The last time I visited the Auberge Frankenbourg was in 2006, a year after they received their first Michelin star. Since then, this family-owned country inn just up into the Vosges from Sélestat has kept everyone (staff and customers) on their toes, piling innovation upon renovation. First, the familiar, homely salle à manger gave ground to a striking, purpose-built dining room: picture a cross between a chalet, a chapel and an elegant barn, with soaring roof, a whole timber yard of beams and huge windows giving glimpses out onto the forest. Then they smartened up the rooms – but not too much. Frankenbourg is a Logis de France and still very much a restaurant avec chambres, where the spotlight shines relentlessly on the food, not on the beds or bathrooms (which are simple but adequate). Most recently chef Sébastien Buecher and his team gave themselves a spanking new kitchen, designed to make their demanding job simpler and more pleasurable. It’s been an extraordinary series of transformations, which has left everyone slightly dazed but happy – the clients for sure, but also the staff. (You can be pretty sure they’re happy because they all beam at you when they pass by your table, even if they’re not your allotted waiter/waitress.)
Looking for a place to stay in the vineyards of Alsace, somewhere with character that doesn’t cost the proverbial arm + leg? Here are two we recently test-drove and enjoyed, one in the Haut-Rhin (Eguisheim) and the other in the Bas-Rhin (Boersch/St Leonard).
Our first stop was at Le Hameau d’Eguisheim, owned by the Pierre-Henri Ginglinger wine-growing family and situated right on the main street. They have 5 cosy guest rooms and 2 gites/apartments. The decor is simple and appealing with plenty of restful whites and greys. All rooms have their own bathroom, TV and wifi; some have a kitchenette. Included in the B&B price (€80 when we were there) is a generously furnished breakfast buffet served in what must have once been one of the domaine’s wine cellars. Or if you prefer, you can totter down Eguisheim’s beautiful main street to the baker, where there will be fresh kugelhopf (both sweet and salty, with bacon and walnuts) in the morning. There’s also a butcher’s shop with some terrific ham, cold meats, tourtes, pies, quiches and sundry other goodies, to eat in or to take home.
And then there are all Eguisheim’s famous winegrowers just waiting to show you their wines. Leon Beyer is the town’s best-known and one of the oldest-established, always worth a visit. Also notable are Paul Ginglinger, whose Gewurz Grand Cru Pfersigberg carried off a Regional Trophy in the Decanter World Wine Awards. Eguisheim is also the home of newbies Hubert and Heidi Hausherr, organic and biodynamic growers whose wine we discovered recently at L’Un des Sens (great little wine bar in Colmar – and btw a new entry in the Eating Out Alsace/Basel/Baden page of my other site – which specialises in quirky, natural, organic and/or biodynamic wines). The Hausherrs left the local cooperative fairly recently to strike out on their own and I’ve yet to visit them…watch this space.
Our second B&B was a bit further north in the tiny hamlet of Saint Léonard, near Boersch. Clos Saint Leonard is owned and run by Béatrice Muller-Spindler. If you’re into Alsace at all, the name Spindler will ring bells: Charles Spindler’s atelier here in Saint Leonard was (and still is) world-famous for its marquetry/intarsia, which combines different varieties and colours of wood to create pictures and to decorate furniture. (If you have ever been to the famous Betty’s cafe in Harrogate, Yorkshire, you may remember that there is a whole room downstairs decorated with Spindler marquetry panels.)
Saint Léonard, according to Béatrice, was once a Benedictine abbey, built by a hermit in around 1100 AD and consecrated in September 1109. It later became a school, and continued as such till the Revolution, when it was destroyed and the brothers evicted. The present house, Béatrice’s home, dates back to 1860, built by Victor Laugel , friend of Charles Spindler, whose “Foyer Artistique” was set up next door. Try, if you can (unlike us – we were there on a weekend), to stay here midweek so you can visit the marquetry studios and learn about Spindler’s art.
Even if built as ‘recently’ (well, compared to the original Benedictine abbey) as 1860, the house is deliciously ancient, reeking with character and stuffed with antiques, with magnificently creaky wooden floors, a wonky staircase and a bathroom big enough to swing several cats in. (It’s predictably draughty in winter, so bring your longjohns and/or warm pyjamas.) Besides the B&B suite with two bedrooms and said bathroom there’s also a delightful self-catering apartment on the ground floor, which is fully equipped for a longer stay than one night.
Breakfast, which is included in the price of the suite (€170), is served by Béatrice in the dining room. Expect a mountain of freshly baked croissants and kugelhopf on Sundays, lashings of coffee, gorgeous jams (made by her son) and sundry cold meats and cheese. Apart from the famous Spindler marquetry studios, don’t miss the Romanesque church of nearby Rosheim and the 11th century Dompeter in Avolsheim.
Staying here you’d be within easy reach of two of my favourite Bas-Rhin wine growers: Mélanie Pfister in Dahlenheim (superb Riesling from Grand Cru Engelberg) and Frédéric Mochel in Traenheim (fab Riesling too, theirs from GC Altenberg de Bergbieten, and a late harvest Pinot Gris that never got anywhere near the spitoon), both domaines worth a detour, if not a special journey.