Thursday, April 09, 2015

Easter break: Three-star dining and charming Freiburg

So, first my birthday present from Jules was a digital camera. This was "sent back" in what everyone seems to think was a) rude and b) foolish, since my current digital camera is not that great. But, in my defence, I already have a digital camera. It just seems wasteful to replace one that works perfectly fine, if a little slowly. The second birthday present idea was a January trip to Lisbon, which sounded great, but in the end we couldn't find something that didn't work out as horrendously expensive for a quick weekend break.

And then, as we were discussing options for the Easter weekend, it somehow came up that we should visit the Auberge de l'Ill in Alsace, and that this should be my birthday present. Jules had waxed lyrical about this place a few times - visiting with his grandfather, who loved to pop by on the way to business trips in Switzerland, meeting the late chef Paul Haeberlin there, who first earned the restaurant its third Michelin star in 1967 (amazingly, it has retained them ever since), and raving about the fantastic foie gras. So, half of me listening to that is like, "aw, what nice memories" and I gotta be honest, the other half is all

Ain't no three-star restaurants in New Zealand! But haters are only going to hate until they themselves get invited to said three-star restaurant, and then enthusiastically leap at the chance. So on Thursday morning, we drove down to Alsace from Luxembourg, through pouring rain and roadworks the entire way, arriving about half an hour late but still lucky enough to be given the best table in the house, right in front of a bay window looking over the river and restaurant garden.

Panorama from our table

It was all quite fancy and I was a bit nervous - Jules, of course, is more at ease and generally helps me out, although I got quite flustered with the sommelier because I always feel like a dolt for not drinking white wine even if I have fish. The service, I must say, was impeccable. I spent quite a long time in the bathroom between courses - they had Japanese-style toilets which I had to play with (heated seats - bit weird, really - buttons that made the seat and the lid go up and down, and a bidet function that I was too scared to experiment with) and pictures of some of the famous guests in the corridor on the way to the loos. Queen Elizabeth and her Mum have eaten there, along with various European royals and statesmen, and French celebrities like Johnny Hallyday and Yannick Noah etc. And now me! But anyway, as I came back into the dining room I overheard a sotto voce "elle est là" from someone, and our meals arrived about 30 seconds later, so I'd probably been stressing the chef out with my extended ablutions.

Entrée - salmon soufflé, quite different from what I imagined, with basically a whole salmon steak in there

Pigeon stuffed with incredibly rich foie gras - I'm sorry my photo didn't capture how crazy long the pigeon leg was!

My favourite course, of course, an assortment of chocolate icecream, mousse, cake etc. presented so beautifully (I'd love to own that plate too)

Happy Jules has a coffee after our feast

One of the waiters took our photo in the garden (sheltering from the drizzle, that is)
Our ultimate holiday destination was the Bodensee/Lake Constance, but we stayed in nearby Freiburg, Germany, on Thursday night since our lunch took several hours and we had already driven all the way down to Alsace that day. Even though it rained torrentially and even hailed on our way in to the city (it cleared up later), I fell for Freiburg straight away. I can't put my finger on it, but it just seemed like one of those places that would be great to live in. The streets were super-cute and charming, it seemed to have some life to it without being too busy, the lady we asked for directions was probably the friendliest German I've ever encountered, and we grabbed provisions for a hotel-room picnic dinner in an awesome supermarket. (Seriously, I love exploring supermarkets in foreign countries, who's with me?)

Central Freiburg

Awesome building

Most of the streets in the centre were covered with intricate cobblestone designs. The streets also featured the water drains you can see on the right - although many were larger than this one and a bit of a hazard to be honest!

More cobblestone art - in front of a knife shop, appropriately enough (what happens if they close down though? Just a sinister knife left on the pavement for no reason. "Oh yeah, come visit my pet store, I totally don't stab any of the bunnies, ever.")

It was forecast to rain solidly for our whole trip, so it was a lovely surprise that Good Friday was actually a beautiful day. We woke up in Freibourg and had brunch at Café Extrablatt, a chain we also ate at in Aachen, which does a good-value buffet brunch in a trendy atmosphere (and this one is right next to the river, which is nice). It seems to be a popular hangout with students, probably due to the all-you-can-eat factor - we stuffed in so much breakfast food that we skipped lunch. The waiter even asked if we were Freiburg students, which made me feel like a young dickelchen (Luxembourgish for a young chick, as in both the poultry and female versions).

We then took the opportunity to work off breakfast with a gruelling trek up the 116-m spire of the Munster, some of it on a very narrow spiral staircase, in order to see the beautiful sunlit view of Freiburg from the top. It was tough, but worth it!

Freiburg Munster

Beautiful, bright statues in the portico

View over the towers of the (?) nave

Me and Jules at the top

Looking down at the square below

Peeping through the stonework

Amongst other things, you can see the lovely red Merchants' Hall in the foreground
The Munsterplatz from ground level

I'm sorry we didn't get more time to explore Freiburg's charms, but it was such a lovely day (with rain forecast again the next day) that we were eager to move on through the Black Forest to Lake Constance while the weather held... But that will have to wait for another post!


  1. Grrr - first attempt at a comment disappeared!

    It all looks lovely - lucky girl!

    Freiberg looks a pretty place - maybe we'll visit if we're in the vicinity. I love the 'peeping through the stonework pic' - looks like a painting. xx

    1. You'll have to start taking notes on the places you want to visit! x

  2. What a lovely view from the restaurant!

    Your vocabulary astounds me… ablutions indeed.

    I love exploring supermarkets in foreign countries too. It’s a must-do.

    1. Thank you! I'm normally mentally beating myself up over describing something as "amazing" or "fantastic" for the umpteenth time...

  3. Did you find the genuine Black Forest gateau shop?

    1. You must wait for the next exciting installment!


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