The Alsace region of France is full of picturesque villages. But if there is one that deserves a special mention, that is Eguisheim, a small medieval town that captivates with its colorful houses, its circular layout and its fairy-tale corners that seem to have come from the imagination of a minstrel.
Eguisheim is located just 15 minutes from Colmar and one hour from Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. And it is so pleasant to visit, and so photogenic, that it is not by chance that it is one of the most touristic towns in the entire region. Especially at Christmas, when it is decked out for the occasion and hosts beautiful and warm Christmas markets. But, in reality, any time is a good time to visit it because walking through its streets will be a real trip to the past.
A walk through Eguisheim
Those French towns you saw in Beauty and the Beast, from Disney, exist. And Eguisheim is an excellent example of this. So much so that it may even seem like a set. But a very royal set. Here the typical Alsatian house, with its ground floor in stone, its façade with half-timbering in the air and its impossible roofs, is the common tonic street after street. It seems unbelievable that in the 19th and 20th centuries all the facades were covered with cement, covering the frameworks that had been exposed for centuries, but luckily in recent decades there has been a tendency to bring out the wood again to shine, leaving it uncovered to give Eguisheim all the splendor it deserves, also painting the houses in colorful pastel tones.
Eguisheim is a round town. And it is not a saying, but it is really made in the shape of a circle and that is how it is preserved today. In its day it had a double fortification following two ellipses because, although it did not really have a military vocation, it did have an important economic and financial role in the region, for which reason many goods were moved inside that it was convenient to protect. In the space that remained between the walls, numerous agricultural outbuildings appeared and a peripheral road full of life was formed. Today is the Rue du Rempart and, if you follow it, if you are not careful you can spend hours walking in a circle.
stone and wood
In this circular walk you have to take the opportunity to see the footprint of the two fortified entrances that the town had. One of them faces the hills, where the local wines that have been an economic engine in Eguisheim for centuries are born, and the other faces the plain, towards the merchants’ path where the Roman road passed. That set of two double gates was instrumental in controlling trade and taxes until they were destroyed in the 19th century.
As we continue walking through the streets of Eguisheim we find other traces of the past, this time engraved on the rock and wood. For one thing, it was customary for a couple to put their initials and the date their house was built, or the ‘IHS’ symbol in reference to Jesus Hominum Salvator (Jesus Savior of Men), while on the other the coats of arms and shields indicated the profession of the owners of the house, such as coopers or butchers.
In the heart of Eguisheim
The Place du Chateau is the nerve center of Eguisheim. Where you will arrive yes or yes and where its large round fountain, almost always full of flowers, acts as a soundtrack with the sound of its jets. The square is full of life and is decorated with care on special dates such as Easter, Christmas or Halloween. There is still part of the octagonal castle that was built in the year 1000 and that gives its name to the square. In it, in 1002, Bruno de Eguisheim was born, who in 1049 was proclaimed pope in Rome as Leo IX. That is why the chapel that was built over the castle dungeons in the 19th century bears his name: Saint-Leon IX. Visiting it becomes essential, its interior is full of contrasts and polychrome, and the central nave tells us about the life of the Alsatian pope. Behind the chapel is the Place du Marché, very flirtatious also at Christmas. A little further on, the church of Saints-Pierre-et-Paulwith its 13th century bell tower and numerous virgins, is the other important temple in Eguisheim.
Le Pigeonnier, don’t miss it
You already know that on your visit to Eguisheim you have to go through the Rue du Rempartget to the Place du Chateau and visit at least the chapel of Saint-Leon IX. But you can’t leave town without knowing Le Pigeonnier, ‘the dovecote’ in French. This tiny house, once home to pigeons, is on the corner of the Rue du Rempart and it is undoubtedly the most typical image of Eguisheim. It could well be the start of our tour of the town, but don’t let that make you go through here too quickly. It is an icon not only of Eguisheim, but of the whole of Alsace, because it is undeniable that it is a little corner full of charm. If you coincide with many tourists, come back later, as many times as necessary, because being there alone is something that is definitely worth it.