1940s Archive

An Epicurean Tour of the French Provinces


Originally Published July 1949
The most picturesque of the French provinces is a land of pastry and pâté de foie gras, storks, sausages, and “choucroute garnie.”

The Easternmost of the French provinces has been for decades the most disputed one, covered intensely both by France and her Germanic neighbor across the Rhine. Alsace is accustomed to change, to tension, and to violence. The flags which fly from her town halls have alternated alarmingly during the past century, and troops of a dozen nationalities have trampled across her fields and vineyards. Yet, by some miracle of courage, her verdant calm is unruffled; her quaint traditions are unchanged. Apparently no cataclysm can upset her placidity, alter her local patois, widen her streets, or affect her fine cooking.

Above all, the picturesque beauty and the unquenchable fertility of Alstian soil remain unchanged. The broad strip of loam which borders the Rhine here is a farmer's Utopia, bountiful with grain and vegetables. Orchards of heavily burdened fruit trees prosper in this rich ribbon of land. Here is the source of Alsace's exquisite jams and liqueurs. Rising up from the plain are gentle slopes, checkered with vineyards, which bring forth crisp, aromatic white wines of infinite charm. Still higher are majestic forests silbouetted against the cobalt backdrop of the Vosges. Is it any wonder that strong countries wrestle over Alsace?

Nature is kind to the Alsatian epicure, stocking his mountain streams with trout and crayfish and populating his wooded uplands with a bounty of game—partridge, quail, pleasant, venison, and wild boar. The Rhine, so often a sinister barrier, comforts him with a piscatorial plenitude of carp, pike, perch, bream, and eel, among others. His own farmers concentrate on two joy-giving creatures, the pig and the goose, which bring unctuous pleasure to his table. Such blessings should be enough, but the Alsatian also has the good fortune to live in the most picturesque of all the French provinces, a land scattered with so many medieval villages and castles that the visitor is dumfounded. The appeal of places to see, dishes to taste, and wines to sniff adds up to a formula so tempting that a reasonable traveler can hardly resist it.

We hope that some day you will succumb to the charm of this brave and placid province and explore its toy towns in particular. Strasbourg and Colmar have their decided merits, but a vivid surprise awaits you in these grotesque, but, unblemished hamlets, whose steep-roofed houses are so often capped with iron baskets of straw, sometimes inhabited by authentic live storks. There are dozens of such villages. Their fascination may be summarized in three of the most perfect examples which carry the ponderous names of Ammerschwihr, Kayserberg, and Riquewihr. By a pleasant twist of fact, each of the three is an ancient citadel of good wine. What better place to carry out a Bacchic pilgrimage?

The name of Ammerschwihr will be found on many a long-necked bottle of wine. Vineyards are its pride and livelihood. My lst glimpse of the town was a colorful one, predominantly lavender, rose, and viridian. Wisteria seemed to twine around every window. Wine carts rattled over the cobblestones, laden with tanks on their backs, plodded vines. The vineyard workers, tanks on their backs, plodded up the streets wearing smocks and broad straw hats which had been tinted a vivid Venitian green by the spray. It was a theatrical street, bordered with timbered houses with dizzy roof lines and culminating in a bizarre town gate. Add a few singing peasants with steins, several buxom barmaids dancing the polka, and a few hussars with red coats, and you would have a perfect Graustark setting, all ready for the love waltz.

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