Travel slowly, staying in vacation rentals (villas, farms, cottages, apartments)
Report 2015: Alpine Adventures and Other Travels in the Rhone, Rhin and Rhön
By wendy lynn from California USA, Summer 2012
Page 11 of 21: Annecy to Ribeauville, via Switzerland
Julia in Ribeauville, France (Alsace)
We wake up early, excited about the next leg of our trip -- the Alsace area of France. We grab a quick breakfast at a nearby boulangerie -- great pastries -- and we are on the road. We will stay five nights in Ribeauville, which is one of our longer stays and we look forward to not having to pack again for awhile. The weather is a little gray and drizzly.
The drive to Alsace should be about four hours, and we want to find a good place to stop halfway. We will be passing through Switzerland, so maybe Bern, Lausanne or Neuchatel? But as we're driving, none of these places look particularly promising.
By the way, at the border they do check for our vignette and we are happy to be waved through while there is a long line of cars getting pulled aside. It's also interesting that we are leaving France and on our way to our next stop in France, but that the area of Switzerland we pass through is German and not French speaking.
Since we're not having any luck finding a promising pit stop by looking out the window, Wendy does some internet research and locates a small gorge in Biel, Switzerland (a bit after Neuchatel) and we decide to stop. We stop for gas and coffee and it turns out the attendant had been an au pair in Connecticut years ago and speaks great English. She tries to direct us to the gorge's walking path that she took as a child. She says she hasn't gone to the gorge since she was very young. So strange that Europeans rarely seem to appreciate these small things that they live so nearby -- the same things that have caused us to make a special stop! We see this over and over again. Maybe visitors to America feel the same way about us...
We look for the sign the attendant told us about, but can't locate it. Later when we walk down the gorge from the opposite direction, we see it and realize there was NO way we could have seen it from the street. We do see a funicular, which we think might take us up, but Wendy can't adequately translate the German ticket instructions. There are people in the cable car watching her struggle, which heightens her anxiety. Joe had just paid for parking near the funicular, but we have to leave once we determine this is not the right cable car. Frustrating.
So back in the car, and we decide to drive up the hill to the little town of Funvillier where the gorge begins. That might be easier than finding the bottom entrance in Biel. It is easier! On the way up, we see an apricot vender that we want to hit on the way back. We see enough signs in the tiny town to keep us going in the right direction. We follow the signs and easily park. The trail-head is easy to find. Just a few steps from our parking spot is the Restaurant of the Gorge. It's closed but there are a few young girls riding ponies in a small paddock.
The trail is deserted except for one couple with a dog. The river is pretty and also practical -- the area of Biel uses it for hydro electric power, so signs warn of dangerous flash flooding at the river bed.
The path along the gorge is beautiful. Definitely not touristy. The path crisscrosses the gorge and river. Little caves and some white water. Lots of sunshine. It takes us about 45 minutes, but the path takes us all the way down to Biel where we hope to eat lunch. But it's Sunday and almost everything is closed. So the kids get ice cream and we walk the 45 minutes back up to the car. It's not overly difficult, even for Margaret, and Joe has kept the kids entertained by regaling them with history lessons. I think he took the kids from Adam and Eve all the way to the Crusades. Still, all in all we've spent at least two hours and we still have to make it a few more hours to Alsace. Everyone is hungry but Joe makes us move on. We eat the little remaining salami and divide up a few broken pieces of potato chips and get back on the road.
Shortly we're out of Switzerland and entering France. The landscape is much flatter. We see the shorter, gentler Jura Mountains in the distance. Everywhere we see little villages with a distinctive cluster of red tiled roofs, nestled at the bottom of the Jura "hills." It's hard to think of them as mountains after leaving the Alps. Still, the area is beautiful and every rolling hill seems to be covered in vineyards, making for a bucolic landscape.
We easily find Ribeauville which seems quaint and surprisingly busy for a Sunday. Joe remarks on the wisdom of traffic circles. Pink balloons and decorations are everywhere. We learn later that the La Vie En Rose fete is happening. Today is the last night of the fete. We are excited to arrive in the middle of a party!
We find our Hotel Caveau l'ami Fritz fairly easily, and there is parking available in the courtyard. The Caveau is a charming old medieval style, half timbered building with a courtyard, old well, outdoor cat, busy dining room, secondary breakfast room and atmospheric old bar. Stone walls, authentic half timbered construction and a stone door header proclaiming the year 1569 impress us. Wow! This place is cool. Even Julia is impressed.
We are just as pleased with our suite. It's super cute, has a huge modern bathroom, separate toilet room and tons of space, which feels particularly pleasant after our cramped quarters in Annecy.
We have the top floor suite, which is actually a two floor apartment supposedly big enough for eight adults. Four beds on the top floor and a separate bedroom and another bed on the main level with a nice balcony, large table. If it had a kitchenette, it would be the perfect long term rental. The kids are thrilled to get the entire upstairs to themselves. We look out the many windows and see the beautiful town and the hills and castles beyond. We are thrilled.
We head out to see Ribeauville. The Caveau is well placed near the center of town. It takes about ten steps to get to the main street. Ribeauville is unbelievably charming and beautiful. Story book quality and cobblestone streets. Half timbered building are everywhere, in a variety of pastel colors and flowers overflowing all the window boxes. Not a single building looks unauthentic or unattractive. We walk for about ten minutes and see a sign directing us to the "picturesque" area. Apparently we haven't even seen picturesque yet. We all laugh.
We enjoy the small La Vie en Rose fete, although the festivities are wrapping up at this point. It's 7:30pm on a Sunday night, after all. The local stores have tables set out with their wares but are beginning to close up. A few tents serving artisanal beers are still open. We enjoy a local beer on tap at a tent. There is also an outdoor fire oven where they are selling a local specialty called Tarte Flambee. We are too late to get one, but we soon learn they are for sale at every single restaurant in Alsace!
We return to the Caveau restaurant for dinner. Dad has Choucroute, which is the local specialty, although not truly in season until autumn. We won't be here then, so he decides to try this local specialty. It arrives and is a large portion of ham shank served with sauerkraut and boiled potatoes. Very good. The Caveau services it with a spicy herb oil, which is very good. But Mom and the kids have a craving for pizza. The pizza is served on a flaky, thin, oven fired crust similar to the taste flambé. Very tasty. Everyone is happy with their meal. The bill is about $100 which is a bit high given that the meal isn't spectacular. Still, it's good, everyone is happy and the food really hits the spot. We are really looking forward to more exploration the next day. Off to bed in our cute and large apartment.
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