Riquewhir is a small medieval town on the Alsace wine route. It is full of picturesque old buildings and is surrounded by vineyards. It has remained virtually untouched by ravages of war for over four centuries
This is my fifth visit to Riquewhir. It is no wonder I keep coming back. The charm of this little wine town is infectious. It is the base for my current wine tour of Alsace and I will be spending five days here.
Riquewhir gets flooded with day-trippers and if you are after a quiet stroll through town, you need to start early. David – my old friend at Hugel, got me a guide from the town’s tourist office for an hour’s walking tour in the first morning of my stay in Riquewhir.
Roselie arrived just before nine. She wore a red coat and carried a black brolly and gave a brief history of Riquewhir in good English.
“Riquewhir was sold to the Dukes of Württemberg in the fifteenth century and remained their property until the Revolution” she said. “Historically, Riquewihr served as a Winzerdorf or “wine village” and a trading hub for Alsatian and German wine. Many rich and powerful people built their homes here and the town eventually acquired two protective walls and city status.”
We walked down Rue de la Piscine along the remnants of the outer wall to Place Fernand Zeyer. Now there is an ornamental pond with fountains and gold fish between the walls and a wooden walkway that leads you to the outer city gate.
The vineyards that surround the town are clearly seen from here. The soil in Alsace is highly diverse due to ancient volcanic activity making it possible for many grape varieties to thrive in small plots in any one vineyard. The Romans knew this in the first century and selected the best plots for vines. These lieux-dits or ‘named sites’ formed the basis for the 51 Grands Crus of Alsace which were delimited, starting in the 1970s. Riquewhir has two – Schoenenbourg and Sporen planted to Riesling, Pinot Gris, Muscat and Gewürztraminer. Voltaire is said to have owned a plot here.
Roselie led us through the archway of the flower decked town hall on to a cobbled square – Place Voltaire.
A fountain gurgles in the middle of the square. To the left is the palace of the Dukes of Wurttemberg, the open air archaeological museum and Dopff & Irion winery. On the right is an ancient well and a clear view of the vine covered hillside beyond the ramparts. Straight ahead, the cobbled main street of Riquewhir, rue du General de Gaulle climbs up the hill.
Rue du General de Gaulle
Both sides of the street are lined with restaurants and shops selling souvenirs, wine and traditional Alsace macaroons. Half way up, the impressive buildings of the Riquewhir wine giant Hugel dominate one street corner.
We stopped briefly at the Jewish Well on a side street. “There was a sizeable Jewish population in Riquewhir in the Middle ages” Roselie said. “During the Plague they were falsely accused of poisoning this well and were persecuted and eventually banished.”
We walked to the top of the street where the thirteenth century Dolder Tower stands. Parts of the city wall are clearly visible here with openings for defenders’ cannon.
The hour for the walk had passed quickly and it was already pass ten. We were late for our thirst quenching morning appointment. We said goodbye to Roselie and rushed down the street to meet Alsace Man.