By Kat Hounsell
Known to locals as 170km of happiness, the Alsace region of France is a patchwork blanket of some of the finest vines in the country. Vineyards wrap around the borders of charming little villages that are home to the finer things in life, such as world class Gewurztraminer and decadent foie gras. The local architecture has been heavily influenced by the Germans, owing to the historic battles for ownership of the stunning Alsatian land, and this was demonstrated at my first culinary rest stop, Chez Yvonne in Strasbourg.
I and my travelling companion, aka Mum, celebrated our first night with traditional Coq au Riesling served with spaetzle, a German pasta. We were slightly unnerved by the dining chairs with little children’s faces carved in to them, and also that our food arrived in a matter of minutes. Any worries, however, were cast aside after tasting the delightfully tender chicken and washing it down nicely with a pitcher of slinky house Sylvaner.
We spent 2 nights in Strasbourg where I can recommend the 9 euro boat ride along the River I’ll via the locks of ‘Petite France’. Warning – land bound tourists will wave manically at you here, before the trip continues up to the modern offices of the European Parliament. Also, during the summer months, each night at 10.30pm an enchanting and free water and light show bedazzles spectators on the contemporary waterfront. A torrential downpour meant we took refuge at a late night opening of Paul’s bakery, however the rain stopped before our sandals filled completely with water and just in time for the show.
For our stay we splashed out on a room in a haven of tranquillity aka 4* Hotel Cour de Corbeau, where a surprise free upgrade meant we had a private garden. We took full advantage and used our secret hideout for late lunches of crudités and some 2001 Pinot Noir Rose ‘Les Pierres Chaudes’ from Domaine Julien Meyer, bought at local organic caviste, Au Fil du Vin Libre. The light tipple had a prominent sour cherry flavour and sent us in to true holiday mode with an afternoon spent napping on sun loungers!
Departing from our rejuvenating stay we ventured off into wine country for 3 nights via train to Colmar. Here we stayed at Maison Martin Jund in the centre of town. Started by the Grandfather of the family, Martin Jund is a b & b with a true Alsatian twist. The family have been growing grapes for two generations and their vines, including Grand Crus, can be found in six different areas of the region. Martin Jund was awarded organic certification in 1997 and they create the full range of Alsatian wines in the cellar of a particularly quirky and welcoming timbered home.
Martin Jr gave us a morning Muscat tasting in the courtyard. Young, floral, and delightfully balanced the Martin Jund Muscats smell as sweet as a new born baby and the dry wines are a perfect picnic pairing with juicy strawberries. A hospitable duo, Myriam and Cecile, ensure all guests have a comfortable stay at the home and a hearty start to the day. A fresh breakfast of coffee, croissants and baguette served with home-made rhubarb with vanilla and peach with lavender jam, and generous slices of Munster cheese are all offered. Amazing value too with a room for 2 including breakfast comes to under 30 euros each.
As delicious as breakfast was, the gastronomic winner of the weekend was at Le Petit Schlosberg, a close neighbour to our b&b. Kicking off the night with an aperitif of Kir Royale made with Cremant d’Alsace we shared a giant starter of pickled crudités that displayed every colour of the rainbow. Moving on to the main course my steak was a ‘Munster’ dish that was served swimming in both the cheese and cream. So delicious yet a heart-attack on a plate, and I sadly only managed around 5 mouthfuls of the intensely rich meal. A big thumbs up from mum for her ostrich steak which was more refined and served with a spicy Pinot Noir sauce. Looking around to other tables a popular choice was searing your own selection of exotic meats on a hot plate brought to the table; this looked like great fun, very rustic and an act that would let one connect with their inner caveman. A good excuse to go back!
The wine route has something for everyone. Keen cyclists and hikers will enjoy the country roads and paths that meander through old vines and into wooded hills. We took a walk into the surrounds of Wintzenheim where Catholic shrines are discovered in small clearings of the wood and the little ‘Chapelle des Bois’ ministers the vines that fall before it. Feeling slightly pink from the summer sun we headed back to Colmar for an afternoon of coffee and people watching at Place de la Cathedrale. However, it is possible to continue the walk up the hill to the three castles if you remember your sun cream!
Our penultimate day included a visit to Cave de Ribeauville and the journey there was guided by the number 106 bus that navigates the Alsace vineyard labyrinth. We took a pit stop at the medieval village of Riquewihr, where I munched on macaroons from a biscuiterie at the door to the village, and we stumbled upon Santa’s Grotto! Feere de Noel is a magical store beneath the streets where Christmas lasts all year round; we purchased two hand crafted glass tree decorations then stepped back to reality and embarked the bus to Ribeauville. With more time I would like to have stopped at Hunawihr where the village church is about to fall into the vineyards and every other building is a tasting room for local producers!
Our time in Ribeauville is a story of its own, so read my other post later in the week to find out the surprises Thierry Bougit had in store for us at Cave de Ribeauville.
I’ll leave you with a simple but perfect Alsace food-wine match: Munster cheese sprinkled with cumin seeds and a full glass of spicy Gewurztraminer. Delish!