Today I went to Riquewihr, not far from Colmar. It’s featured in a book of One Hundred and One Beautiful Small Towns in France. Being a list making type of person, I indeed made a list of towns that struck me as particularly lovely, according to their region of France. So, whenever I find myself in a particular region, I try to see some of the towns on my list. My daughter used to hate this list. Seeing one of these towns often meant multiple connections by train, bus, and taxi sometimes for very little return on our investment of time and money to get there. I swear that one had two houses and a sunflower, but from just the right angle, it was, indeed, lovely. She would have forgiven me for many of these fairly fruitless excursions if she had been with me today. Riquewihr was easy and inexpensive to get to (a local bus that stopped right outside the train station for a fare of less than 7€ (about $10 US) round trip. Best of all, it was very beautiful.
The town belonged to the Dukes of Würtemberg and was a central, fortified, walled trading hub for wine. Miraculously, it escaped damage in this zone between two countries that have been adversaries for much more of their history than they have been friends. Riquewihr lives because of the wine industry, particularly Reisling. Today, Riquewihr has about 1,300 full-time residents. Someone who had lived here in the 16th century would have no trouble finding her way around. The tourists might have been a surprise, however. I got there in time to have breakfast at a pâtisserie called Vilmain. The mirabelle jam spiked with cinnamon was homemade, and the coffee was totally awesome (why don’t I always add whipping cream?). There were relatively few tourists at breakfast time, but by one o’clock when I was leaving, it was a different story.
I strongly recommend Le Sarment d’Or for lunch or dinner in Riquewihr (4, rue du Cerf www.riquewihr-sarment-dor.fr). The name means “a golden wine shoot” and the waiter/owner was obviously deeply knowledgeable about the wines available, but not at all snobbish, as he advised people what to order. For lunch, I had the Menu at 18€ (currently about $25 US). For that, I got three courses, a tomato gazpacho, two skewers of grilled shrimp with tablouleh, vegetables, and a red pepper sauce, and house made sorbet (apricot and red fruits). What wasn’t on the menu was the amuse bouche (amooz boosh) of lobster mousse. An amuse bouche, sometimes called an amuse geuele, literally means a “mouth amuser.” It refers to any little offering the chef provides at no extra charge to transition between courses. The lobster mousse came before the gazpacho and had me puddled on the floor in bliss. The waiter/owner told me that the gazpacho was garnished with a type of Spanish ham from pigs that are exclusively fed hazelnuts. Long live the hazelnut and the pigs who eat them! That was some ham! After this beginning, the perfect main course (pictured below) was almost anticlimactic. The sorbet was the perfect ending and I left in a state of total contentment. Le Sarment d’Or is also a two star hotel, and I bet it’s a solid value, too. But now it’s time for dinner. Hmm, I think I know just the place.