Mon 10 Apr 2017

Beauty and the Beast (and Wine!): the Magical Alsace Villages That Inspired a Disney Classic

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‘Little town, it’s a quiet village…’

If you’re a Disney fan, your brain sang that line. (If you’re not a Disney fan, this blog post probably isn’t for you, although you’re very welcome to stick around for some gorgeous French scenery.)

The iconic opening to Disney’s 1991 film Beauty and the Beast is impossible to forget. Belle wanders into a sleepy village of colourful houses, cobbled streets and towering church spires that suddenly springs to life with gossiping villagers buying and selling their daily groceries.

This classic film moment came to life in Disney’s recent live-action remake of the film, but wouldn’t you like to walk the cobbled streets for yourself?

Riquewihr

Riquewihr

Well, you can – and you can drink some delicious wines while you’re at it – because the setting is reportedly based on two villages in the Alsace region: Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé.

Riquewihr
Not too far from Colmar, visiting this storybook village is like stepping back in time. The half-timbered houses date back to medieval times, and are identical to those in Belle’s village, and you can definitely imagine the villagers thrusting open the pretty windows to shout ‘Bonjour!’

The village square, the Dolder Tower (once a defensive gateway, now a beautiful clock tower) and the cobbled streets transport you straight into the world of the film. It’s particularly nice to visit in spring and summer when the colourful houses are given a run for their money thanks to the village’s vibrant floral decorations.

Riquewihr's Dolder fountain

Riquewihr’s Dolder fountain

There’s an antique shop if you fancy searching for your own candlesticks and carriage clocks (talking or otherwise), a fabulous pastry shop if you want to spy the ‘baker with his tray like always’, and plenty of picturesque old fountains at which to pause, take a seat and read a book just like Belle does (page-chewing sheep not guaranteed).

Famille Hugel's winery in Riquewihr

Famille Hugel’s winery in Riquewihr

The wine
There are two grands crus in Riquewihr, Sporen and Schoenenbourg, and one of Alsace’s most famous wine producers, Hugel, meaning you won’t be short of fine rieslings and delicious gewürztraminer. A member of the family, André Hugel, also established a wine-themed museum here, giving you an extra reason to visit.

Ribeavillé
Ten minutes north of Riquewihr, and roughly double the size, the town of Ribeavillé is packed full of history and fairytale charm.

Ribeavillé

Ribeauvillé

The beast would have his pick of real estate here as the town and the surrounding hills are dominated by the ruins of not one but three fortified castles (as well as a number of defensive towers, including the Tours des Bouchers, or Butcher’s Tower, which dates back to the 13th century.)

Castle over Ribeavillé

Wandering through the cobbled streets, you‘ll find postcard-perfect squares with more bubbling fountains that Belle would have pegged as reading spots, and you’ll find it a challenge not to burst into the Gaston song if you visit the Wistub Zum Pfifferhus, which really is the spitting image of the tavern Gaston and Lefou raucously frequent in the film.

The wine
Ribeauvillé has three grands crus: Osterberg, Kirschberg and Geisberg, and also hosts another of Alsace’s best-known wine producers: Trimbach. They are based just outside the town, and are known best for dry, steely riesling, producing one of the finest examples in Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile. Excellent gewurztraminer and pinot gris is also made here.

The Trimbach winery in Ribeavillé

The Trimbach winery in Ribeavillé

There’s plenty of magic to be found in Alsace so it’s good to find another excuse to sing this region’s praises. It really is one of the most underappreciated holiday spots in France, in my view, so even if you’re not a Beauty and the Beast fan, if you are planning a visit you’re certain to find beauty, at least.

Comments

  1. Ray McErlean says:

    I have visited both of these beautiful towns. There is also quite a good winemaker in Ribeauville called Wyman whose Gewurtztraminer can be found in certain French supermarkets. We were recommended to him by the landlord of a local hotel and he wheeled our purchases down through the town in a wheelbarrow. A memorable experience.

  2. Malcolm Vincent says:

    We visited Hugel on a very busy weekend in late summer last year. Despite the crush, they were attentive, informative and generous with their tastings.

    In fact, we experienced the same courtesy and hospitality everywhere through the appellation. Schlumberger was our favourite (though not so picturesque) and it is hard not to drink it all straight away.

    Colmar is right in the middle of the region and a good road runs along the valley making access simple.

    Champagne is a good overnight rest stop if you don’t fancy the drive from UK in one go.

    It was a very pleasant change from Bourgogne!!

    We will return.

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