“The beauty of traveling to a new place is reflected in the days after your visit when you are still pondering in the same place as if you have left a piece of your heart there. An experience like that makes everything worthwhile” – aneternalescape
Eguishiem, a small quaint traditional French village soaked in the beauty and smell of its vineyards and wine, makes you fall in love with the place instantly. Be its chocolate box-shaped houses, its cute narrow streets, it’s inviting little squares; you feel at ease and home immediately.
This little village situated in the Alsace region of France falls en route the Route du Vin (Wine Route) through eastern France. It bears many feathers on its hat; Village préféré des Français (Favorite French Village) in 2013, a member of the Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The Most Beautiful Villages of France) Association.
The moment you arrive you gasp at the beauty of the teeny tiny village. Almost like the branch of a tree, there is a main road that leads straight to the main square of the village and the slender streets branch out in both directions in front of you. And as much as you want to go to the square first, these slick and slim lanes would inadvertently pull you towards them. Right in front of you lays this neat cobbled street bordered with beautiful higgledy-piggledy houses in every shade of Blue, Red, Yellow, Orange, and Green; typical of Alsace.
Another thing most striking about these houses is their half-timbered frames, which are characteristic of Alsace and many northern French villages. These timber frames not only bring about the beauty and their charm but also reminds us of the image that we have of this side of France. The brightly colored houses with their tapered ceilings, irregular frames but beautifully decorated and flower-adorned facades, makes you feel as if you are in fact standing right in the middle of a Fairy-Tale.
With a perfect location of Rhine River on the east and the Vosges Mountains to the west, there was an abundance of large forests, thus making wood the first choice of raw material in their constructions. Easy to transport, a good insulator, resistant to earthquake and usual wear and tear; wood integrated deep into the architectural needs and aesthetics of the area. Most of the houses you can see belong to the 11th and 12th century. You can also find ancient Alsatian language inscribed on the windows and front doors of the houses.
Residing on a hilly slope, the streets in Eguishiem slightly incline in places. The village main square acts as the center of the village and all its streets lie in concentric circles all around. As you go about any street, these winding alleys block your view to a certain distance and unfold bit by bit as you move forward. You can’t stop admiring these streets as you walk along them. Gazing at each house becomes mandatory as every one of them looks so different from each other, yet they harmoniously blend into the charm of the whole landscape. They seem as if they are carefully painted by the tasteful hands of an artist. You wouldn’t be bored even for a second because the moment you think this can’t get more beautiful than this; you are greeted again by another alluring sight.
This medieval village of just under 2000 residents has quite a bit of history packed into it. You admire the place, even more, when you learn more about its fascinating past. The first mention of this place goes back to 720 AD. The name of the city comes from “home of Egino or Egeno,” the Count of Eguishiem. The village was the birthplace of Pope Leon IX, whose relics and memories are proudly preserved and displayed throughout the village. A fortified palace dating from the 8th century (Château Saint-Léon), a church with pious preserves of the Pope’s skull (St-Léon Chapel), a stature in the center of the village square (Place du Château) and a fountain with a capacity of 80000 liters (Fontaine St-Léon, one of the largest in Alsace) are the proud monuments honoring and commemorating the town’s favorite Son; who was later canonized (officially declare to be a saint) for his efforts on the reform of the churches in the medieval ages.
In the midst of these picture-perfect old half-timbered houses, lies a quirky charm which is adored by millions of tourist visiting the village. The Pigeonnier (The French word for Dovecote; a structure intended to house pigeons or doves) of Eguishiem is the most photographed image available of this village. This photogenic structure sits right at the fork of a narrow road and built into the end of a house dating back to the 8th or 9th century. An interesting fact about these Pigeonniers is that the possession of one was a symbol of power and status and was strictly regulated by law. Only nobles were allowed to build a dovecote; Pigeons and Doves were an important food source for Western Europe used for their eggs and flesh.
Even though Eguishiem is a fairly small place with two main concentric cobbled streets, a single main central square and small alleys branching off here and there, you can almost lose track of time wandering its winding streets. They offer a new view from every direction and you feel kind of funny finding yourself crossing the same place again and again without noticing at times.
When you are done soaking up the ambiance, the next best thing to savor is its exquisite wines. Eguishiem is considered the birthplace of Alsatian wine-making. In the fourth century, the Romans planted the first vines in Eguishiem. The expansion of this wine-industry took place when the Bishops and the Abbeys of nearby cities like Strasbourg started owning and developing the vineyards. Soon the wines from Alsace reached the tables of the royalties in England and Holland and the reputation of the remarkable wines spread across. The special terrain, its exceptional micro-climate and the expertise of the Eguishiem winemakers have successfully added to the expansion of its Viticulture and the current 800 acres of vineyards surrounding it.
Wines in Eguishiem are tightly knitted to its culture, tradition, food and its numerous festivals. The festival of wine-growers celebrated in the last weekend of August, is a full two-day celebration of visiting family and friends, open cellars, orchestras of Alsatian folklore, jazz, procession and entertainment for children; a symbol of wine, gastronomy, and friendship.
Alsace sits on the north-eastern end of France that helps blends its culture, wine, and food to produce some magnificent and unique Gastronomic delights. Food in Eguishiem reflects the same. Don’t go by the size of the village, it’s a proud owner of four Michelin star restaurants. It also hosts numerous other smaller restaurants and taverns offering delicious and traditional Alsatian cuisine. As you wander the streets, be sure to stop by the many shops to sample local meats, cheeses, and wine, especially, Choucroute; a traditional dish with cabbage, potatoes, sausage and many other veggies.
Besides the wine and its delicious food, the other thing that Eguishiem is known for is the Storks. It is the symbol of Alsace with houses, bell towers and churches topped with large Stork nests. It also has a Stork sanctuary on the end of the village, where the plans of breeding the storks are in full progress.
Christmas in Eguishiem, as in the rest of Alsace, is very famous and visited by tourists worldwide. The traditional and picturesque Christmas markets are a sight to behold. Not a corner of the village is left undecorated. Christmas relics, nativity scenes, angels, and Santa hang from every fresco. The small winding streets are filled with Christmas spirit, the smell of mulled wine and fresh gingerbread. Alsatian-themed Christmas decorations and light cover the village. Eguishiem might be the smallest and the cutest Christmas destination you will ever see.
Our visit to Eguishiem in December was an experience very dear to me. I couldn’t decide if it was the place, the food, its charm, the decorations or the friendly and smiling faces around, that made our stay so magical.
Sometimes it’s the warmth and the coziness of a small village like Eguishiem that makes people come back to the place again and again. You just feel you can’t get enough of it every time you are there and you are left wanting for more. And all the village had to do was to extend its true, warm and traditional vibe which stays with you long after you are gone. It’s exactly these kinds of places that make me want to discover them more. I get hungrier and hungrier after every visit.