For whom the bell tolls

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Where: Breitenbach, Alsace, France (otherwise known as “the quaintest village in the most spectacular setting”, but Breitenbach works, too)

Plate of food: So, France overheard that Sicily was allowed two foods in this category. You can imagine the trouble. In the spirit of fairness and equality, I have two heart healthy foods to share with you about Alsace. That’s not true – nothing about French cuisine is heart healthy, unless you count the joy you feel within your heart as you savour every indulgent mouthful.

First, we have Tart Flambée d’Alsace or Flammkuchen (Alsace is a wonderful mix of French and German culture and language). This is a flat bread topped with onions, bacon, and sour cream. I love the simplicity of it all. Why complicate it with anything else? Onions and bacon and cream love each other, and more importantly, I love them together. We enjoyed Tart Flambée courtesy of our hosts at the holiday home we were renting for the week. One evening we were invited to the main house for dinner which consisted of Tart Flambée and….Tart Flambée. Perfection! Our jolly, rosy-cheeked host cranked out these delicious flat breads from his wood fired oven. It was all washed down with Alsatian white wine in the customary green stemmed wine glasses. Ah. We didn’t have to eat for the rest of the month.

Who are you calling a tart?

The next food that fueled my entire week in Breitenbach is not specifically Alsatian, but it is where I first discovered it. This little gem is called Rillette de  Porc -shredded, slow cooked pork mixed with pork fat and herbs to make a sort of pâté. We would buy it in the supermarket in little glass jars and eat it on crusty bread. I soon realized that rillette had something special about it, that is to say, it had pork fat. I unapologetically ate it for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Don’t judge, just go buy some rillette.

The best: Breitenbach was my first introduction to France, although the region has such a unique identity that it cannot be compared to the rest of the country. I fell deeply in love with the hills, the half-timbered houses, the church steeples, the wine, the food….all of it. It was the perfect package. We spent our days walking in the quiet hills, eating wonderful food, and drinking lovely wine. I started to wonder why you ever need to do anything else. The village itself had no tourist attractions, being just a cluster of houses on a few cobbled streets. Surrounding the quiet village were hills green with fir trees and valleys quilted with vineyards. We were lucky enough for it to snow during our stay (we were there after Christmas one year). The snowflakes made the silence more profound and I felt even more insulated from the world. Bliss.

Alsatian tranquility

Story that needs to be told: My husband and I enjoyed early morning walks in the local area for most of the week. Towards the end of our stay we decided to do a more serious hike through the hills to one of the “peaks”. We woke early, before our friends had even stirred, and crept down from our attic room (we had drawn the short straw) to make sandwiches and fill a thermos with tea. Armed with our hand drawn map, we were off.

It had snowed the day before, so we set off in ankle-deep powder. The morning was still and peaceful. To me, there are few sweeter sounds than footsteps in snow  – I am Canadian after all. We lapsed into a silent, meditative pace as we headed uphill. We followed wide paths through the forest of pine trees. On either side, the trees loomed high above us; their trunks were solid and straight. Every so often a light dusting of snow would fall from the highest boughs, dislodged from its perch by a squirrel or a bird, and slowly descend in a swirling shimmer.

Beautiful snow

We reached the top of the hill and celebrated by sharing our tea and snacks. I kicked myself for not packing rillette. Feeling rested and refueled, we trudged off in the snow to complete our loop. It turns out that our hand drawn map was very approximate in its distances and landmarks…really in anything that would make it a map. We soon realized that we were not on the right track. We came across a ski field that was not expected and a village that was equally surprising, but the situation was never dire.

The only vague concern was that our sandwiches and tea were long gone, and we were poorly dressed for the weather conditions. We had ample coats, scarves and hats, but we were both wearing jeans. I appreciate that my choice of denim as hiking gear will forever alter your view of me, but then, come to think of it, that may have happened already with the Lithuania and Sicily posts…. So be it!

My jeans had not adapted well to their 3 hours in the snow. The hems had accumulated so much snow that I estimate I was carrying around an extra 2 kilograms…on each leg. As I soldiered on, my body heat would partially melt the snow cuffs, only to have them quickly refreeze. This vicious cycle continued until, eventually, my feet had disappeared under a layer of ice and mounds of sodden snow. Then, the melting/freezing madness migrated up my pant legs to knee height. In the final hour of walking, my jeans were rigid and the bottoms swung like enormous bells with each step. Dong. Dong.

The extra exertion of carrying an Abominable Snowman on each ankle meant that I was sweating, so I had disrobed as much as I could on my top half (within reason, I know we were in France, but c’mon). Suddenly and surprisingly, we found ourselves close to home. We traipsed down the street past all of the quaint cottages, their windows twinkling with Christmas decorations. And behind those decorations were the villagers peering out, no doubt, at the woman stomping along, each step going well wide of centre to accommodate the girth of her *gasp* jeans. Her face was flushed, her hair plastered to her forehead, various clothing layers were tied around her waist, and her scarf was dragging out behind. Dong. Dong. 

Fabulous hike, though.

Peaceful winter valley

Photo: You’ve probably noticed that I have integrated the photos into the rest of the post, rather than set them apart. It’s better that way, don’t you think? I knew you would!

Well, with this post, we have completed our first three trips together. It went well, I think. You were awfully kind and gracious. Thank you! I can see that this will be great fun as our adventures continue. Where to next, I wonder?

By the way, the place we stayed at in Breitenbach is still available as a holiday home. Book your own week of bliss here. Leave your jeans at home.

Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness.  Ray Bradbury

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2 responses »

  1. Wow! That picture of the little village in the valley is fantastic. I want to go there! But I’ll settle for travelling with you, because that trip will have a unique flavour to it. An added bonus!

  2. We are so enjoying travelling the world through your adventures! I love the way the blog is set up, with food being foremost! Your description of your hike in the hills is very vivid, I can just see you in those jeans. Keep up the good work,
    Love
    The Folks

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