Lakes or mountains (and often both) are usually essential reasons that make me fall in love with a town or region and include it on my 'absolute favourites' list. On my most recent trip to the UK and Europe, however, two regions without either a significant lake or mountain have knocked me for six and stolen my heart. The first region is the Cotswolds in England and the second, France's stunning Alsace region and particularly, the gorgeous village of Riquewihr.
Over the years, Alsace has been part of both Germany and France, with both countries fighting for the region, and it still retains a mixture of both cultures in its architecture, food and wine and even its language and town names. Whilst proudly French these days, village names like Riquewihr, Hunawihr and Guebwiller sound more German than French but the region has integrated both cultures seamlessly.
For both our stays in the Alsace region we have based ourselves at Riquewihr, one of France's most beautiful villages, and just 20 minutes from the centre of Colmar. Riquewihr is situated on the famous Alsace Wine Route and has to be one of the loveliest villages I have ever visited.
Things to do in Riquewihr
The town, which has a population of just 1300, is like something out of a fairy tale. You enter it through the gate of the old fortified town walls and are immediately struck by its beauty.
The cobblestoned main street is lined with brightly painted houses with window boxes bursting with colour and leads to the Dolder, one of the original gates of the 13th Century town walls, at the top of the street. A maze of narrow alley ways, all decorated in the same manner, lead off the main street and just beg to be discovered.
There are plenty of souvenir shops to tempt you but a visit to Kathe Wohlfahrt's Christmas Shop is a must, as is a tasting of the local wine at one of the many cellar doors. Riesling and Gewurztraminer are the two local wines the region is famous for.
A 40 minute ride on the Petite Train is a good way to learn a little about Riquewihr and as it also passes some of the vineyards on the edge of town, you can also find out some of the facts and figures about wine growing in Alsace.
What to see around Riquewihr
The Alsace Wine Route, which pretty much stretches from Strasbourg in the north to Mulhouse in the south, offers endless gorgeous villages, all surrounded by grapevines, to visit. Most villages have wine cellars where you can taste the local drop.
A fun way to explore the villages is by planning your own Alsace bike tour.
Ribeauville and Kayserberg are two nearby towns we enjoyed visiting. Just like Riquewihr, brightly coloured buildings stand shoulder to shoulder along the streets, and every corner you turn results in another 'ooh' and 'aah'.
Hunawihr, just a couple of kilometres from Riquewihr, was another village we loved. Its churchyard provided fantastic views of the acres and acres of lush green vines which are planted on the sloping hillsides.
Hunawihr is also home to a recovery centre for storks. These majestic birds were almost extinct before a breeding program was introduced. They can now be seen sitting on their (very large) nests on top of many local buildings - and even on church spires!
A drive from Riquewihr to Haut Koenigsbourg Castle is definitely worthwhile. The castle has been restored to a high standard and contains many items from its days of glory. Built high on a hill overlooking Alsace, the views were absolutely stunning.
On our first visit to Riquewihr, we were lucky enough to be there on the weekend of Bastille Day (France's national day) and enjoyed a local pageant which included a marching band all decked out in their traditional costumes.
Where to stay in Riquewihr
Getting to Riquewihr
Riquewihr is most easily accessed by car (you'll need one to visit the multitude of lovely sights in the area) and is situated 15 kilometres from Colmar and 80 kilometres from Strasbourg.
Hire cars can be collected from the railway stations at these two cities, whilst the TGV and TER trains service Colmar, Strasbourg and Mulhouse from Paris. The region is also serviced by both the Basel-Mulhouse and Strasbourg airports.
If you don't have your own car, Riquewihr can be reached by a local bus service from Colmar. Bus 106 departs from near the cinema in Colmar and the return fare is around €6 per adult. View timetables here.
If you prefer to stay in Strasbourg or Colmar, you can still visit Riquewihr on a day or half-day tour. These are some of the most popular tours:
- Full day wine tour from Strasbourg - click here to check prices
- Pearls of Alsace, full day tour from Strasbourg - click here to check prices
- Alsace villages, half-day tour from Colmar - click here to check prices
- Alsace villages, full day tour from Colmar - click here to check prices
Where to eat in Riquewihr
The pedestrianised streets of Riquewihr are home to many restaurants and cafes, mainly serving local specialities. We enjoyed a delicious, casual meal at du Vignoble restaurant and pizzeria at 3 rue Laterale. I tried the traditional Tarte Flambee (a thin-based pizza crust with cream, onion and bacon topping) with a glass of local Riesling - it was delicious.
Take a look at Riquewihr on this short video:
- A short guide to Colmar
- The fairytale castle of Haut-Koenigsbourg
- The most beautiful villages in France
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