After eleven years of blogging, one photograph on Back Road Journal has been commented on more than all others combined. It was taken above Zellenberg, France, a tiny village perched on a hill whose slopes are covered with vineyards, some being the renowned Grand Cru d’Alsace Froehn vineyards.
Years back, on a misty day in September, I stood at the edge of a hilltop vineyard near the Alsace Wine Route admiring the landscape. What made the view irresistible was the beautiful patchwork of fall colors of the surrounding vineyards so I took a couple of photographs. For years, I never knew the exact location of the vineyard with a small village in the background. Further in the distance, seen only when you zoomed in, were three castle ruins. Those ruins ended up being an important clue on our last trip to France.
On that trip, my husband and I decided to try and find where I had taken the lovely photograph that I had used as my header photo on Back Road Journal for many years. Just last year, I changed it to a different photo taken next to the same vineyard. Both photographs will be familiar to those who have followed me over the years.
The date on the photographs indicated they were taken in 2008 but neither my husband or I could recall all the small Alsatian towns we had driven through that year. Over our years of traveling through the region, we knew we had visited the famous medieval towns of Eguisheim, Hunawihr, Kaysersberg, Ribeauvillé and Riquewhir but the photo wasn’t taken from any of them . Our only clue was the three castle ruins you could barely make out in the photo. However, the Route du Vin is a series of roads that meander through at least 70, or more, picture postcard wine growing villages and many have castle ruins above them.
Would we be able to find that same vineyard with the wonderful views that had caught our eye so many years ago? Almost anywhere else in the world, 14 years of progress would have totally changed the landscape but our hopes were high because the Alsace region is known for its medieval towns and most are now protected from further development. It wouldn’t be an easy task but we were on a mission to see if we could find the hilltop vineyard and recreate the photo. We were definitely up for the challenge.
Our plan was to spend a couple of days at the hotel Le Chambard, central to the area we needed to search. The region, known as The Colmar Vineyards in the Haut-Rhin department of Alsace, is known for its picture postcard views. What made Le Chambard special is that it is located just inside the entrance of the small Alsatian village of Kaysersberg, designated as one of the “most beautiful villages in France”.
The colorful hotel, adorned with beautiful flower boxes overflowing with geraniums, not only has a two star Michelin restaurant, a good bistro and a small spa, it also has the remnants of a medieval castle perched on the hillside in its backyard.
Kaysersberg made a wonderful starting point for exploring the wine route in search for that special hilltop. The first day we traveled south on the wine route and although we saw lots of castles near picturesque medieval villages, not one hill had three castles. On the second day, we only had to drive about twenty minutes north along the wine route before we spotted what we were looking for. The medieval town of Ribeauvillé, with vineyards that have been in existence since the Middle Ages, was dominated by the ruins of the three castles of the Lords of Ribeaupierre. There they were, silently guarding the area since the 14th century.
Now that we had found the castle ruins overlooking Ribeauvillé, we drove the back roads over and around the hills searching for that lovely view. Unfortunately, we found that the three castles can be seen from many of the nearby villages. It was frustrating at the time but the vineyard on the crest of a hill remained a mystery. We believed that the vineyard had to be on one of the small back roads that we love traveling somewhere near Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr or Hunawihr, all within a few miles of each other but we never found the exact spot.
One who doesn’t like to give up, just this week I discovered through using topography maps and google images that my photos were taken above the tiny village of Zellenberg. Someday, I hope to return to one of our favorite parts of France and try once more to discover that vineyard with the magnificent panorama of the region. We now know that it was taken above Zellenberg, the tiny village perched on a hill whose slopes are covered with vineyards
If you decide to visit Alsace, perhaps you will come across that special view we discovered so many years ago. Even if you don’t, you will never be disappointed with a visit to this lovely part of France. The small Alsatian towns and medieval villages look like something out of a fairy tale with their half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets and flowers in bloom everywhere you look. They are surrounded by rolling hills planted with vineyards which are often topped with castle ruins that are worth the hike to visit. Spend a night or two in one of the many historic hotels or charming B & B’s in the region and taste some of the best food France has to offer. The vineyards still produce some of the world’s best grapes so you might want to take a wine tour or if your visit is timed right, enjoy one of the many festivals in the region.
I would to thank all those who have taken a moment, over the years, to read my stories, enjoy some of the many photographs I’ve shared, or have recreated one of my original recipes that you read here on Back Road Journal. Your comments and words of encouragement have always meant so much to me. I hope you will return often as I begin yet another year of blogging.