You Can Visit the Two French Villages That Inspired Belle's Hometown in Beauty and the Beast
Beauty and the Beast's Belle spent her days reading fairy tales set in lands far, far away, but what this tamer of the Beast didn’t realize was that the "Little Town" she called home was perhaps the most magical village of all. Inspired by the real villages of Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, two neighboring towns in France's Alsace region, Belle's hometown is practically a real-life destination where fans of the classic, animated Beauty and the Beast can walk a mile in Belle’s dainty, size six ballet flats. And now, with Disney's live-action version in theaters, our wanderlust for quaint bookshops, reading hardbacks by a fountain, and touring ornate castles is at an all-time high.
It’s easy to see why Disney’s animators chose Riquewihr for inspiration, and even easier to see why Belle grew up with a love for fairy tales. From its bright, cheery houses to a steeple rising above the city, this "poor, provincial town" (her words, not ours) is straight out of a child’s imagination. Adventures by Disney has included Riquewihr on its itinerary for next year's Beauty and the Beast-themed Rhine River cruise, but if you'd like to live out your childhood fantasies before then, Riquewihr is just a 45-minute drive from the Strasbourg Airport.
Vieille Ville Bonjour, bonjour! Walking through this medieval village—the Old Town portion of Riquewihr—is like strolling through a storybook. Vibrant blue, yellow, and pink houses line cobblestone streets, creating a maze perfect for dodging dudes like Gaston. The town's clock tower, Dolder Tower, overlooks the village's main square—the perfect spot to gossip about "crazy old Maurice." Of course, we can’t forget the baker. While he had zero interest in Belle’s book obsession, he sure knew how to bake a mean baguette—which you can buy in present day Riquewihr at the walk-up Au Petit Délice pastry shop on Rue du Général de Gaulle.
Brocante Collections To find your own Lumières and Cogsworths, stop by Brocante Collections (2 Rue Latérale), a Riquewihr antique store with everything from dolls and dishes to clocks and candlesticks. Sadly, French-speaking home décor is not guaranteed.
Riquewihr Library While far from the Beast’s elaborate library, Riquewihr has its own collection of over 8000 books at the local Bibliothèque. But, to truly embody Belle’s bookworm tendencies, you’ll have to travel six hours outside of Riquewihr, to Paris’s Shakespeare & Company, the mecca for all book lovers. Frequented by icons like Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce in the '20s, Belle would've racked up quite a bill at this literary destination.
Château d’Isenbourg For the full fairytale experience, you can spend the day exploring the town, then end it by sleeping in a castle. The Château d’Isenbourg, just 30 minutes south of Riquewihr, is a five-star castle hotel in the Alsace region. Sure, you may not meet the Beast of your dreams, and yes, this is a far cry from the real thing, but with an onsite spa, Jacuzzi, and nearby wineries, who needs a prince in disguise and his extravagant bachelor pad?
Roughly twice the size of Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé was another source of inspiration for the Disney team. This town—a short 10-minute drive north of Riquewihr—is bordered by three cliffside castles and embodies that distinct fairytale charm for which the Alsace region is known. Points of interest include:
Wistub Zum Pfifferhus Is this where Gaston and his gang planned their attack on the Beast over brews and bad dancing? Perhaps. The Wistub Zum Pfifferhus's wooden interior and hearty cuisine (think sausages and steaks) could easily prepare that testosterone-fueled clan to storm the castle.
Ribeauvillé’s Castles Castle Saint Ulrich, Girsberg Castle, and Haut-Ribeaupierre Castle provide a majestic backdrop to this quaint village. Ribeauvillé’s castles were built around the 13th century and are accessible by foot, but you may need Gaston’s "five dozen eggs" diet because the hour-long uphill hike is a doozy. (Except please don’t follow this crazy diet—no one needs nearly 5000 calories worth of raw eggs.)
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg While slightly outside of Ribeauvillé (a 20-minute drive), the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is perhaps the closest thing the Alsace region has to the Beast’s lavish residence. It has a drawbridge ("Kill the Beast!"), a medieval garden (where the snowball fight with all the feels could have taken place), and is surrounded by forests. The castle is open to visitors daily and offers special tours throughout the year. Of course, the actual inspiration for the Beast's castke is Château de Chambord, according to a Screen Rant interview with animator Glen Keane. But if you don’t feel like driving six hours to the Loire Valley, the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg will do the trick.
The one glaring thing missing on this list—a must on any Alsace itinerary—is wine. The Alsace region is known for styles like Pinot gris, Riesling, Muscat, and Gewurztraminer, and restaurants throughout Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé serve up some of the region’s finest vintages. While wine wasn’t a central focus in Beauty and the Beast, one Disney fan site notes that Alsace wine was present during the failed wedding scene, which is a good enough reason for us to raise a glass and give a cheer to the beloved beauty and her beast!