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Thursday 29 September 2022
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Locals clash over win as crowds flock to France's favourite village

Bergheim has been buzzing with tourists since its victory but will it lose its local charm over the next few months? Locals give their views

Bergheim is the fourth village of Alsace to have been awarded ‘France’s favourite village.’ Pic: Mairie de Bergheim

Bergheim, a village of approximately 2,000 inhabitants in the south of Alsace, has seen record numbers of tourists since it was crowned France’s 2022 ‘favourite village’ on June 29.

It is the fourth Alsacian village to win the Village Préféré des Français competition - but locals are divided about what it could mean for its future, citing examples of other recent winners nearby and how they had had to adapt to cope with the newfound fame.

Other locals are more confident and believe the village will be able to keep its identity, charm and little-known secrets.

Read more: France’s favourite village announced… but it now fears the crowds

The Connexion asked Bergheim’s mayor, inhabitants and business owners for their views.

“I have never seen anything like it,” said mayor Elisabeth Schneider, referring to the throngs of tourists visiting the day following the win. Nearly all of the people interviewed said the same. 

‘Coming off very nicely’

Tourists had in fact started coming after the village was first nominated in March, said Ms Schneider.

Read more: Photos: 14 villages vie to be French favourite: which gets your vote?

Bergheim’s tourism office has recorded as many visitors as the tourism offices of nearby tourist hotspots Ribeauvillé (Haut-Rhin) and Riquewihr (Haut-Rhin) and has changed its opening hours to cope with the demand.

The mairie is now reviewing whether to bring in parking fees to cover the rising costs of maintaining flowers and other spending needed to keep the village attractive and appealing. 

Bergheim was issued with a ‘Les plus beaux villages de France’ label by the organisation of the same name in June.

“Everything is coming off very nicely so far,” said Ms Schneider.

But will the visitors spend and consume locally?

“There are more tourists, but will they consume more?” said Amandine Freypurger, 31, the owner of local spa-resort l’Eclos des vignes and the restaurant La cuisine d’Amandine, adding that she has not seen any increase in reservations yet. 

Ms Freypurger, who grew up in Bergheim and whose father has lived all his life there, raised fears that the new influx of visitors would only be people who wandered around rather than spending money in local shops and restaurants. 

She said this had happened with past winners around the region.

Régis Kientzler, 49, who roasts homemade coffee, disagreed and said he had four clients visit his house to buy his coffee despite not having any local advertising.

Mr Kientzler, who settled in Bergheim over six years ago and whose mother had lived in the village all her life, said the visitors had found him via Google. 

Several restaurant, hotel and bakery owners could not gauge the increase in clients as most were on holiday and will only reopen between July 15 and July 18. 

‘Still a secret village’

Ms Schneider said several people had been disappointed about the arrival of tourists because it upset the usual quietness of the village but was optimistic that the phenomenon will eventually subside.

“Our convivial and family-friendly business does not fit with the tourists I have seen,” said one business owner who declined to give an identity.

The forecasted weekend traffic jams along the village’s main road could be a source of complaints from locals in the coming months, and Ms Freyburger reported unprecedented traffic yesterday (July 10).

“I did not expect the victory would tear our cosiness from us,” said Ms Freypurger.

However, she and Mr Kientzler were more confident that Bergheim would keep its identity in the long run and not follow its surrounding villages.

Mr Kientzler made particular reference to the atmosphere in Bergheim, in which businesses often remain within the same family.  

“Bergheim is still a secret village. The jewel the marvelling tourist finds without seeing it on the map,” said Ms Freypurger. 

Ms Freypurger said the locals were very “strict” when it comes to businesses, cherry picking business owners and not being afraid to say when a firm does not fit with the village’s atmosphere.  

She said that La cuisine d’Amandine’s menu was based on her grandmother’s dishes, and had got rid of other more sophisticated meals since locals voiced complaints that they were not regional enough.

“Do not try to go off-road here,” she said.  
Bergheim succeeds Sancerre (Cher), crowned as France’s favourite village in 2021. 

It is the fourth Alsacian village after Eguisheim (2013), Kaysersberg (2017) and Hunspach (2020) to claim the title, making Alsace the region to have been the most successful in the history of the show’s 11 editions. 

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