Riquewihr is a small town in the Alsace region in France. Located on the foothills of the Vosges mountains, surrounded by vineyards, it boasts a perfectly preserved medieval town centre with many traditional houses from the 16th and 17th century. It is popular with tourists from all over the world who come here to marvel at the historical town centre, and to visit one of the many winstub restaurants.
Riquewihr was already occupied in the Roman period. Like many small towns on the Vosges foothills, Riquewihr was founded during the Middle Ages and developed into a fortified town in the late 13th century. Originally, it was named Reichenweiher and for a long time belonged to the County of Horburg, which was part of the Duchy of Württemberg. Riquewihr flourished especially in the 16th century, when the Alsace developed into an important wine producing region, and most of the historical houses in town date from that period. They were built by wealthy winemakers and merchants. The occupation and annexation of Riquewihr by the French in 1635 during the Thirty Year War led to a severe population decline. From that time on, Riquewihr remained a backwater, that miraculously escaped destruction during the Second World War.
Winemaking is still the most important economic activity. Typical of the region are the many wine cellars where you can taste and buy the local wines (see Drink section). Because of its well-preserved town centre, Riquewihr is designated as one of the most beautiful villages in France.
Follow the A35 / N83 from either Strasbourg or Mulhouse to Colmar, and take the exit at Ostheim (from the north) or exit 23 at Houssen (from the south). From there, follow the signs to Riquewihr. Travel time from Strasbourg approx. 50 minutes (70 kms), from Mulhouse 45 minutes (55 kms).
Riquewihr is one of the many towns on the 170 km long Routes des Vins, a touristic route along the vineyards of Alsace that can be explored by car, bike or on foot.
By public transport
Take the train to Colmar, from where you can take bus 106 (direction Illhaeusern, 11 stops, approx. 35 minutes). Timetables are available at www.fluo.eu.
Riquewihr is on the Route du Vin hiking trail, as well as on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela (Chemin Saint-Jacques)
The town centre is closed for car traffic. Paid parkings can be found outside the town walls, or further down the east end of town near Hotel Le Riquewihr. The old town centre is very small and can be easily explored on foot, entering by one of the town gates. Be aware that most streets have cobblestone paving, which can make the going difficult for people with disabilities.
Walking through town and sightseeing will take approximately one hour. Riquewihr is, in fact, a pretty amazing place: the traditional houses are among the best-preserved in the Alsace, with their typical blackened wooden beams and colourful painted walls, and feature interior courtyards with wells and fountains overlooked by wooden galleries. The town's city walls are mostly preserved, with the western gate dominated by an impressive medieval lookout tower, the Dolder.
The town is best explored in the early hours of the day, or later in the evening. During the day it will quickly fill up with daytrippers who come here to shop, taste wine and have lunch in one of the many winstubs (see Buy, Drink and Eat sections). These are mainly found along the main street (rue du Général de Gaulle), that is sloping upward from east to west.
Riquewihr's shops are aiming exclusively at daytrippers. Most of them sell foodstuffs and wine, but there are also some shops with pottery and glassware. The downside of this is that it is impossible to buy groceries in town, for this you have to go all the way to Kaysersberg.
The town, and especially the main street, is full of eating places serving Alsatian cuisine. Since the town is receiving so many tourists, not all of these restaurants are equally good. Furthermore, almost all of them close early in the evening since the tourists will also be gone by then. For more choice in food and later opening hours, head to Colmar instead. Having said this, sitting in one of the old winstubs is a nice experience in itself, and most of them try to maintain a traditional atmosphere.
In Autumn, many restaurants will have signs proclaiming "le choucroute nouveau est arrivé". Choucroute is the signature Alsatian dish, consisting of sauerkraut with large piles of cuts of pork and sausages. It can actually be eaten all year round, but it is better suited for the cold months. The signs are a joking reference to those seen elsewhere in France announcing "le beaujolais nouveau est arrivé".
Like every village in Alsace, Riquewihr has a number of wine cellars (caves) where you can taste the local produce. Some of these are in the old town, but the best wine is usually sold directly from the vineyards.
Alsatian wine is world-famous, but the grape varieties and winemaking techniques tend to result in relatively heavy and sweet white wines, whereas current consumer preferences are usually for lighter, crispy and fruity wines - so you'll have to taste for yourself. A good buy is usually the Crémant d'Alsace, a cheap and good alternative to over-priced champagnes.
When tasting in a cave, you can usually sample for free (dégustation gratuite), there is no obligation to buy. If wineries charge a tasting fee, then this is probably a sign that their wines are not that amazing. Some wineries also organize guided tours of the vineyards and winemaking facilities.
If you're fed up with wine, Riquewihr also a has a local brewery annex bar:
The old town has a large number of hotels, B&Bs and apartments that fill up quickly in the high season. Staying in the old town is a nice experience, since it allows you stay there in the late evening and early morning, when the crowds have not yet arrived. Outside the old centre, there are also a number of modern hotels within walking distance.
The whole region is straddled with vineyards and pretty little villages, that are all worth a visit
Most tourists will also take the opportunity to visit the Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle, that can be seen from a long distance.
Larger towns close by:
It is also a short ride into the Vosges mountains, with plenty of opportunity for all kinds of outdoor activities.