticket was 12:23pm (€3 for two hours) and it was starting to drizzle again. Yuck.

We walked through the main gates into the village center and there were a lot of tourists. Probably five times the number of tourists as in Kaysersberg. I noticed that many of the tourists were carrying riverboat cruise umbrellas and then I put it together – the riverboat had docked (possibly in Strasbourg) and the travelers were on a day excursion down the Alsace wine route.

Riquewihr was my favorite of the villages we visited. For me, it was the coziest and most picturesque village. Kaysersberg felt like it was one long road with shops and restaurants lining the road whereas Riquewihr had a feeling of a village center and was loosely structured into city blocks with nooks and crannies to explore off of the main road.

The same medieval architecture existed in Riquewihr but the colors of the buildings were more vibrant and varied than in the other villages. The buildings in Colmar and Kaysersberg were largely pastel colors and the buildings in Riquewihr were painted in bold and strong colors. I loved it, especially since the gray sky was washing out all of my photos.

Riquewihr had pastel colored buildings too.

One of my favorite things about Riquewihr were the hidden buildings and alleys. You had to be a flâneur and stroll down the super narrow alleys that most people didn’t even know existed. I peered down one alley and saw vines behind the buildings!

Down another narrow alley we stumbled upon this very old staircase leading to an apartment. The colors of the moss on the roof are what caught my eye.

After 45 minutes or so, we were ready to depart Riquewihr for Ribeauvillé but not without first stopping by the Christmas market stalls. There was one regional dish served in Riquewihr that we had not seen in Colmar or Kaysersberg. I do not know what it is called but it was potatoes, onions, and chunks of ham/bacon mixed together and cooked in a huge paella-type pan over an open flame. I didn’t see or smell any stinky cheese in it so I was all in!

The dish brought back memories of my childhood and my German grandmother who made a similar dish. I didn’t take a photo of it but it looked and tasted similar to this no-name dish I once ate in Prague whilst on a Romantical Adventure…

The arm/hand model in this photo is my friend Jessi.

Ribeauvillé

Ribeauvillé is a quick 10-minute drive from Riquewihr and it was our third and final stop on our Alsace wine route tour. The problem was that we could not find parking so aborted the mission and continued on to Strasbourg. The end.

Next, Strasbourg, better weather, and another switch-a-roo of travel plans.

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