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Alsace, France, is not only a world famous wine destination, but also a great place to reconcile two disparate notions of the perfect vacation. The teenage ideal: sleeping until noon. My ideal, calmly articulated each morning: “I didn’t drag your butts to Europe so you could sleep all day. Now, get out of bed and let’s mega-dose on culture and history.”
One look at our official map of La Route Du Vin and I knew we were about to enter a period of détente. The route winds through villages and vineyards in a narrow band that hugs the Vosges where everything is within easy reach.
Castles, medieval ruins, museums, forested hiking paths, beautiful vistas, and vineyard trails can be seen in a single day with no need to set off at the ungodly hour of say—9 a.m. No interminable stretches of road. Instead, there is great food and wine at reasonable prices—literally around every bend.
Here are some highlights from two days along the route:
The village of Eguisheim is called the birthplace of winegrowing in Alsace. (It’s also the birthplace of Pope St. Leo IX.) More than 800 acres of vines (including the Grand Cru vineyards Eichberg and Pfersigberg) are never far from view. Eguisheim is also the seat of the Guild of Gourmets—an indication that there is no shortage of great food.
After exploring the village, we drove up to Husseren-Les-Châteaux to wander around the ruins of three castles and take in the amazing view of the plains below. In the distance, the outline of the Black Forest could be seen across the border in neighboring Germany.
In minutes we were back in town for dinner at the Hostellerie du Pape. While the kids enjoyed their “pope burgers,” Tom and I shared our first taste of the house Crémant d’Alsace, which was light and crisp, then a few glasses of the richer and slightly honeyed Domaine Gruss Vin D’Alsace Pinot Gris “Les Argiles Blanches” 2008.
On our second day, we took a side trip on La Route des Cinq Châteaux for a morning hike around the perimeter of Hohlandsbourg Castle. Continuing on, we ate breakfast in Turckheim, then drove further into the mountains and through the village of Les Trois Epis—site of a World War I cemetery.
Winding our way along this mountain road, we descended to Kaysersberg then headed back up through Col de Fréland—a popular cycling area just above Ribeauvillé.
For lunch we drove to Riquewihr—a town where on just about any of the immaculately preserved streets, one can stop every few yards for a glass of the town’s famous Rieslings.
Here, visitors have a choice of museums. We checked out the Thieves’ Tower—a perfectly preserved medieval torture chamber, whose central room houses a particularly menacing piece of apparatus from which prisoners were suspended to extract confessions.
As we stood there gaping at the dungeon below, a recording explained—in the most proper and amiable British accent (the kind normally reserved for inquiring if a guest might like a cup of tea)—that for lesser crimes, the perpetrator was “simply banished from the Dukedom.”
On that note, we headed out of town. And in the neighboring village of Zellenberg we finally met up with Marc Tempé, the so-called “Bear of Alsace.”
A 25-year veteran of the wine and hospitality industry, George Staikos is known for his role as an educator, sharing his passion for wine appreciation. He is the founder and president of the Educated Grape, a company specializing in interactive education programs and in-home wine entertaining for wine enthusiasts and companies. He is a professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s International School of Hospitality Management, where he teaches “Introduction to the Study of Wine.” He is also Vice Echanson or regional wine director for the mid-Atlantic region for the Chaine des Rotisseurs, a worldwide food-and-wine organization.
Staikos is a graduate of Florida International University in Miami with a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality Management. He is married with three children and lives in Flemington.
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