Ribeauvillé - A tale of three castles, storks and vineyards - France

Medieval Ribeauvillé in the heart of Alsace charms us with its beautiful half-timbered houses, three watchful castles and exquisite white wines.

Between the Vosges mountain range and the mighty Rhine river, lies the French region of Alsace. The region known for wine production, storks and the sugary fairytale towns.

Alsace has a wealth of romantic little medieval towns with wisteria-filled alleys and pastel half-timbered houses, but the very oldest of these towns is Ribeauvillé - the city with the three castles that still watch over the city from their hills today.

Ribeauville from above with a view of the city rooftops and the castle on kullen
Beautiful street in Alsace with half-timbered houses and a castle in the background on a hill

We have been given a room at the top of the hotel, with a skylight overlooking the entire city. Ribeauvillé's surrounding hills are completely filled with vineyards and farms, and the vines stretch their winding arms almost all the way down to the old town. The climate, soil and location of the hills are perfect for vineyards and wine has been grown here since the Middle Ages. Today the famous wine route passes Route des Vins d'Alsace bypassing the city and drawing visitors to the three Grand Crus found here in Ribeauvillé – Geisberg, Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé and Osterberg.

Only the best soil and the best location have the Grand Cru classification, so Ribeauvillé is unusually blessed by the wine gods. However, Alsace's Grand Cru wines only make up about 5% of production in the region, so there are many more vineyards and wineries in the area to suit all budgets.

Vineyards in the city limits of Ribeauvillé
Bottles of wine on a rack
Narrow street with half-timbered houses

Ribeauvillé is a lively town with 5000 inhabitants and although many of the houses were built 600 years ago, they have managed to modernize just right. The city is a tourist magnet, but this evening as we check into the hotel it is relatively quiet on the streets.

It's only 19pm, but most people seem to have already had dinner. Here the dinner times feel earlier, more like in Germany than in France. But Germany is only a stone's throw away, on the other side of the Rhine.

The main street Grand-Rue is lined with small clothing shops, wine cellars and delicatessens. We meet the city's charming flower watering system, which is a cart with a water tank pulled by a horse. I'm not sure if cars are allowed to drive here or not, but it's a pedestrian street in the evening anyway. We pass the square and a lot of small alleys, all lined with hanging geraniums, statues, beautiful hanging signs and Renaissance fountains.

Ribeauvillé was once surrounded by a city wall and parts of it still remain today. One of the best preserved parts is the defense tower Tour des Bouchers (Butcher's Tower) from the 13th century which stands directly above the Grand-Rue. An impressive tower that can be seen over the entire city.

Other interesting buildings that you pass by on the main street include: Hôtel de Ville (city Hall), Auberge à l'Eléphant (the city's oldest inn) and the church Église de Couvent.

Although the three castles built and owned by the noble family of Ribeaupierre still watch over the town from the mountain west of the town, today there are other watchmen in Ribeauville. On several of the highest brick roofs, storks look down on the city's residents and streets. Having a stork's nest on the roof is said to bring good luck and protect the house from fires.

Storks on tiled roofs in Alsace

The stork is a migratory bird that has been documented in the region since the Middle Ages, but fifty years ago the number of storks began to decline. Since then, people have actively worked to help the storks, including by building up plateaus on the roofs, so the storks can more easily build their large nests. Because they are really big nests – a multi-family nest can weigh up to a ton.

The storks stay together in pairs all their lives and the same pair of storks return to the same nest every year, a bit like a summer cottage to escape to when the heat in Africa gets too much. Today, somewhere between 600 and 800 pairs of storks breed in Alsace and some storks have chosen to stay in Alsace and Ribeauvillé all year round.

Charming yellow house on a square in Alsace

In Ribeauvillé, there is always a festival close by. From the medieval Christmas market to the wine market at the end of July and the "Pfifferdaj" (fiddlers' festival) in September. Here in Alsace, the French and German cultures have been mixed throughout history and the Christmas markets are magnificent, just like in Germany.

The food culture is also mixed and here, for example, you will find sauerkraut on the menu, a dish that is more often associated with Germany than France. The classic white "pizza" tarte flambée is called Flammekueche in Alsace and can also be found on the other side of the German border - then called Flammkuchen.

We sit for a long time at an outdoor terrace and enjoy the evening's warm winds that roll in over the mountain. The same winds that keep the moisture away from the grapes keep us comfortably cool. The restaurants around us are slowly starting to close. We look at the clock where the small hand points to 10. This is certainly not a city for night owls, but it suits us perfectly. We crawl into our attic and sleep soundly under the roof of the silent city under the protective wings of the storks.

City gate with lighting in the evening light

How to get to Ribeauvillé?

Ribeauvillé is located in Alsace, in northeastern France. The nearest large cities with direct flights are Stuttgart and Zurich (both about 20 miles from the city), but it is also possible to fly to Strasbourg with a stopover.

We stayed in a hotel L'Hôtel & Spa Ribeauvillé which was fresh and had a good location on the main street.

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Narrow street with half-timbered houses and street lighting

1 COMMENT

  1. This is why I love travel bloggers. Find the amazing cities you've never heard of before, but which immediately make you want to move yours!

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About

Travel blogger, gastronaut, photographer and family adventurer with over 60 countries in his luggage. Eva loves trips that include beautiful nature, hiking boots and well-cooked food. On the travel site Rucksack she takes you to all corners of the world with the help of her inspiring pictures and texts.

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