When Belle was singing about her provincial life, she was talking about this walled village.
The most beautiful hamlet in France? Hmmm. You need to see to believe. Prepare to be spellbound and captivated, entranced, and fascinated. And kindly don’t tell us that we didn’t warn you!
Riquewihr, pronounced as ʁikviʁ, is prominently listed in the elite Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, which roughly translates to the Most Beautiful Villages of France. This most coveted distinction is solely bestowed to a handful of deserving vicinities in the country, given after a stringent 27-criteria classification.
It is a proud achievement. Splendidly situated between the low-ranged Vosges Mountains at the Alsace Region, the storybook of a village is some 350 kilometers away from Paris.
With fewer than 2,000 citizens, Riquewihr proudly possesses medieval sites and ancient monuments, which have been faithfully protected, preserved, and promoted as an informative yet enriching and eye-catching stopover.
All of these are done with the much respected tenet that it won’t transform into a commercialized tourist destination.
History and heritage
Being a walled city, Riquewihr effectively shielded itself from a string of invaders due to the good graces and substantial fortunes of successive Lords of Horbourg who initially set up these bastions.
These were mainly funded by the sale of wine as their region is surrounded by vineyards all around, most notably of the aromatic white grape Riesling variety. Some experts claim that this Riesling is the best in the world.
This opulent time of plenty lasted from 1291 until 1618. However, the notorious Thirty Years’ War sadly fragmented the once peaceful region due to the influence of various religious sects.
This depression lasted until the 18th century, when Riquewihr finally aligned itself with France, thanks to the Treaty of Paris.
Influenced by the Holy Roman Empire, Germany, and France, the community has incorporated their very soul to produce an experience that is their very own. Just by the gates was the Liberty Tree, a mortal yet enduring reminder of the French Revolution, which has historical ramifications even today.
It only took a few steps to be within the enclosed enclave, where we were immediately awed by. All our senses were stimulated by the enchanted inspiration behind the hometown of Belle, the heroine of Beauty and the Beast. Yes, you heard that right—this is, by most definitions, a fairytale land brought to life.
We soon found ourselves at the center of town, where the pulse of the village seems to be focused. There, two main expansive streets, lined up with three-stories-high half-timbered homes in shades of pastel blue, pink, yellow, and green dominate.
These houses were color-coded by the profession of the families that have lived and continue to reside within. For instance, a certain hue is exclusive for a clan of butchers, while another was only for carpenters.
Various artifacts—worn-out horseshoes, well-loved tools, which were all hung outside the premises—give clue of their familial trades. We theorized that this, perhaps, was a convenient way for residents to know which house to tap for tasks and jobs.
This was quite useful especially in the olden eras when the only advertisement was word-of-mouth based on past experiences. There were likewise tiny plant pots under the windows of several homes, which were all given utmost attention, love, and care.
Ruins of a former Holy Roman Temple greeted us as we veered off the main alley. Today, it plays host to fragrant gardens of flowers.
Another remnant of the previous conquests can still be felt all around as there were public paintings and tapestries, which embody several influences, including ancient codes and marks which came in various unfamiliar languages.
We slowly made our way to the iconic Dolder Tower, the village’s own symbol, a sandstone fort that was utilized to scout attacks from possible intruders.The nearby pocket museum was a treat on its own, as it tried its best to preserve every historical tidbit of this area’s involvement in wars and the general passage of time.
We offered prayers before the War Memorial of Riquewihr, a testament to the casualties of both World Wars. The village has since remained tight-knit that most, if not all individuals, were accounted for.
As we wandered around, we gladly immersed ourselves as we stopped by bakeries after bakeshops after cafes.
Each looked prettier than the next, all carrying colorful macaroons, traditional cakes, and lush cookies with their own twists. Meanwhile, others in the group opted to shop at handcrafted keepsake stores for artisanal and decades-old memorabilia. The take-me-homes showed their age, though in a heartwarmingly vintage way.
As we sipped their pride-of-place Riesling at one specialty winery, we watched the sunset on the lively yet homely streets of what was quite possibly one of the prettiest villages I have ever laid my eyes on.
This story originally came out in the March 2021 issue of Lifestyle Asia.