Love Letter to Alsace is a series of essays about my trip to the Alsace region of France in May 2015. It was one 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.
The friendly girl in the Ribeauville Tourist Information office called Eguisheim the “snail city” because the town was built in three concentric circles around the chateau where Pope Leo XI was born. She also said it was picturesque and one of France’s (many) “most beautiful villages.” It might have won an award for flowers, too. Plenty of those around, too, although I must say that every pretty village with pretty flowers would have gotten my enthusiastic vote, just so you know.
This brings me to a confession about this trip. Unlike my previously well-planned excursions to places like London or Rome where I’ve compiled a laundry list of MUST SEE places, Sue and I wandered around Alsace by the seat of our pants. Want to see the town shaped like a snail? Sure. Look for a place to have fish for lunch on the Fried Carp Trail (more on that later)? You bet. It didn’t take a Mona Lisa to capture our interest. In fact, my only regret was that we somehow missed the Gingerbread Museum.
Maybe next time.
This also was my first experience renting a car in Europe. Having the freedom to easily pop in and out of little villages and towns that would be difficult to visit using public transportation was great. And it was easy. Do it if you can.
So we were off to Equisheim on a sunny Sunday morning. The drive was gorgeous – winding through vineyards and cutting across other tiny towns, curving around the hills and catching glimpses of the ruins of castles in the distance. Eguisheim was maybe a 30 minute drive south and west from our flat in Ribeauville and has a large parking lot outside the city walls (you have to pay) and public restrooms. There’s a large map showing how the town is laid out, conveniently posted just before you enter the village.
We were greeted by colorful half-timbered buildings as well as older stone constructions decked out with pastel shutters and overflowing flower boxes. In the center of town we found the old chateau adjacent to a lovely church with a statue of the pope in front. Leo XI was born there in 1002, if you can even fathom such a year (I can’t).
The remains of three medieval red sandstone towers rise above the village. They reminded me very much of the remnants of towers that still loom above some of the historic gems of Tuscany, like San Gimignano and Siena, and I imagine they served much the same purpose as lookouts and places to run for protection if invaders were spotted.
Built in the 11th and 12th century, Eguisheim was destroyed in 1466, but the city and its protective ramparts were rebuilt and little has changed structurally since the 16th century.
There were plenty of people enjoying a Sunday stroll in this charming village, but not so many that the place felt at all crowded or overrun by tourists. We had lunch on the patio outside a restaurant facing the main square. It was the best tart flambé of the trip for me! This Alsatian version of pizza starts with a very thin, crispy flatbread crust and is topped with a light spread of crème fraiche, some grilled onions, and bacon bits similar to pancetta.
A proud producer along the Route des Vin, Eguisheim is known for its pleasant Pinot Blanc, hearty Rieslings, and luscious Gewurztraminer and Muscat wines. À votre santé!