Last summer, after spending a week in Gais, in Switzerland’s charming Appenzeller region, Laveena and I took the train to Stein Am Rhein. We had plans to meet up with our friends from Germany, the effervescent and affable Lydia and Oliver Kirchel, a delightful couple we met in the Maldives in the late 90s and with whom we have toured different parts of the world including Scotland, Denmark, Luxembourg, Germany and France. We arrived at the station and almost as soon as we stepped out, in keeping with the well known reputation of German precision, our dear friends announced their arrival with a light honk of their car horn. After an exchange of kisses and hugs we were on our way to the Black Forest region where we were to spend a night at the Schwarzwaldhotel. We arrived at the hotel early evening and were not too pleased with either the location or the property, however since it was only the one night, we decided to ignore the size of the room and bathroom and instead looked forward to our planned walk at Lake Schluchsee. The walk to the lake did not disappoint. We spent our time catching up with the Kirchels and had the spectacular views of the lake as a backdrop.
The next morning we set out early to Kaiserstuhl. Laveena and I were seated in the back of the X5 as it zoomed past the pine and fir trees so magnificently distributed across the region to make up the black forest. We stopped at Schauinsland, in Freiburg, Germany and enjoyed the enchanting views of the Vosges mountains in France. The mountain is popular with bikers and is also used for skiing in the winter months. We spent the night at the Hotel Schwarzer Adler in Vogtsburg-Oberbergen, Germany. Not only does the hotel enjoy an idyllic location, set within a vineyard, with relaxing rose and herb gardens, a Michelin star fine dining restaurant and a cellar that’s home to 2,700 varieties of wine but it is also a member of the small luxury hotels of the world and a charming place to stay in. In fact, the German national soccer team stayed here after they won the world cup in 1954. Our room was elegantly decorated with fine furnishings in a timeless style which reminded me of a friend’s cottage I used to visit in the English countryside. The teak wooden furniture had a strangely familiar smell which I identified with quite easily as my friend’s home in England too had teak wood furniture and a floor which creaked enchantingly with every step I took.
We settled in and an hour later stepped out to experience the picturesque Kaiserstuhl villages. As we drove by the villages, we chanced upon some lush Cherry trees. Laveena and I excitedly asked Lydia and Olli if we could stop to pick some cherries and they said we could. We feasted on some of the freshest, bright red and juiciest cherries we had ever eaten. It was truly a treat we both thoroughly enjoyed. We then visited a winemaker who introduced us to some local food and served us home made cake. This village experience was unique and authentic and we are glad to have done it before our onward journey to Osthouse via Colmar in France.
At Colmar we stopped at the market set in a picturesque part of the city with it’s flowery town centre and beautiful canals. Strolling on foot amidst the colour and vibrancy of its people, the food stalls, the narrow streets and the shops selling Alsace wine, all four of us fell instantly in love with this town with it’s enchanting allure of half timbered houses. We decided to do some dinner shopping before heading to Osthouse. We purchased some delicious Alsatian wine, cheese and sausages and were sad to leave. On our way to Osthouse we saw signs for strawberry fields. Olli drove to the next town where more signs directed us to an open strawberry field. Excited, we grabbed our baskets and hurried to the fields where we picked the reddest, largest, freshest and most juiciest strawberries we had ever seen.
After checking out with the young girl in charge of the fields, we loaded our boxes into the car and headed to Hotel A’ La Ferme’ where we planned to stay for two nights. We drove into the small village of Osthouse, in the heart of the Ried, half way between Strasbourg and Sélestat between the Black Forest and the Vosges. Shortly we arrived at this ever so charming 18th century farm like hotel, surrounded by beautiful roses and shrubs. A garden separated us from the main reception area. After checking in, we were shown to our rooms by the couple who ran the place, Brigitte and Jean-Philippe. The moment we stepped into the house we fell in love with it’s quaint yet luxurious village look and feel. The size of the room was impressive and it overlooked the garden on one side while on the other we could see the quiet village street below. We placed our strawberries near the air-conditioning and before we knew it, the entire room had the magical fragrance of fresh strawberries. We rested a while and then headed down for our wine, cheese and sausage dinner. Olli and Lydia had prepared the table in the garden for the evening, which turned out to be a delightful experience. Post dinner we walked out into the village and for the hour we were out, the only other villagers we saw were a few ducks, swimming in the local lake. It was a bright moonlit night. The silence was almost electric and the stars twinkled in their stately constellations. As time went by all we could hear other than our own voices was the rustling of the tree leaves. As we walked back to Hotel A’La Ferme’ we could distinctly smell the magical fragrance of lavender and noticed under the yellow glow of the lone street light a number of bushes. The cool, gray-green foliage contrasted nicely with its own lavender coloured flowers, as well as the dark green herbs and other plants. We returned to our rooms and slept so peacefully that night, the quiet of the village embracing us ever so willingly and happily. The next morning after a wonderful breakfast, we once again set out to explore the area and after driving by lakes and hillsides, through numerous fields and forests, after seeing scores of village bakeries and quaint churches we returned home.
Dinner that day was prepared by Jean-Philippe. His reputation of being a decorated Chef was well known, with scores of write ups in local magazines and positive comments from guests on the internet. He more than impressed us with his offer of terrines, wood-smoked salmon and the not-to-be-missed pork presskopf in vinaigrette. All dishes were perfectly plated and prepared with the utmost care using high-quality ingredients. With sourdough bread as an accompaniment and a fine regional wine perfectly paired with the food presented, dinner that evening far exceeded our expectations. To finish it off we had the mini pains au chocolat and the Kougelhopf and a mouth wateringly delicious dessert made from fresh strawberries. We were to leave for Trier the next day. Lydia lived in Trier, on a Vineyard, with horses and rabbits and rolling hills and we were excited to visit her home in a part of Germany, known to be the oldest. Olli who lives in Hannover, visited Lydia every weekend, until she recently moved to Basel in Switzerland. About our fabulous experiences during our week long stay in Trier, I shall feature in another blog.