© Dr Philippe Erhard
Great beauty, food, wine and two wonderful neighbours
A little winding road took us along rolling hills, covered with vineyards, where Alsace wine is produced. At the next turn, we saw a village. From a distance, it seemed impenetrable with houses tight together circling a church steeple. As we got closer, we learned that we had arrived in Eguisheim (ot-eguisheim.fr), which was named France’s favourite village in 2013 by the television program Le Village préféré des Français.
Illuminated by the late morning sun, it was utterly enchanting with its narrow, twisting streets and facades of medieval timbered houses. The explosion of harmonious pastel colours was amazing. Blue, green, pink, white, even orange houses and shutters competed with a blast of red geraniums everywhere. This is where Walt Disney came to get inspiration for his movies and we had the distinct feeling of walking into a fairy tale.
From a distance, the village looked compact, but once inside, it was surprisingly spacious. At the centre, a large sunny square with a babbling water fountain featured a wall covered with flowers and stairs that led up to a castle and church. From the roof of the church, storks flew in and out of a large nest and circled the village above a view that has remained unchanged for over 1000 years. A legend says that storks bring babies, and if you want a brother or sister, you just need to put a piece of sugar on the windowsill and those majestic birds will look after the rest.
Flowery fields forever
It would be a crime to leave this little piece of paradise too quickly so we sat outdoors at a restaurant to absorb the beauty. A glass of wine was the perfect introduction to the local food. When the waitress brought large platters of savoury smoked meat and tasty potatoes cooked with cheese, I wondered if this plethora of calories and fat was not designed to make us go to real the paradise sooner than we wished. My wife called our meals “a heart attack on a plate,” but everything was so good, and if that was the key to heaven, so be it! And, after all, burning calories was easy here.
After lunch, we crossed the village and took a trail that climbed up the mountain through vineyards toward the three towers of a castle that was destroyed in 1466. As we climbed, the village below looked just like a toy. Meadows of wild flowers succeeded the orderly vines and we soon found ourselves in a deep forest.
The trail climbed steeply. It was dark and mysterious and seemed to go on endlessly. When I least expected it, we arrived in a flowery field which led to where a cliff dominated the ruined castle. Despite its age and partial destruction, it still stood proudly over the valley and plain that extends all the way to the Black Forest in the east and the Alps in the south.
From here, a wooden sign pointed to a trail that lead to an old convent on the left, another castle on the right and straight ahead to the summit. Arriving at the top was not only a pleasure for the eyes with its vast and varied vistas, but also an auditory delight with its summer ode of chipping birds, crickets and the crisp ring of cow bells.
But Alsace is not only about hiking in rural settings. Large cosmopolitan cities are around the corner. Strasbourg (otstrasbourg.fr), the official seat of the European parliament, is famous for its historical centre and gothic cathedral — both classified as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO.
Colmar (tourisme-colmar.com), located on the wine route, is well known for its preserved old town, its scenic canals called “la petite Venice” and its stunning Unterlinden Museum, the most visited outside Paris. Germany and the Black Forest with the beautiful city of Freiburg and the spa town of Bad Krozingen as well as Switzerland are just a short and easy drive away.
And don't miss the drive along the wine route with its picturesque villages and attractive restaurants. Choose one of those villages and experience life like a local by renting an apartment, where you’ll be able to cook your own food bought at lively farmers markets. The Gîtes de France website (gites-de-france.com) offers apartments available by the week.
Getting to Colmar is easy. The Basel’s airport is only 30 minutes away and it’s just a 90-minute drive from Zurich. Make sure to rent a car so you can explore all the treasures of the region. Bon voyage!
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