The upper reaches of the Rhine hold some big surprises. And it’s not the Lorelei tale kind either.
For starters, these bulging banks contain some of the best fertile soil that translates into countless wineries and a culinary basket of organic proportions.
The vintners and high-browed chefs in this wedge of Europe seem to have dropped their competitive edge and adopted a UN approach to their crafts by forming a revolutionary tri-country epicurean détente.
EU’s new invention
Welcome to Europe’s newest region: the Upper Rhine. Thirty-one stakeholders from France, Germany and Switzerland spanning the Black Forest and Vosges mountains, along with top restaurants and wine routes have united to simply say, “Enjoy our cuisine and wines” in this bold touristic move spearheaded by the European Union.
How did it happen? Try a little red book and one of Europe’s largest cruise companies. In late spring, international journalists like me walked the gangway onto CroisiEurope’s MS Beethoven docked on the Rhine River in Strasbourg to witness the unveiling of Michelin Red Guide’s first ever Upper Rhine book called “Rhin Superieur Oberrhein,” which was later followed by a star-studded dinner.
CroisiEurope sees the growing demands of river cruising and an opportunity in this new cross border venture to start a new culinary cruise. Depending on the cruise dates there could be three to five renowned chefs on board creating an exclusive five-course dinner, paired with world-famous wines from the valley.
There might be the esteemed Executive Chef Pascal Bastian from the Auberge du Cheval Blanc in Alsace, France; the fabulous executive chef Peter Knogl from Switzerland’s Grand Hotel les Trois Rois; or perhaps chef Alfred Klink from the palatial Hotel Colombi in Freiburg, Germany.
Short two-day river cruises are this summer’s easy Europe getaway bets with departures from your choice of Strasbourg, France or Basel, Switzerland and in between you get some Germany as you overnight onboard in old Brisach, ‘Breisach am Rhein,” a fortress town in Baden-Württemberg.
Time-starved clients and those requests you get from customers interested in quick country introductions will wish to consider this new option.
The Upper Rhine Uncorked
The area encompassing 21.518 km² boasts 60 Michelin-starred eating establishments and an array of legendary wine routes. Insiders there say not since the EU started nearly 20 years ago has there been such a hullabaloo on this scale for a joint tourism product.
In the past the barrier-ridden Rhine was an obstacle course. These days the organizers are betting on this water body as a vital link to the regions.
“We (the Upper Rhine) aren’t as recognized as Tuscany but we are a holiday region as popular as them. We have fortresses, churches, castles, Michelin-star restaurants, the Autobahn. People can come cycle, and overnight in beautiful places,” said Bernd Dallmann, project leader for the Upper Rhine, as we sailed.
I spotted the dashing chef extraordinaire Emile Jung who during his career catapulted Au Crocodile, the Alsatian eatery into a three-star status. The recently retired chef was standing by a line of young swaggering chefs. I wanted to know what makes his region so special.
“The genius here in the Upper Rhine is in the wine. Here you are in an area with a lot of wine. It’s the best asset. Drinking wine, cooking with wine, you learn how to eat in the best harmony,” he said and added that when he sees a kitchen he sees it as full of ideas. “(The kitchen) crosses borders. This region is now the new Milky Way and it’s up to Michelin’s stars to enhance its beauty and bring it to the heavens.”