From Champagne we travelled east and descended into the Rhine Valley, where France meets Germany. This part of France changed hands four times between 1874 and 1945, and again in the preceding centuries, so there are strong Germanic influences in the architecture, wine, cuisine, customary dress, and village names.
We began with a visit to Haut Koenigsburg Castle, a medieval fortress perched high on a rock looking out across the plains to Germany.-
We stayed in a campsite just outside the gorgeous city of Colmar. When we were planning the trip, I wasn’t sure whether to head this far east, but as soon as the children saw the pictures of the fairytale lolly-coloured half-timbered houses and canals of Colmar they were hooked. We headed into town to follow the historic trail, browse the market, take a table by the canal and dine on the regional specialty of tarte flambée, which is a sort of thin pizza, washed down with a local riesling and bière blonde.
Although the town looks like something out of a fairytale, on this particular day exploring the city with two boys who were a bit bored with sightseeing turned out to be anything but. It was hot and clammy, and when you’ve seen one cute house you’ve seen them all, apparently. Eventually we all got tired of it and headed back to the campsite for a dip in the pool.
Guess who won?
The next day we drove to the nearby village of Riquewihr, then took a taxi three villages on to Ribeauvillé, with the intention of hiking back from wine village to wine village, through the vines.
Our plans were almost scuppered when the taxi driver informed us there was a wine festival happening that very minute in Ribeauvillé and for 10 euros, we could refill our glasses all day long. Maybe we could just stop for one glass…?? Just one?
But no, indulging in wine before the walk would be quite likely to mean we didn’t get around to walking at all and would end up spending another day with tired grumpy bored kids. So walk we did, right on by that bright little festival, up the main rue through all the cutsie shops selling macarons and table linens and Christmas decorations and pretzels, past all the wine caves and cafés and out amongst the vines.
We stopped for a picnic beneath some old apple trees and saw a tiny vole disappear into its burrow
We only got lost once, which was fortunate, because it was about 37 degrees and we really didn’t want to hike up any unnecessary hills. Initially we planned to hike one way and then one of us would jog back to get the car, but in that heat, we were very very happy that we abandoned that plan and found José our Portuguese taxi driver instead. Once again we couldn’t wait to get back to the pool.
The three castles of Ribeauvillé
While in Alsace we also visited a wetlands trail, where we saw plenty of cigognes – or storks, for which the area is well known. They are large birds and often nest right on the apex of a roof, or on the top of a chimney. I thought they were just bird statues people had put up there, as the stork is the symbol of Alsace. But no, they were real!
Alsace was lush and gorgeous, and very different from other parts of France we had visited, with plenty of wartime history to engage small boys. In late July it was also very hot and we were ready for some cool mountain air. Or so we thought.