France’s charming medieval town highlighting the country’s thriving wine region of Alsace.
What are walls but a resistance to the “element”, may it be the weather or the mortal enemy. What are walls but a strategy to repel what we deem undesirable corrupt, disastrous. What are walls but quite simply, to keep us safe. In the dark days of the Middle Ages a wall meant more than a signature of solidarity against a foreign cancer but a means to enforce the survival of a society, of a peoples’ desire to thrive in their current means.
You see these walls throughout Europe: formidable, daunting, indestructible. However, there is one wall whose past’s intentions remain honorable as a protectorate, that are now as welcoming as Mickey Mouse dancing in front of the yawning entrance of Disneyland. This is a wall that is both formidable in its ancient glory as it is fascinately passive and striking in its present sheen. It does not protect nowadays, but invites the foreign hordes, beckons them into the confines of antiquity, tranquility and a charming aftertaste left by the flavoring of France’s romantic ancient and popular Alsacian desert called Riqhweur.
Riquewihr is a humble town raised to stardom by the swarms of tourists that have walked its cobblestone streets, and frequented its quaint restaurants, hotels, shops, bakeries and cafés. This may sound like any medieval town, may it lie on the shores of the Rhein River or within the dark valleys of the Black Forest, Riquewihr, though, fosters a magical air like no other of its ancient siblings.
Within the town’s well-preserved walls, are tight alleys and uneven streets void of cars, with the exception of the few natives’ vehicles, town’s people who live in charming half-timbered homes, each one a different hue of the rainbow. Yes colorful dwellings not just the typical off white plaster straw and dark beamed homes of European medieval villages one sees on TV. Riquewihr‘s homes and stores range in light shades of baby blue, pale yellow, mauve, faded turquoise and light green. Their steep roofs bump against one another like unevenly aligned town houses, with tall chimneys, raised from the tiled roofs upon which roost storks, a hallmark of the Alsacian region. Within these alluring buildings operate a myriad of businesses, from wineries, French cuisine, jewelry and pewter and pottery stores, tourist shops, bakeries, bars and clothing boutiques, all of which sell some shape or form a traditional icon of the Alsacian region. There is no shortage of bed and breakfasts in Riquewihr, which are quaint and reasonably priced.
And all about is the presence of the ancient walls curbing the tide of vineyards that carpet the region’s fertile soil rising and falling finally ebbing by the distant mountains that cup much of the Alsacian wine country. Within these vineyards and bordering hills is a web of meandering trails that are frequented by bikers and hikers alike, making Riquewihr a convenient launching point for recreational activities such as these.
Riquewihr has ample museums that highlight the history of this ancient town, as well as the Alsacian region as a whole. Some of these museums include the Dolder Museum, which is housed in the Old Tower – built in 1291 - whose height dominates one end of the town. The museum showcases an enthralling exhibition of weapons from the 15th and 16th centuries, as well as traditional artifacts from Riquewihr’s Medieval history. The Thieves Tower wasn’t a hideout for medieval criminals, but a place where they would pay for their crimes. This museum is home to an authentic torture chamber on the tower’s first floor, which highlights the different methods of punishing criminals, and the tools of the trade, which made this torture so agonizing such as the infamous Rack. The mail coach museum displays a milder theme than torture, exhibiting travel through two centuries of transport’s history, the only collection of this type in France. The museum is located in the town’s 16th century stables.
Interesting sights that are a must to visit in Riquewihr include the Stork’s Nest House built in 1535. It is home to an attractive courtyard, a well dating from 1603, gallery, carved pillars, and a colossal winepress from the 19th century. The Dolder Belfry tower that overlooks the ancient Sinnbrunnen fountain from the 16th century highlights the town’s ramparts. The Upper Gateway is comprised of the outer ramparts from the 16th and 17th centuries, with double gates, portcullis, drawbridge and loopholes. Guided tours are offered everyday in Riquewihr, which highlight the above sights, and then some, as well as the aforementioned museums.
Riquewihr’s vintners offer visitors wine tasting either in their small cafés in town, or their vineyards surrounding the town. Riquewihr’s tourist office supplies locations for these vintners and the types of wine they produce.
Riquewihr is a beautiful historical sight to behold throughout the year, however the fall wine season is the highlight of this town with the vineyards in full bloom and the grapes ripe for the picking. The town’s old walls and towers seem to disappear behind the lush green leaves of the columns of vines that stretch for miles around Riquewihr to the foothills of the distant mountains.
Riquewihr has indeed shed it’s age-old defensive posture punctuated by its ancient walls and ramparts, and welcomes the world with open gates to tour one of France’s charming gems resting in the heart of the country’s flourishing Alsacian wine country.