A Christmas Hike in the Alsace: Riquewihr to Ribeauville

During the last week of November 2018, I talked my husband into traveling to the Alsace region of France for holiday festivities.  We based ourselves in Colmar, France, and took day trips to the many picturesque towns nearby.  Eventually, I sensed that that my husband was becoming oversaturated with the all-pervasive Christmas cheer surrounding us.  He looked at me with a haunted, vacant expression, as if his masculinity were eroding under the weight of too many Christmas carols, decorations, and craft items.

Image of Christmas in Riquewihr

Christmas Decorations in Riquewihr

I immediately suggested a hike between the two Alsatian towns of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, via the town of Hunawihr.  In Ribeauvillé, we could end the day exploring old, fortified castles.  There is nothing my spouse enjoys more than poking around castle ruins while picturing himself as a knight in charge of medieval defense strategies.  He once gave me a lengthy, unsolicited explanation of castle “murder holes,” which were apparently a handy thing to have in days of yore.

These towns, with architecture dating back to medieval times, are located on the Alsace wine route.  We reached our starting point of Riquewihr by taking a 30-minute, local bus ride from the Colmar train station.  Riquewihr is one of the most famous towns in the Alsace, and its charming reputation is well-deserved.   We spent precious daylight hours eating, drinking, and absorbing the atmosphere before departing for our hike. (Hint: This is a bit of foreshadowing.)

Image of Christmas Decor in Riquewihr

Charming Riquewihr

The approximately 3-mile hike was not strenuous.  We started through a lovely wooded area covered by a carpet of crunchy, colorful leaves.  Soon, the forested areas opened into a 360-degree view of vineyards.  The vines still held random bunches of grapes and were showing fall colors of orange, red, yellow.  Far too quickly, the hiking path led us into Hunawihr.

 

Image of vineyards near Riquewihr

Vineyards Near Riquewihr

While Riquewihr busily catered to tourists, Hunawihr appeared deserted in mid-afternoon.  We stopped to explore a church with a carefully tended graveyard and outstanding views over the countryside.

Image of Hunawihr

Uncrowded Hunawihr

After this brief respite, the clearly marked signs directed us forward to Ribeauvillé.  One of my favorite moments of the hike was turning back to see Hunawihr laid out behind us surrounded by vineyards.

Image of Hunawhir in the late Fall.

Hunawihr

We arrived in beautiful Ribeauvillé approximately 1 hour and 45 minutes after we left Riquewihr.  Here we discovered a serious mistake.  Ribeauvillé indeed has three spectacular looking castle ruins overlooking the town.  Unfortunately, the staff at the tourist information office advised that we should allow approximately two hours to make the round-trip, steep climb. They were certain we had arrived too late and would not complete the trek before dark.

Image of castle ruins in Ribeauville

Castle Ruins Above Ribeauville

My advice to others would be to arrive in Ribeauvillé earlier in the day if you would like to hike to the ruins.  Alternatively, you could reverse the route.  Start the day in Ribeauvillé, climb to the ruins, and then make the hike to Riquewihr.  Otherwise, your normally happy spouse may look at you as if you have committed a horrible, deranged crime.  Despite his disappointment, he agreed to pose for the picture below as we walked around the town.

Image of photo opportunity in Ribeauville

Photo Op in Ribeauville

Practical Information

Transportation:
A Christmas shuttle runs between Alsatian towns on certain days in December.  However, we arrived too early in the season to take advantage of this service.  Instead, we took buses, and it was a simple process.

From Colmar to Riquewihr, we caught local bus 106 from the Colmar train station.  We made the return trip from Ribeauvillé to Colmar on bus 109 from the bus station located near the Tourist Information Office.

Finding the Hiking Route:
We headed out of Riquewihr by walking through the medieval gate at the far end of Rue du Générale de Gaulle street.  We took a right on Rue du 5 Décembre 1994, and began our hike to Ribeauvillé via the town of Hunawihr.  The path between the towns was well-marked, and it would have been difficult to get lost.

Image of road sign to Ribeauville

Road sign to Ribeauville

Eating:
We had a wonderful dessert and sampled local wines at the Restaurant Au Vieux Riquewihr.  Unlike many frequent travelers, I am not one to engage in random conversations.  However, we had a delightful chat with the restaurant owner, who treated us like rock stars.

Manners:
Remember to say “Bonjour,” “Merci” and “Au Revoir” to the bus driver.  I was flustered about the fare and forgot the niceties when we boarded the bus in Ribeauvillé.  The driver chatted merrily with the other passengers, but was frosty to us.  Lack of manners is not easily tolerated in France.  When we disembarked, I approached him despite a noticeable scowl in my general direction.  I thanked him enthusiastically in French and said goodbye and thank you.  He immediately broke into a smile and wished me a sincere good evening.

Post-Script:  I told my husband I had written a short post about our hike.  His immediate question was, “Did you write that we were too late to see the castles?”  It’s been a year since our trip, but I think he is still traumatized by this failure in planning.

To read more about our adventures in the Alsace, please see:

Christmas Season in the Alsace: A One-Week Itinerary

The Bells in France: They Are Ringing. And Ringing. And Ringing.

Going to France? Read These Books