Officially one of the most beautiful villages in France ( Les plus beaux villages de France), tiny Alsatian Riquewihr nestles among vineyards between the Rhine River to the east and the Vosges mountains to the west. This little commune hasn’t changed much in 500 years and was spared damage in World War II when fast advancing American forces surprised and routed the German defenders before they had a chance to destroy the town as part of Hitler’s scorched earth policies.
Half-timbered houses, narrow cobblestone streets, and tidy little squares make it easy to understand why the French consider this such a special place. Wandering about the village provides visitors a glimpse into what it might have been like to live in rural medieval times.
This is Audie Murphy country. In January 1945, a few miles from here in the village of Holtzwihr, 2nd Lieutenant Audie Murphy single-handedly held off an attack of six tanks and hundreds of German infantry. Although he was wounded, Murphy climbed atop a burning vehicle, unlimbered its .50-caliber machine gun and began mowing down waves of attacking Germans. He held the attack off for more than an hour until he ran out of ammunition, then fell back and organized a counter-attack. He was awarded the Medal of Honor and became the most decorated soldier in World War II.
Remnants of the Maginot Line, a massive defense complex built by the French after World War I can still be seen in the area. In World War II Germany simply went around the fortifications and invaded France from Belgium, leading to the fall of France in less than a month.
The heart and soul of this region are the vineyards. Alsatians have been making wine here since Roman times and by now they’ve got the knack of making a great bottle of Riesling. When Kongo visited it early September it was a few weeks before harvest and the vines were heavily laden with grapes. The warm summer and wet period just before harvest suggests that 2016 will be a very good year for French Riesling wines!
Cheese making is another art form in this part of France and Kongo sampled some of the local offerings while sipping a to-go cup of wine. Of course, parking at a table in a quaint sidewalk cafe would be the proper way to do this but the monkey was on a time schedule.
Kongo just couldn’t get enough of the little narrow streets, painted buildings, and 500 year old houses.
The Alsace region was originally settled by Celts. By 52 BCE the Romans arrived and established a major viticulture industry here and built forts to defend the region. After the decline of the Roman Empire, Alsace became part of the Holy Roman Empire. France and Germany have long fought over this region and it has changed hands many times in the past few hundred years.
If you make it to this region on your next visit to Europe, be sure to stop in Riquewihr.
Bon voyage! Travel safe. Have fun!