We had decided the previous night to go ahead and visit wine country in Strasbourg while we had an opportunity, a decision which required us to rent a car since wine country was not accessible. There was a huge wine route in Alsace, unsurprisingly known as “la route du vin” which was basically a road that went through all the wineries in the Alsatian region (of which there were hundreds and thousands). Instead of falling for the same mistake we had made in Switzerland, we booked the car online the previous night and got a really good rate on it.
Our car was supposed to be picked up from Budget Car Rentals at the station in Strasbourg but once we reached the station, it appeared that all rental companies except Budget happened to be there. A few cabbies outside directed us to Budget, which was located about 0.5km away from the station. So take that advice of booking cars online with a pinch of salt! Once we finally found Budget, we had missed our reservation by about 15 minutes but it didn’t matter since it didn’t look like they got much business! We completed the requisite paperwork and were off and on our way in no time.
We were armed with a map of all the wineries in the region (represented by white dots with the large areas being larger white dots) so we had a fair idea of where we wanted to go. We decided to head to one that was about an hour and a half away (about 150 kilometers using the superfast French highways). The name of this town currently escapes me, but we made good time and ended up following the often confusing directions to find the town. But before I get into that, let me go ahead and make my promised gripe about the French and their obsession for roundabouts.
When you exit a normal highway, you typically can keep going straight on the feeder if you wish to get on the highway, or you hit an intersection which allows you to go left (under the highway) or right depending on where you want to go. The French do not like this easily obvious design. Instead, every time you take an exit on the highway, you are greeted with a roundabout. The good thing is that there is no traffic light stopping the progress of cars, the bad thing is that the roundabout usually results in utter confusion. Furthermore, if you have a heavy vehicle, or a long vehicle (such as a moving truck) involved, all traffic in all direction stops while that truck maneuvers itself around the roundabout.
Anyhow, we made it past these silly roundabouts and got to our final destination where we promptly stopped at a gas station to check out where to go. Unfortunately, we seemed to have misunderstood the concept of wineries. Whereas we had thought that each of the dots on the wine map corresponded to a winery, instead each of the dots corresponded to a town that contained many wineries. The town we were in had a lot, but upon asking the person at the gas station where to go, instead of directing us to the wineries in that region, she directed us to backtrack and get on the wine route. Maybe there wasn’t a way to get on the wine route? I’m not sure, but we ended up backtracking anyway and following the crude directions to search for the elusive route de vin.
On the way, we stopped at a town called Osthiem which was not on the wine route, but nearby it. I got out of the car and, in my broken French, asked at the only open establishment in the little town, a restaurant, how to get on the wine route. She gave me directions pretty confidently, which suggested that we weren’t entirely lost. Seeing that it was around 1pm and that it would be a while before we found the wine route, a winery and thus a place to eat lunch, my Dad made an executive decision to have lunch at that restaurant. The meal turned out to be pretty delicious and pretty huge. My parents ended up taking one of their set meals, which cost $10.50 euros per person and consisted of a starter (soup or salad), a main course and a dessert. I ended up getting a standalone dish which was chicken in a mushroom sauce and their portions were so huge that I felt like I was eating a whole chicken myself.
Once we were done with our meal, we set off again, optimistically, in search of the wine route. This time we hit jackpot as along the way we saw brown signs proclaiming “Route de Vin” and hence began following it. We eventually reached the Ribeauvillé region, which was one of the larger spots on the wine map. There we parked (all parking meters in France appear to be coin-operated) and headed out on foot, only to be hit by rain. We eventually wet-trekked our way to the tourist office where my parents got some information about what to do and where to go.
Apparently we missed the wine festival by a period of about 24 hours. This would have allowed us to pay a nominal fee of about 6 euros per person and taste wine at any of the wineries in the town. Sad at missing this opportunity, we went to a couple of wineries and did a couple of tastings. I also learned the French word for tasting: degustation. Surprisingly, the tastings were all free. We only had two tastings, however, since my Dad was driving and my Mom doesn’t like doing wine tastings. After we left the first winery, we visited one of the larger distributers.
There they had a wine museum as well as many different wines to taste. It appeared to be a pretty popular place and one, in fact, where people bought 3-4 boxes of wine at a time, so it was pretty busy. We spent about 15-20 minutes ambling around the wine tasting counter before tasting one Riesling and then settling for a three-pack that consisted of bottles of Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurtzraminer wines. After making our purchase, we hurried back to our car so that we could drive back home and return the car by 6pm, which is when the car rental place closed.
This turned out to be a smaller problem than it could have been as it started pelting rain, and as a result we didn’t feel like stopping at anymore of the wineries that we were passing. We did get a good look at the vineyards along the way, though. The trip back to Strasbourg was uneventful as we were able to follow the signage and avoid being misled by the roundabouts, and we returned the car at around 5:30pm, with plenty time to spare. After that, we took a tram back to our room and rested for a bit before setting off again in the evening.
My Mom wanted to check out the Petite France area on foot, so we headed out in that direction. It may have been because of the cold caused by the rain or it may just be that the French don’t like going out on Fridays, but the whole area was deserted. The same places that had been stuffed full of people the previous night were completely empty. Most restaurants that had had seating outside the previous day were now boarded up or only serving inside. It was extremely peculiar the way the tourism had u-turned, but we didn’t complain as we were able to go around to more places and get more photos.
Once we were done taking photos, we had dinner somewhere that I now forget and then headed back to the hotel. The next day was going to be a pretty early start as our train back to Paris was leaving at around 9am. So ended our last day in Strasbourg, and our 6th day of our Europe trip. We had not only gotten a good taste of the beautiful architecture and history surrounding Strasbourg, but also a taste for one of the specialities of the Alsatian region—the wine country. Unfortunately, we were not able to complete my Mom’s inspired-by-travel-guide goal of having breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in Germany and dinner in France, but it had been a good trip and choice of destination, anyway.