So, we were sitting in the car, checking out possibilities to include some extra loops to our road trip. The planning was hindered a bit by the absence of internet connection and we had to drive off from the hills and the buzzing meadows, towards the German border and Rhine valley.
Half on hour or so down the road we finally met a village and internet. Quickly we booked a hotel for the following night, as it was going to rain heavily and started to browse around google to find some Alsacean vineyards. We were well in time to visit one or two, before they would close their doors and it seemed like the most obvious thing to do, since we were in the region of great viticulture.
The task of finding a vineyard proved surprisingly difficult. Not because there weren’t any, rather because they were too plentiful. Every tiny village in the lower hills of the Vosges, over looking the river Rihne, were completely overcome by them. I more or less randomly picked a house with good reviews there and another here, research a little on which grapes they put into bottles and landed on one that, on paper, was pretty nice. Jean Sipp was our first destination.
Normally we tend to visit very small wine houses, as we do in Champagne, but as this was an exploration less planned, we had to trust google. All in all, it was a success. The domain was located in a small village of Ribeauvillé and when we arrived, it looked like there was nothing much else to the town than the house of Sipp.
We parked our car, and waddled into the beautiful, tasting area, smelling of earth and minerals and requested for a tasting. In no time we had two glasses and a menu in front of us. The house was rewarded for their white wines, but we wanted to go for the sparkling.
A drink with slightly pink tone in its golden bubbles was poured and a flowery scent visited our noses. The familiar power of the Pinot Noir grapes was to follow with the first sips. A bottle or few had found their new home. We also had a taste of their Rosé, it was perfectly fine too, a little bit sweet to my taste, but the acid of Pinot Noir keeps it enjoyable.
After the sipping we were ready to explore the village a bit more. As it turned out, there was more to it than just the Jean Sipp house. Firstly, the people are absolutely shameless. I guess they have the best possible version of identity crisis one can have. They don’t seem to know whether they are German or French, so they decide to live the both cultures with full blast.
The crossing identity can be appreciated the easiest in the buildings. They are shameless splashes of color, coming at you in blues, green, reds and purples. And the cherry on top is of course the German style timber-frames on the facades.
It was a lot to take in. We wandered around a bit and happened upon another, tiny little thing of a vineyard, in the heart of the town. They had a small sign at the door declaring that they, Domaine Schneider, had won a price or two with their wines, quick googling confirmed this. We walked in to their court yard, only to find it empty.
As we were wondering if anyone was home, there was a head of an old lady poking through an upstairs window. Waffle asked if it would be possible to sit down and taste a bit of wine. The reply as a little bit hesitant Bien sûr, so we entered the cellar. It was a small welcoming space, with giant wine barrels on the walls and bottles scattered around the corners. We were sat at a table made form a barrel, and selected the wines we would like to taste. Their sparkling was a slightly aged variant, full of character and prunes in the taste. Still remarkably balanced. We would have loved to buy a few boxes of it, but our car was so full, that we had to contain ourselves and just go home with two.
As our car was bursting from its seams, we were forced to stop shopping for wine. So instead, we resulted to sightseeing, first admiring the shameless prettiness of the town’s buildings and atmosphere. Nature going people as we are, it didn’t take us long to gaze up to the surrounding hills.
The town of Ribeauvillé is looked over by three castle ruins, we saw those and decided that there sure must be a trail up to them. And there was. We were strolling it up in no time, passing by lush greenery of the rows of wines, slowly climbing up above the town.
It took us about 30 minutes to reach the Château de Saint-Ulrich, built in the 11th century. The ruin is beautifully renovated, so visitors can still enjoy the true character of it without breaking legs or getting hit by falling stones. We walked around it and stopped to enjoy the view over the vast Rhine valley, it is quite easy to understand why the castle was once built right there. The two other castle ruins are on the same hillside, but we didn’t really have time to visit them, since it was getting dark and I was getting hungry. As Waffle has a healthy portion of survival instinct he wanted to get me down and eating sooner rather than later.
So we returned to town. Finding it lit by most divine sunshine, boosted into golden hue by approaching thunder. We strolled up and down the main street and found a charming little restaurant, perching under a large growth of wine.
We found a table on the terrace and sat down. Happily forgetting about the dark clouds looming over the hills in the background. The thunder wouldn’t have our ignorance and promptly moistened the atmosphere a little. Thankfully we were placed to a new table inside, and got to enjoy our food while it was still dry.
The next day rose on us somewhere not far from Strasbourg. From there we headed off to our last stop in the central Europe; Munich. We crossed the Rhine and headed to the hills of the Black Forest. I had always had this weird urge to go and hike the Black Forest, somehow it’s been this thing to aim for for me. So I was quite happy to finally get a peek at it.
The world was soaked that morning. A heavy rain had been pounding the land throughout the night and the Black Forest was still shrouded in dark clouds and the tall forest looked mysterious. The road we took followed a river up the valley, before leaving it to begin the climb up to the top of the hill range. Before we knew it, we had reached almost a kilometer of altitude and poked through the forest. Landscape was still swallowed by a thick fog.
I definitely still want to come back to that area. Now we had to pass it rather swiftly, since we were flying to Finland the following day and there were still a distance between us and Munich.
Down from the hills we drove and onto the Deutsche Autobahn. And got stuck in the traffic jams, as is customary in Germany. We reached the Munich ring way in the afternoon and decided to visit the Dachau concentration camp memorial site, since it was practically on our way.
The entry to the museum is free and it is truly a shocking site to see and worth visiting, if you can say so about such a grim monument. It is not the biggest of the camps nor the most notorious, but nevertheless it sends the chills down your spine.
We spent the night somewhere south of Munich, in a charming countryside hotel, looking at the Alps in the horizon. That was the closest we got to those mountains this time. Hopefully one day we’ll end up climbing one or two of the peaks. Now we just had to admire them through our window, before taking to the sky and to Finland!
But that will be another story. Hang on until then!