I climb over the Vosges Mountains and head out of the pine forests into the wine valleys. My destination is Mittelbergheim, a small village with a Germanic name and 20 wine producers hidden along its narrow medieval streets. After parking up at the edge of the village with views across the vineyards and to the Haut Andlau Castle which proudly overlooks them, I wander into the village in search of the wine for which the area is famous. They use several grapes here – sylvaner, gewurztraminer, muscat and pinot noir to name a few.
The village is littered with ancient wooden wine presses, deep wells and dovecotes, and the entrances to the wine makers are adorned with stone arches bearing the crest of the family business. It seems as though everyone must be out in the fields harvesting the grapes, but eventually I find Caveau Gilg which is open for tastings and they are keen for me to try as many as possible.
I first try the cheapest and the grapes which are growing next to my Motorhome, the sylvaner. It is light and very drinkable and well within my budget. Then I try the more expensive Grand Cru version, which is made with only the best quality grapes, grown on slopes with the best soil and sunlight. It’s better than the cheaper version but I’m not encouraged to buy it. Finally, I try the sweetest, the impossible-to-pronounce gewurztraminer. It has a wonderful, perfumed lychee smell which makes a big impact, and while the taste doesn’t live up to the promise, I decide it is still worth the €9.25 price tag.
10km north of Mittelbergheim is the fortified town of Obernai. Firmly on the tourist trail its street are overflowing with white-haired, wine-quaffing coach parties and families visiting for the day from Strasbourg. A tacky tourist train chugs through the backstreets and the shops are selling all manner of souvenirs stamped with “Obernai”.
I suspect it may be hard to find a good restaurant specialising in Alsace cuisine and Trip Advisor has already warned of the rip-off prices and poor standards. In the end, I opt to dine in Winstub la Dime, a traditional restaurant down a quiet side street which offers a lot of local specialities. There’s the flammekueche (a bit like a pizza), the baeckeoffe (pronounced ‘bake-off’ – a slow-cooked meat casserole), Fleischnacka (a savoury Swiss roll) and kougelhopf (a brioche loaf with raisins and almonds). I take the easy option and order the tourist menu which is not cheap at €19.90 but includes three courses. Before my food arrives, I am given a small dish of pretzels to nibble with my wine and some warm ciabatta bread rolls. The starter is a huge piece of onion tart with a side salad. It’s hot, fluffy, light and delicious and my sylvaner wine is the perfect accompaniment.
When my main course of choucroute arrives I assume that they have made a mistake because the mountain of cabbage, sausages, gammon and potatoes that they place on the table couldn’t possibly be for only one person. I’m defeated before I even get half way through and have to ask for a doggy bag. My meal is rounded off with a home-made traditional French dessert of Ile flotant (a floating island of soft white meringue on a sea of cold custard).
After such a filling lunch, I feel compelled to take an afternoon stroll up to the peaceful surrounding vineyards. There’s a lovely view of the town from the War Memorial but unfortunately the tourist train arrives and my meditative state is broken by loud German voices and the click-clack of camera shutters.