We almost packed our trekking sticks, which are essential in the Swiss Alps or Italy’s Dolomites. At the last minute, to jettison some bulk, we left them in Oregon and I am thankful we did as this “hike” was really just a lovely country stroll.
Old and new directional signs. We are hiking a small portion of the 17km trail.
We started early from our base in Colmar. Isa, our personal taxi driver in Colmar, drove us to Riquewihr as the buses were very inconvenient. Arriving just after 9:30, the town was barely waking up. A busload of Japanese tourists had just landed and were snapping photos in the sunshine and buying up boxes and bags of macarons and other pastries. Walking the town took all of ten minutes so we waited for the tourism office to open and grabbed an espresso at a nearby cafe while the Japanese dispersed.
Leaving Riquewihr we are quickly surrounded by orderly vineyards. This path strings together the “pearls” of this part of Alsace, the Grands Crus vineyards.
Fortified with espresso (isn’t it wonderful that word is universal?) and armed with a map of the Sentier Viticole des Grands Crus, we set off through the upper gate of Riquewihr. We were immediately surrounded by vineyards and forest. There were a few men working in the fields and an occasional car or cyclist passed us. The birds were in fine form and we were alone.
Another view of Riquewihr from the trail.
Before we knew it, we were in Hunawihr, 32 minutes after departing Riquewihr. Sleepy does not begin to describe Hunawihr. Deserted is perhaps an apt description even in the late morning. We wanted to visit the Centre de Reintroduction which has participated in the restoration of the stork population for over 40 years. The birds had all but disappeared but now nesting pairs number 270. In some places, there are too many! The Centre also boasts populations of otters, hamsters (yes, same as the one you had as a pet, they do live in the wild in Europe), which they safeguard as regional species. From the website:
…it also tries to raise awareness of “unloved” species such as the Great Cormorant… also introductions of non-native species into the wild, such as the Florida turtle, the nutria or the Sunfish, and their harmful consequences on the environment.
At the Centre there are stork nests you can view at eye level from viewing platforms.
Talks and demonstrations — in French only — occur throughout the day at the Centre.
We have nutria in Oregon, but I have never seen them so close. The Centre had them in 5 colors.
The Centre was lightly attended and we enjoyed seeing the storks up close. They are free to come-and-go (it is not a zoo). The nutria, turtles, and other invaders are kept in secure areas.
Moving on from Hunawihr the segment to Ribeauville took only 36 minutes despite frequent photo stops. Ribeauville is lovely and I wish we had been able to pass more time there. We had a choice of a bus at 13:05 or not until 15:10 (the perils of depending on public transportation). We hustled down the main drag passing inviting shops and people lolling about at sidewalk cafes, vowing to return someday — with a car — to this charming region.
The three ancient castles of Ribeauville high on the hill greet you. To the left is Amritabha Castle, a center for meditation.
We stayed in Colmar (see Postcard from Alsace: Wine, Wisteria, and Storks) but would stay in Ribeauville if we returned.