Love Letter to Alsace is a series of essays about my trip to the Alsace region of France in May 2015. It was of the most delightful adventures I’ve ever experienced! I hope you will enjoy reading about different aspects of the trip, from traveling to the destination, to stories about the lovely towns and villages we visited, and more.
Tiny Bergheim is the next stop on the wine route just west of our home base of Ribeauvillé. It turned out to be the perfect first baby step of our adventure. Quiet country roads led us through fields and vineyards, giving us the opportunity to practice our knowledge of who-yields-to-whom on roundabouts without causing excessive distress to the light, local traffic.
Approaching the medieval gateway to the village, we found a shaded municipal parking lot on the right (free!), flanked by a small stone building housing very clean public restrooms. We thought that was nice, of course, but it wasn’t until several villages later that we came to fully appreciate Bergheim’s thoughtful hospitality. Merci, Bergheim!
The town walls, dating back to the early 14th century, are still virtually intact – a rarity in the Alsace region where so many battles have been fought over the centuries. Winding streets reveal ancient traditional, half-timbered wine growers’ homes and everywhere shop keepers and residents celebrated the beginning of summer with terra cotta pots and wooden window boxes overflowing with colorful geraniums and pansies. Fabulous old wisteria bushes dripped purple clusters of blossoms, mimicking the ripe grapes that will be everywhere in the region come fall.
Bergheim has been known for its wines and surrounding vineyards since the Middle Ages and there is evidence of Roman occupation from long before that time. Near the town’s parish church you’ll find an “Annette Garden” where “simples,” medicinal plants, were cultivated in the 15th century.
If you go to Bergheim in the summer, you may be interested in visiting the Maison des Sorcières, or Witches’ House, situated between the garden and church. Its hours are very limited during the off seasons and was closed the day we visited. We learned later that in the 16th and 17th centuries, more than 40 women were burned at the stake for practicing witchcraft. The museum tells stories of the lives of the accused women and their trials, as well as displaying some of the instruments used for torture in that era (yikes). My friend Patti had asked me to bring back a stone for her garden, here in Ohio. Since she is a very good witch (of course!), Bergheim was the perfect place to pick up a rock to join others she has collected from places like Sedona, Arizona.
Bergheim is not home to a long list of historical must-see sites, so we just enjoyed wandering around the pretty town, even returning when we learned that its weekly market was scheduled a few days later. There wasn’t much to choose from, compared to the large Saturday market in Ribeauvillé, but even that was kind of nice. People chatted with us a bit and it was clear that this was not a market aimed toward tourism. Locals were stocking up on their veggies for the week, or checking out the inexpensive clothing hanging from racks next to the shoe salesman’s display (I would have bought a pair of Clarks sandals but he didn’t have them in my size after checking the inventory in his van!).
Bergheim is perhaps a ten minute drive from Ribeauvillé and is a charming, low key place to begin your exploration of Alsace’s picturesque villages. Until next time, à tout à l’heure!