ode to the saint of eyeballs

Near Freiburg, Germany

I’m captivated by St. Ottilien’s hideout. There’s the grotto with its high stained glass and underground spring, and the restaurant’s mouth-watering meals and stunning patio views.

As you can see from the map below, the popularity of St. Ottilien’s hangout has nothing to do with location, location, location in the North American sense. It’s tucked in under the tall trees at the top of the steep Musbach River valley east of Freiburg. And every time we’re there, it’s packed.

A phenomenon of life in Germany is the assumption that if you go for a hike, even a long one into the Black Forest, you’re entitled to the sustenance of a hot lunch and a beer at a nice table. So you’ll find sit-down, full-service restaurants in the most unlikely of places, many of which aren’t accessible to patrons by car (though St. Ottilien is).

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My husband and I spend most Sundays hiking through the beautiful forests and vineyards of Baden-Württemberg (Freiburg’s province), knowing we’ll get to sit down in a restaurant for lunch. It’s so civilized and satisfying it makes me giddy. No nut bars, no dry cheese sandwiches eaten from the ass-perch of a cold, hard rock. Instead, we sit our sweaty bodies down in real chairs and order black-sesame-coated chicken with asparagus risotto and white wine.

St. Ottilien is a bit more than an hour’s walk from our front door, so it’s become our fallback destination if we’re not up for a longer jaunt. I make sure to pay my respects to St. Ottilien herself while I’m there, as she’s the patron saint of good eyesight, without which reading and writing — two great loves of my life — would be much more challenging.

Sainte Odile, as she’s called in France, was born around 660 in Alsace, the region of France just across the Rhine River border between Germany and France — not far from Freiburg. Born blind, her vision was miraculously healed when she was 12. To pay my respects, I head down the stone stairs of the grotto and squat before the spring to gently dab my eyes (and my third eye — what the heck, it can’t hurt) with its water.

The chapel above the grotto was built in 1300. Check out this statue (left) of St. Ottilien that’s in the chapel above the grotto, with the eyes bulging from the book (and this one in France). Her abbot’s staff is like a fancy shepherd’s staff and its business end resembles a question mark. How could I not have a thing for her?

After the grotto, we succumb to a hedonistic descent into a gastronomic paradise of five-star (in my book) indulgence. My husband has grown accustomed to me moaning over everything we’re served at St. Ottilien’s restaurant, from my initial glass of cold, refreshing black currant juice to the last morsel of food that tempts me to pick up the plate and lick it clean.

One of my favourite things to order is a traditional Alsatian dish called Flammkuchen — an almost-not-there-thin-crust relative of the pizza. St. Ottilien’s Caprese Flammkuchen is unbeatable: atop the thin crust is Flammkuchen’s usual layer of sour cream. Then a layer of mozzarella, topped with pesto, fresh tomatoes, basil leaves, and chives. Creamy and dreamy in the extremey.

Frankly, everything about this place slays me. I confess to being St. Ottilien’s slave.

So, drop everything, catch a plane to Frankfurt, hop on a train headed south, leave your luggage in a locker at the Freiburg train station, and immediately start walking east — past the Freiburg Cathedral and up into the hills beyond. Follow the signs to St. Ottilien. By the time you’re really hungry, you’ll be there, plopping with sweaty relief into a chair on the patio. It’s crowded, so you’ll have to share a tile-topped table with some strangers. It’ll be fine. You’ll see.


This article and the one linked to below are examples of how following a fascination can inform and motivate your writing.

What do you adore? What do you adore that’s unusual? What are you excited to tell about it?


Related reading: wonder – write better by exploring your fascination, and black forest beauties

5 comments to ode to the saint of eyeballs

  • Marilyn Bamford

    Grace, You have made me want to travel to Germany again…… and Freiburg in particular, which I have heard from others is wonderful……a great university town, home of the Cochrane Evidence Based Medicine Centre I believe. We have walked in England and have found some wonderful restaurants just off hiking paths. What a treat they were….

    Peace, Marilyn ( Sarah’s mom)

    • Hi, Marilyn, mother of the hilarious and talented Sarah. Yes, Freiburg has lots to offer. It’s also a big center for sustainability studies and practices. If you come this way, feel free to let me know.
      Happy travels,

  • This place sounds magical Grace! I love it. Someday I need to get there. :)

    What I am adoring lately is hiking the Duluth section (43 miles) of the Superior Hiking Trail. It follows the ridgeline high above it all. Breathtaking!! And inspiring. I’m seeing articles and essays coming out of my treks.

    I’m off to write!

  • […] reading: ode to the saint of eyeballs, risking exposure By Grace Kerina, on October 9th, 2012 […]