RIBEAUVILLE

Ribeauville, France! Fairy-tale Alsace villages oh my! Wandering along cobblestoned streets of Ribeauville, France, and many other fairy-tale Alsace villages, one has to wonder which came first, the colorful houses or the fairy tales? Did we wake up in France or Germany? Is that sausage I smell or pretzels baking? The real question for us was, which of these magical villages should we visit, and which one to stay? Would they be overrun with tourists, or offer an authentic experience of Alsace culture?  Read on to find out (or just look at the pretty pictures!)

Eguisheim, France Houses

All Beauty, Little Beast

Determining which of the many Belle villages we would visit would be made easier by playing pin the map on the donkey (Toby did find a donkey, but it was in the eloquent city of Nancy). We weren’t quite sure which of the many Plus Beau Villages to visit (or were they Plus “Belle” Villages?). Each have made a claim to Disney’s inspiration. Generations of readers have been bewitched by the epic love story of a beautiful young girl imprisoned in the magical castle of a monstrous beast. The classic, somewhat true though highly embellished fairy tale was brought to life in 1970 by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve. Villeneuve, now there’s a name we’ve heard before on our travels to Avignon. For the real story behind The Beauty and The Beast, go here.

Perhaps if there were no French pension protests and resulting fuel shortages at the time, we might have never visited the region at all. Woof, would we have missed out! Bellying up to the German border like an elephant on nickel-a-beer night, we knew we could make a quick escape if necessary, at least gas up. We had indeed flown into Frankfurt with our sights set on dipping into France after touring Switzerland and Bavaria. Hot dog! (cold beer, warm pretzels).

 

Plus Beau Villages

There are technically only two with the heralded Plus Beau Village recognitions in Alsace: Eguisheim and Ribeauville. There are as well about ten similar villages, but either they are too big to be called a village, lack a pedestrian center or are just not quite as beau. A greasing of the waterwheels? We think so. Kayserville checks most boxes, twists most pretzels… but is not on the heralded list.

 

After reading countless articles, books, and YouTubing till our eyes waltzed, it was still a beast of a crapshoot, and not a crapshoot bag in sight. Perhaps you are reading this as you are in the same boat, wondering if taking a boat around Colmar is as wonderful as a whirl through Riquewihr. Discovering on your own rewards with an element of surprise, but it’s nice to have a little beastly guidance as the talking clock ticks. Regardless, as much as one does research, there is nothing like being Toby on the spot.

 

 

Toby’s Choice

Toby had never been to the Alsace region, at least not as far as we know. He had always preferred the South of France, the classical sandstone medieval villages… the corners of monotone stones so nicely retaining scents from chiens of days past. We sensed his wonderment: Is that the scent of Bichon? There… perhaps a stuck-up Poodle? And this, hmmm, a hosing by a German Shepherd? What then, is that scrumptious odour? Might it be choucroute?!

As you can see in the title, Ribeauville is the town we had finally pinned on the donkey for our base in Alsace, and Toby must say, it was a lucky stab. His traveler’s nose could not have sniffed for one any better. Following a few alterations in our travel plans (a crash landing in Cannes), it was booked on Booking.com with our phone in a hurry. Sometimes, you just have to pull the trigger.

View of Ribeauville

Alsace in a Nutshell

Driving through the yellow-flowered fields and on up to Ribeauville, it was truly as if someone had opened a fairy tale book. In this case, Master was the Beast, Mrs. Master the Beauty, and Toby a pack of wolves (he was hungry for some of that Alsace Weiner schnitzel).

What we discovered was Alsace in a nutshell, in the perfect Alsace setting along the Routes des Vins. Shouldering the Vosges, quietly nestled amongst the Shoenberg Hills, Ribeauville is surrounded by vast vineyards of Riesling. During spring, wildflowers dance among them, setting the stage for a dramatic entry to the town, its tower jutting above the plain. As we entered the town, Trumpets blared.

Looming over this Plus Beaux Village was a tower, a cathedral, the aforementioned flowered vineyards, and three abandoned castles on the mountainside.

As we mentioned earlier, our primary objective for visiting this region was to explore the hilltop castles. We had been to Loire Valley and seen the romantic castles built for show, but these castles were built from a different perspective. The castles in Alsace were built to keep their heads.

We used Ribeauville as our base for travel, which proved ideal, but any of the small towns west of Colmar, whether to the north or south, would suffice. There is really only one pedestrian street running through the tower and plaza, but it has enough in the way of architecture, cavs, eateries, winstubs, unique shops, boucheries, patisseries, boulangeries, and storks to make one fat and happy. We could have just stayed here and enjoyed Alsatian life without going anywhere and resulted in the same rich feeling. Well, that sounded good, but there was much out there to explore!

Sure, there were some of the typical tourist shops lining the cobbled streets, but also mixed in with some authentic shops as well, opening up to an idyllic square next to the Hotel de Ville (town hall). The town delivered like storks, which sit on the precipice.

Ribauville Delice Shop

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!

Guirsberg Castle

As for driving up to the three chateaus, there are no roads. You have to hoof it. This makes the experience much more rewarding. The Château du Girsberg stands at an altitude of 528 m, it is one of three abandoned castles (with the Château de Saint-Ulrich and the Haut-Ribeaupierre) all overlooking the town and valley.

The Lords of Ribeaupierre built the castle, then named Stein (La Roche), in the 13th century. They rebuilt it after a fire caused by lightning in 1288. Sorcery? We think so. In 1304, they gave up the maintenance chores to their vassals, the knights of Guirsberg, from whom the castle now takes its name. The Guirsbergs kept it until they died out in the 15th century and was abandoned in the 17th century.

The hike up to Guirsberg castle was one of the highlights of our trip. There are two ways up, one being more arduous yet spectacular than the other. Don’t follow Apple maps, it will lead you to a dead end at the school. Follow the Trois Chateaux signs. We went up an easier way and down a harder, admittedly not by design but it worked out.

Either way, reaching the castle, poking its ruined head and ours (the Riesling to blame) above the clouds, we were the first travelers to arrive for the day. Even without the castle, there was nothing like being up on the mountain, looking down on the villages below. Yet, throw in the opportunity to explore ancient ruins with nobody around, it was doggone hangover-diverting crazy!

Dog Friendliness

Aside from climbing a few steep hills, the Alsace region is doggone fur-baby friendly! Pretty much like the rest of France, dogs can go anywhere aside from a stuffy hotel (unless in coat and tie), a tasting room, or some museums. And oh yeah, grocery stores. Why a dog can go in a bakery or butcher shop and not a grocery store is yet another French mystery to remain.

What dog doesn’t like the smell of Weiner schnitzel? Weiner dogs, perhaps. And with all the castles and their well-wetted stones, Toby was in heaven. That one certainly smelled like an 1840 German Shephard! When he’s feeling it, the Snoop Dog shines like Sherlock Holmes. Likely so, since the region had so many times exchanged hands that croissants had evolved into sausage wraps. Had one drank too much of the region’s wine, woke up in the morning on a bench and looked up at the timbered colorful buildings, it would be trop difficile to determine if you were in Rothenburg Ob der Tauber (Germany) or Eguisheim (France, for now anyway). Only Toby’s nose could tell you.

The Alsatian People

 

In the Alsace region, people are also friendly, welcoming everyone. However, it is a bit difficult to get the French experience here, as there are so many tourists you’ll not stand out as a traveler, even with your backpack on. Well hey, there’s a dog in it. People are from all over the place by day, mostly from either France or Germany by night. In fact, the region being so close to Germany, this was the language commonly heard. Did you know that German is easier to learn for English speakers to learn than French, English being a West Germanic language in the Indo-European language family, with its earliest forms spoken by the inhabitants of early medieval England? Okay, we didn’t. Six years of Duolingo trumpets blaring and we still can’t master either. A sic effort (that’s easy English surf slang), with immersion being the only cure. 

Even the border patrol here were friendly. When we crossed the border into France, we were greeted by some folks who were as friendly has Howdy Doody. They claimed to be just asking a few informal questions. Just a questionnaire, nothing serious. Where have we been, where were we going. Typically, the border patrols in other crossings, and we had done seven this trip, scratched their heads over our red plates. But this was the first time we had been stopped in over two months, so we were happy to answer. Master’s first wisecrack thought was, “We’ve come to protest the retirement age,” but the Mastress quickly kaiboshed such foolishness.

dragon
Ribeauville street with clock tower
Alsace History

Ribeauville History

 

Back when dinosaurs roamed, Alsace was inhabited by nomadic hunters. After the end of the Thirty Years War, southern Alsace was annexed by France in 1648. This was the only place in France where Protestants were permitted to practice their faith in Alsace even after the Edict of Fontainebleau of 1685. It is still the only region of France that celebrates Good Friday as a holiday.

After the 1870–71 Franco-Prussian War, Alsace became annexed by Germany and became a part of the 1871 unified German Empire as a formal “Emperor’s Land”. After World War I the victorious Allies detached it from Germany and the province became part of the Third French Republic. Having been occupied and annexed by Germany during World War II, it was returned to France by the Allies at the end of World War II.

There are volumes of interesting history specific to each and every village, which we will eventually open to embellish our fairy tale with dragons and dungeons galore. Okay, maybe no dragons, but ghouls, dungeons, and torture chambers. Who doesn’t like to visit a good old torture chamber? Toby, for one. The winstub with the bacon and sausage, si’l vous plais.

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!

Architecture

With its villages of brightly painted steep-roofed half-timbered houses, Alsace architecture is without question Germanic. In the olden days, people lived on the top floors and the bottom was where they ran their business. House colors were restricted to what type of industry took place within them, sort of like the first HOA. If you were a bakery your house was painted one color (not sure which color, but just go with it), cobblers another, clockmakers yet another, and so on.

While today, depending on the grips of the town council, people are free to choose what color to paint a building, in the past the colors identified buildings as much as colors identify gender today. However, to earn the Plus Beaux Village badge, preservation is stricter. For instance, nothing can be changed on the outside, only on the interior.

One architectural wonder that stands strikingly apart from the rest of the region is the Gothic Église Saint-Martin Collegiate in Colmar, built from 1235-1365  (Église meaning church in French, or Münster in German). The church’s stone quilt, composed of beige and pink sandstone, is an onlookers delight.

eglise colmar

Weather

Though it does warm up during summer, the further south the hotter, the Alsace Valley has a climate very similar to North Carolina. The vines benefit from not too much rain on the plains, yet quite enough to forego drought. The tourist-sponsored weather stats say that July is the rainiest and the sunniest month (hmm, an appeal to everyone! Good job, AI). February it said is the driest. As a photographer, we seek out the stormy weather, which may make no sense to you at all until you read this… Spring… April to June, are the most desirable months. We can at least attest to that. Even then, however, you can expect a good squall to pass through to cool things down, particularly in the Vosges.

Elena took this photo as the storm cleared atop Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg with her Galaxy 9. Right place, right time.

Alsace Cuisine – Beast Mode!

 Alsace is no place to cut calories. You can always diet when you get back home. From the Tart flambee… sort of half cracker half pizza lots of sauce and toppings, to the gastronomic symbol of the region, the Choucroute (it’s how French say sauerkraut when mumbling on a pretzel after five German beers). Though Gaston, the beloved hero in Beauty and the Beast had a breakfast of 5 dozen eggs, the true Alsatian would have thrown in 3 dozen pretzels and  6 links of sausages.
 
To make Choucroute, the cabbage is finely shredded, layered with salt and juniper and left to ferment in wooden barrels. Sauerkraut can be served with poultry, pork, sausage or even fish. Traditionally it is served with pork, sausage, frankfurters, bacon (what they call bacon anyway), smoked pork, all served alongside steamed potatoes. 
Monsieur wishing he ordered le charcuterie
Macaroons are a regional favorite, not to be confused with macarons or Macron.
Kugelhopf cakes Alsace
Kugelhopf cakes Alsace
Alsace pizza
Alsace Flammekueche
Eau de Vie, Distillery Shop in Keyserberg
Eau de Vie, Distillery Shop in Keyserberg
One thing the French could have borrowed from Germany, beer. French make the Wurst beer ever.
Alsace Wine
Alsace Wine

Degustations

 

Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, and Pinot Blanc are among the notable white wines that are not produced anywhere else in France, yet also produced in Germany’s vineyard areas.

The Romans loved their Riesling as much as the Germans do, the main target of export for the wine. The region’s economy was indeed closely tied with that of Rome. Drink up, Julius, but beware of the wines of March!

But since we’d been in Germany a few weeks, Riesling was nothing new to our palette. Eau de vie, however, was. French for “water for life,” eau-de-vie is historically significant to European drinking culture. It is made of brandy with anything but grapes. Traditional eaux-de-vie flavors include pear (Poire Williams), yellow plum (mirabelle), raspberry (framboise), apricot (blume marillen), cherry (kirsch), apple (pomme) and peach (pêche). One sip of the cherry and blossoms were sprouting from our ears. Not really, but you get the point.

What’s the difference between eau de vie and liqueur?

Liqueur is an already distilled alcohol made from grain which has already been fermented, into which fruits are steeped. It is sweeter and more syrupy than a European eau de vie or schnapps.

 

But let’s talk about French beer, or let’s not. Perhaps we are just supposed to stick to French wine. Perhaps we are just spoiled from living in Bend, Oregon, craft beer capital of the world. At this meal, Master returned his beer three times, and this was the most he could drink of it. They charged him for all three, plus a tourist tax, a server inclusive tip of 40%, a tourist tax, a you should have ordered the flammekueche instead of the burger tax and a beer return tax. 

 

The glass itself had a warning in fine print, “An no since 1240.” Only if sober will you see it. 

 

Early Christmas Shopping

Every town in Alsace has its fair share of unique shops filled with crafts and souvenirs as well as clothing boutiques. One store that stood out was Kathy Wolfart, and not just for the awkward name. For those who missed the Christmas Markets, Christmas comes early in this store, stocked with enough ornaments to fill a forest. We had also seen this store in other villages we visited, like Rothenburg ob der Tober, making it one of the only chain stores in Alsace. However, the only thing chain about it is the string of ornaments you might wrap around your own tree. This store is a welcome tourist attraction to all and to all a good nite, or bite out of your wallet.

inside Kathe Wohlfahrt store
Colmar during Christmas
Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas store.
Marche in Ribeauville

Princely Markets

If you ever walked into a marché and thought, isn’t this a princely market!  it could because the first Alsace markets were indeed the creation of Middle Age Princes, whatever age was the actual Prince. The lords of Alsace determined everything from a market’s time, place and even priced the lard, as well as other products such as fruits, chestnuts, fabrics, mushrooms, honey and other regional bee’s knees, most of it organic and free to taste.

As centuries unfolded, some cities were given free rein to create their own weekly markets and annual fairs. No longer were they charged for the rain as well. Eventually the region became most known for not only its great farmer’s markets, but for their seasonal spectacular, the Christmas Markets. We have not checked this off the travel list yet so can’t pretend to offer experience, so refer you to a great website of photos and where the best Christmas Markets in Alsace and the surrounding areas are (Baden Baden, Basel, Mulhouse…)

 

Here is a list of a few of the many Alsace Markets and times of opening:

Colmar –  Marché des Tanneurs – Every Thursday from 07:30 to 18:00
Colmar –  Place de l’Ancienne Douane – Every Thursday from 07:30 to 13:00
Colmar –  St Joseph – Every Saturday from 07:30 to 13:00
Kaysersberg – Place Gouraud – Every Monday from 07:30 to 12:30
Ribeauvillé – Place de la Mairie – Saturday morning all year round.
Riquewihr – place Voltaire (in front of the city hall). Friday morning + first Sunday of the month.
Sélestat – Old Town – One of the eldest and biggest markets in Alsace in the historic city center of Sélestat. Tuesday from 08:00 to 13:00

 

L’Hotel

We were only able to stay a few days in the area so we checked into the L’ Hôtel & Spa Ribeauville, whose staff were nice enough to hold our luggage – never a good idea to leave it in the car – the town seemed safe enough but hey, it’s France and the world we live in, unfortunately. Better to be safe than sorry. 

 

The hotel had no parking, but there was a beautiful tulip-lined park across the street. We emptied the car and set about exploring the town until it was time to check in (3 pm). Master clicked through a few gigs on the camera, which is to say, he virtually burned through a few rolls of film.

 

L’Hotel was at the top of Booking.com’s list, even after we had unchecked “Pet Friendly.” It seemed rather nice from the photos and at the late time of booking, one of the only hotels in the area that were not “complet“, meaning completely booked. The hotel was indeed in a great location, where we could walk right out the door and experience Alsace In Wonderland. The hotel itself? Very small, which was fine, until you walked into your chambre trop petite. Small, very small. A view of a wall. At least it was clean and the bed fairly comfy as far as French beds go… pas de tout! Oh well. As well, the spa was closed. We weren’t there for any spa treatments, but a swim in the pool would have been nice. In the end, they did not discount, but they also did not make us pay for the dog. Dog fees, they suck.

 

 

Breakfast in hotel
No complaints from the Curmudgeon about the breakfast.
L'hotel lobby. A bit not like France pour nous. 4 Stars? Puh!

The lobby and hallway experience was weird.  Oh, it’s not that horrific, it’s just strange, and reflects the overall feel of a hotel not being of France. After all, the walk to your room should make you feel like you just traipsed back in time while biting into a slice of mountain fromage. Instead, there are glossy photos of models playing air guitar, and a pregnant girl rubbing her belly. We closed Toby’s eyes. 

Booking does state that their rankings sometimes are influenced by the almighty dollar, or poor rankings by those who don’t. We’ve had our share of hits and more misses by relying on them. See our post about how to choose a hotel not based on Booking.com’s ratings nor on a hotel’s stars. Toby will give it two downward dogs if it deserves it, and most won’t dare to, thinking they will be blacklisted, tarred and feathered.

Breakfast was in their basement, the dungeon. Now, most hotels reserve their best view or patio for their breakfast space, but if any history were to be felt in L’Hotel, perhaps it was used as a torture chamber. However, the spread was much better than expected, with fresh glass jar yoghurts, a soft-boiled eggy machine, scrambled eggs and pancakes, a wide variety of breads and croissants, fruits and juice, sliced meats, and among those meats, bacon! American style bacon! Even if it was sorely undercooked, Toby had no complaints either, when the Missus snuck some back with a bit of jambon and bacon in her purse. This kind of breakfast beats a fancy room with a view and a blah breakfast with no bacon, at least in Toby’s fine bacon’d opinion.

Some hotels are pretty strict about leaving your dog in the room, but Toby is a calm boy and never barks or whines like some. If you are traveling with your dog, and your dog has separation issues, you might have to take turns having breakfast. Of course, if you’re traveling alone with your dog, that would pose a problem, but at least in France, many places allow dogs in restaurants, at least in a stroller. Not many hotels, however, including this one. Woof.

There are many other options of places to stay in Ribeauville, given time to book them. Hotel De La Tour is right on the square. That can be a good thing and a bad thing, when people staying up late to revel and party keep you awake all night. Many gites are listed, suggesting you might book one further up the town toward the cathedral, where there is less tourist traffic. The tourists are pretty much gone at night to other town or too plumb tuckered from trying to take in tour too many villages. It’s the locals who will keep you up. Check out our post about staying on squares, you’ll be glad you did. No circles pay us for dissing the squares.

Dog's Rule Ribeauville

Dog in Window, Ribeauville
Hey Boss! Toby's in town. Can I go out and play?
Dog's face
Dogs Rule
Come to think of it, and looking at the road, this might have been in Germany, on our way to Ribeauville. Either way, you really miss out on a lot of villages by not having a car.

Getting Around

A car is a necessary item if you’re going anywhere beyond Colmar. You won’t be visiting many villages otherwise unless by bike. Electric bikes are making this more doable, at least from a base. You could take a train to Colmar and bike around from there, but to learn about the best way to secure a car for extended travels, discover here.

 

Househunters Alsace

Being ocean lovers, we had not planned to do any house hunting in Alsace. However, after soaking up the feel-good vibrations of the area, we second-guessed ourselves and started poking our noses in more than wine glasses. Like anywhere in France, a fixer-up bargain is going to be far from a desirable village. To gain a golden key to any dream house in one of these fairy tale villages – preferring Ribeauville first, Kayserberg second – was far beyond our means. The reason we eyed these two towns was due to discovering in each a quiet and calm residential side catering more to full-time residents, complete with trickling waters. These areas provide an escape from the swarming crowds of summer. Yet, one could get to one of the gems of gastronomy within a short walk, where during evenings, the towns are empty of tourists.

 

Parking

In Ribeauville, free parking can be found on the street running alongside the vineyard hill and in the big park as you enter town on your right, overnight parking ok. Generally, the larger the town, the more difficult the parking. We parked underground next to the big fountain park in Colmar and paid, and sometimes coughed up coin for meters for others.

 

Safety

Safe. We heard that dog’s guarded the village day and night. We did not witness one protest here aside from someone complaining about not having enough sauce on their sausages, or okay, about the beer.

You can further Toby’s travels and enjoy more stories, travel information, and photographs through purchasing a print, bag, mug, and much more through our galleries within Fine Art America. May we suggest using the filters to target your interests via “Collections” (top left menu). Enjoy!