When I think back about our trip to France and Germany, there is no doubt that visiting the major cities of the region was a highlight. Strasbourg, Freiburg, Frankfurt, Basel: these are beautiful cities, all of them, with many fascinating things to see and do.
But just as strong in my memories are the wonderful experiences we had in the small towns we visited.
In the tiny hamlet of Hunspach, the town was closed up tight and silent on a peaceful Sunday morning. But the houses were beautiful and well-tended, and we had a most enjoyable walk up and down the quiet side streets.
In Betschdorf, we pulled into a tiny parking lot, attracted by a sign that said "Poterie". As we looked into the studio window, the craftsman himself came walking out of his house across the way, smiled at us, walked over, unlocked the studio door, and let us in. Although he spoke very little English, and we even less French, his little ceramic figurines were playful and they were instant hits with Donna, who bought several lovely pieces for her garden.
In Haslach im Kinzigtal, after a fairly long drive, we took a long leisurely walk through the beautiful town center, not in the slightest dismayed by the misting rain. To keep us fortified, we stopped at the gelato house, where I had the most delectable black-currant flavored gelato as I wandered the cobblestone lanes.
In Dambach la Ville, we somewhat surprised the young proprietor of Domaine Schaeffer-Woerly as he was repairing some household furniture in the back of his house-which-is-also-his-winery. Taken aback for only a minute, he recovered immediately and gave us a delightful tour of his winery, culminating in welcoming us into the family kitchen where his mother (!) poured us samples of the delicious wines they make.
In Kaysersberg, the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer, a steady rain had swollen the creek that runs through town, but that didn't stop me from getting out and poking my head around at the beautiful little town.
In Soufflenheim, we found we were hungry, and we stopped at the lovely Restaurant à la Couronne, where the food was delicious, the building was beautiful, and the people were as friendly as you could ever hope for.
In Rosheim, we discovered that a drizzly morning doesn't keep the regional merchants from setting up shop in the town center for the weekly market. The enthusiastic staff of the fishmarket stall were only too happy to tell us all about the different types of regional seafood that they specialize in.
In Mittelbergheim, we arrived at Domaine Alfred Wantz just as they were closing for the mid-day break, but the proprietress spotted us through the window and graciously opened back up, taking time to talk with us about the town, and the winery, and the wines, right on through her lunch break.
Oh, I could go on, and on, but I'm sure you get the idea.
It isn't just the mighty tourist spots (Chateau Haut Koenigsburg, Strasbourg Cathedral, the Freiburg Munster, ...); it's the little things that can be the most charming of all.
So if you ever get a chance to visit this part of the world, by all means visit the beautiful cities.
But try to go visit the small towns, too.