Updated: May 7, 2020
This is a virtual trip. Yes, it’s based on a carefully developed itinerary that lasts for 12 weeks, and was completed in January. Discussing it with friends, neighbors, family, I rattled off the places I’d be visiting and asked for suggestions for those places. Well, one day while getting my haircut, Arnauld (who is French) started raving about a quaint little town near Colmar. Now, I’d been to Colmar back in 1993 when I’d driven from Nancy in Lorraine to Strasbourg, Colmar and Gérardmer (all in Alsace) before returning the car and heading to Paris for California. Arnauld went on about Eguisheim, its charming simplicity, fun local bar and comfortable lodgings.
With no time to squeeze it into my actual schedule, this is a virtual trip. So why can’t I just create an extra day – Wedndthursday? Take a break from my aggressive chasing all over cathedral cities and head to the country?
So, rather than catching the train to Basel, I rode it half way and got off in Colmar. From the station in Colmar, it was about five and a half kilometers to the heart of Eguisheim, maybe an hour and a half walk along country roads. NOT! Arnauld had suggested a car rental, but I figured I was going to relax, so I checked Uber and Lyft, both of which weren’t available, and walked up to the taxi stand and asked if he’d take me there. Not a problem on a late midweek morning.
Here’s what Google has to say about the town: “Eguisheim is a medieval village in France’s Alsace wine region. The narrow, concentric streets of its old town are lined with many preserved half-timbered houses. The central Château Saint-Léon is a centuries-old castle. Southwest at Husseren-les-Châteaux are the ruins of the Three Castles of Eguisheim, which date from the Middle Ages. Northwest is Hohlandsbourg Castle, with formidable ramparts.”
Within immediate walking distance of the town center are 5 lodging alternatives. Checking on the train, I opted for the 3-star Hostellerie du Chateau, and called to book a room for the night. Arriving at 11:15, they had a room ready for me up a single flight of stairs, with a nice view out the window of a fountain and a wine cave. Queried about breakfast for tomorrow, I asked about getting back to Colmar, as the train schedule would set my plans. Checking, I could continue from Colmar on the same schedule, so would need to leave about 10:30. They would make arrangements for a taxi, and I decided I’d enjoy breakfast before I left tomorrow morning.
My hostess advised me that there were possibly a dozen wineries either within the outer ring road, or just outside. She suggested I include a visit to the Church of Sts Peter and Paul; the Chapelle Saint-Léon IX, and its neighboring Château de Saint-Léon-Pfalz, a castle. Their kitchen wasn’t open for lunch, so my choices would be pizza or Alsatian. Armed with a printout from Google Maps, I left with my camera and journal.
Alsatian wines are a mystery to me. While in New York, I’d had a few, and they were either sweet Moselles or bulk wines. In 30 years, a lot has changed. My somm friend in California, Sudsy, had written me that she and Dan would be exploring the Alsatian wine region, and Eguisheim was to be included in their tour. However, nothing specific as to which wineries/caves. “Caves”, pronounced in French with an “a” like in “Maria”, are small wine makers with small storage facilities. This looked like I could have some leisurely fun here.
Practically straight out the hotel’s door was the chapel and castle up a rise. Across the courtyard and up a short set of stone steps, I walked the cobblestones to a small church. Topped with a belfry with a single bell, a statue of St Léon stands above the arched doorway. Inside, chairs in rows faced a pair of altars – the main being a post Vatican II so the celebrant faced the congregation, and the traditional in back before a gold door into a tabernacle. A mosaic of Christ as the arbiter at the Last Judgement fills a tiled dome. The chapel is named for the eleventh century pope born in this town.
A statue of that pope stands in the square over a fountain, next to the remains of the chateau. Behind the fountain is the town square, with shops selling local products, including wine, as well as a café. Walking over to the Caveau Des Doceurs, I was directed to an outside table. The daily special was a local variation on a chef’s salad, with endive, slices of beef, chopped braised pork and corn on top of chopped lettuce. With a bottle of peach juice to start (“breakfast”), I got a glass of their own house red out of a barrel.
With a recommendation to visit Paul Schneider, a mom-and-pop winery to the north, I headed to there. Offering sylvaner, pinot blanc, Riesling, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, pinot noir, crémants white and rosé (bubbly), and a marc, it was quite the lineup. A young woman was pouring a rielsing, a gris and the pinot noir rosé. I tried all, found them pleasant but nothing I’d lug around for another 60 days, and got a small bottle of the crémant brut to have in my room soon (one with a frig!) From there I went down the slope to the next ring road and headed clockwise.
Coming to the Maison Léon Baur, it has the appearance of a shop. They offer edelwicker, pinot gris, muscat, riesling and a crémant rosé. From a small counter right inside the doorway (and next to a WC) they sat me at a small table to pour tastes of their award-winning gris and riesling. Again, I enjoyed, but wasn’t going to purchase, so I left a 5-euro note and thanked them as I left.
The D14 exits #Eguisheim to the east, and there are at least 4 tasting venues close by. Probably the poshest was furthest, Wolfberger – Cave Eguisheim. Here they did the whole show – tour of the production, including crémants and eaux de vie as well as the Grand Vins. Shiny, well lit displays with rainbow hues carefully lined up, it was more Napa/Hollywood than what I’d expect of a small Alsatian village. Suppressing a smile, I browsed the sales floor, accepting a crémant brut sample before excusing myself with a polite “Merci”. It was just too much over the top for me, as I left overwhelmed.
Returning to the village, on my right were two wineries sharing a long two-story pale yellow building with wooden details around the windows. Christian et Veronique Hebinger to the right and Maison Paul Gaschy to the left. This was a study in contrasts. At the Hebinger tasting, one sat in the barrel room on benches getting small tastes of half their offerings, with a cellar rat explaining some of the details of each wine in French and English. No pressure, this was a fun place to relax. I got a split of pinto gris to go. Next door at Gaschy, it was more like the second place I’d visited, with a sales-and-marketing approach, two offerings, and that aloof snobbishness that surprised me. Here I left emptyhanded.
As I began entering the ring structure of circular roads of the town, I passed the Office de Tourisme. Poking in briefly, I saw that they offered brochures for tour vendors, glossies from the better off wineries and some generic Alsatian marketing. The desk apparently also offered help finding lodgings, and booking wineries which require appointments. The two women were multilingual and pleasant, and surprised to hear I was solo and from the States. Hearing my experiences, they suggested I try directly across the street.
Cave Pierre Henri Ginglinger is a small operation, with a corner filled with bottles standing and laying on their side for sales, and a open public space with a few tables for wine tasting. Responding to the buzz triggered by the front door being opened, a woman came through from the caves in back to greet me. She explained that they offer all the Alsatian varietals similar to those I’d visited, and asked what I’d tasted that I’d liked, trying to match her offerings to me. Suspecting I might like the pinot blanc, she poured a taste of that first, and I was quite pleased and surprised, as it wasn’t like the Burgundian styles I’d become used to. With that reaction, she poured a pinot noir for both of us, and I found this really great. Even with splits of gris and bubbly, I asked for a 750ml bottle of the noir.
Feeling heavily laden, I continued up to the corner, went left on Rue de Pairis and headed to the hostellerie. Unloading my purchases, I related my exploration and experiences. The Madame commended my attempts at tasting, and asked after my dinner plans. Still bright outside, I was a bit surprised, but she explained that here in the village, dinner is earlier and restaurants will close at 9pm. Digging my notes out, I found Arnauld’s recommendation for Au Vieux Porche. Getting a big smile, she immediately picked up the phone to call and make me a reservation – it was apparently popular. My table for one was set for 7:15, so I had about 2 hours to chill. While I began updating my journal in the reception area, she pulled out an open bottle of her husband’s Riesling and filled a small basket with pretzels. Sipping on the semi-dry white, I was feeling at peace. Dropping my wine in the room, I returned with the netbook and started writing this post.
Returning to my room, I freshened up, switching to the heavier sports jacket, as the day had been perfect – the temperature might have reached 70°F! Heading out with just the small camera and my journal, I had two choices per Google Maps to get to Aux Vieux Porche, either taking about 5 minutes. Heading out the front, I took a right on Rue du Chateau, following it until it ended in a T. Going left towards the outer ring roads arriving at the D14, I went right and the restaurant was across the road on the left.
Seated near the front windows, after a brief look at the English menu, I announced that I wanted to have the special degustation carte, with the accompanying wines and adding the cheese plate, which I asked for at room temperature. Getting smiles from the wait staff, my table was cleared and reset with a flute and three wine glasses, more cutlery than I’d seen in years, and a fresh napkin. The amuse bouche was a stalk of white asparagus on a bed of a circle of cream and a sprig of parsley, accompanied by the bubbly. I really didn’t know what to expect for the “opéra” paté, but a small disk of rough foie and a tumble of pastry appeared on a gray circular plate. A local pinot blanc joined it. Yummy. Okay, a tart with frogs; I had no idea what to expect here, but the pastry shell was filled with a scoop of small pieces in a cream sauce, and placed on a black plate initially covered by a green sauce. And it was delicious, with a gewürztraminer. After all that, the veal was a let down in appearance, but the meat was flavorful and tender, and the croquette was “different” in a nice way. They poured a sylvaner to have with this course. The cheese tray arrived and I had to request some rolls, as I’d learned if I asked for bread (pain), I’d get sliced bread. The cheeses had been set out for the meal, so they were just at the temperatures I like. They were all local, so I didn’t recognize the names of any of them (much less knew how to spell them), but they were delicious. I asked for tasting pour of the pinot noir for this addition. The finale was the chocolate bombe, a lava cake with red fruit sauce, bits of fruit and a boule de glace. A decaf cappuccino was made for me, capping a splendid evening.
Leaving, I followed the ring road further clockwise along towards the Rue Porte Haute, the road west out of the village. Arnauld had told me of a small bar in town which, while “closing at 10”, was an after hours place. Asking at the hotel, I was pointed to the Bar St Léon, so I had to come one road into town before continuing my clockwise walk on Rue de Rempart. Pushing in the bar door just before closing, I saw that younger folks were hanging out drinking and talking, and I slipped onto a stool and ordered a local marc. My accent giving me away, I was soon engaged with about five or six millennials who wanted to know more about “America” and to hear how I’d found France this trip. After a second (but different) marc, I was ready to call it a night, and one of my companions and I headed out, as I might need a guide. Once we reached the chapel, I knew where I was, and he took off for his home out to the east.
Tired, I just crashed and went to sleep. [The Next Day] When I woke up in the morning, I cleaned up and did all the night time things I’d usually do – writing the blog, backing up photos. Fortunately, I’d charged the camera batteries before dinner, and the phone was still okay for charge. Heading down for breakfast, the madame prepared eggs benedict for me, with OJ and coffee, and a pain au chocolat, as she had heard of my chocolate addiction. Grabbing my bag and checking out, the taxi was out back, and he got me to the train station in Colmar in no time, so that I was waiting on the platform for my TGV ride to Basel.