Wedged between the Vosges Mountains and the River Rhine, Alsace is a European crossroads – and a mosaic of rolling hills, mountains and plains dotted with chateaux, vineyards and candy-coloured towns and villages with storybook appeal. It’s a region of centuries-old traditions, rich gastronomy and world-class wine – and did you know one of its villages has been voted France’s favourite village for 2017? Click here to find out more about Kaysersberg.Feel Alsace and its rich gastronomy,
Feel Alsace with our top 5 sensory experiences…
The charming capital city of Strasbourg, home to the famous Notre-Dame Cathedral with its lacework of pink sandstone, romantic riverbanks to stroll along and numerous attractions for culture buffs including the Fine Arts Museum. Walking the tightrope between France and Germany, Strasbourg was the first urban centre in France to be listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.
Colmar is another culturally rich town, where you can feast your eyes on treasures in the Unterlinden Museum and soak up the picturesque charm of the Little Venice district, plus the medieval 16th-century Maison Pfister. Alsace also boasts the town of Mulhouse, whose Cité du Train has one of the largest collections of historic trains dating from the steam age to the present day.
Looking for grandeur and great views? Make for the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg or the Château du Hohlandsbourg, both perched on mountain summits offering spectacular panoramic views of the Alsatian countryside towards the Vosges Mountains. Haut-Koenigsbourg’s beautifully refined rooms are decorated with mural paintings, Renaissance furniture and enormous cast-iron stoves – and there’s an impressive collection of weaponry from the Middle Ages in the basement. Towering at 757m above picture-perfect villages and colourful vineyards, it’s one of France’s most visited castles. Hohlandsbourg is a ruin, but its setting is so extraordinary that on a clear day you can make out the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral and the Swiss Alps.
The Pfifferdaj or “Fife Players’ Day” is Alsace’s oldest festival, held for more than 600 years in Ribeauvillé’s medieval town centre. It started out as a major annual gathering of fiddlers back in the days when the Lords of Ribeaupierre ruled over the village, and today has become a leading festive event and a source of celebration for the residents and visitors to this charming fortified town on the Alsatian Wine Route. Enjoy entertainment by numerous musical acts and street performers. Another Alsace festival for your list is the international music festival in Wissembourg, a classical celebration mainly devoted to chamber and piano music (August-September).
You can also hear motorcar engines in Alsace. Visit the fabulous Schlumpf Collection at the Cité de l’Automobile in Mulhouse, which features more than 400 stunning cars – including the world-famous Bugatti Royale. The exhibition track seats up to 4,500 spectators and the cars are dusted off and revved back to life every weekend from July to September.
There’s also abundant wildlife in Alsace. Hear the cry of eagles at Eagle Mountain in Kintzheim, where they fly freely against the chateau backdrop; storks (emblematic of Alsace) at the reintroduction centre at Cernay; and chattering monkeys at the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg.
Alsace is home to rich and fabulous cuisine. Grab a table at a “winstub” (a traditional Alsatian restaurant) and try local dishes such as baeckeoffe (a casserole of lamb or beef with potatoes and onions, marinated overnight in Alsatian white wine infused with juniper berries), or tarte flambée/flammekueche, a thin pizza-like creation with crème fraiche, onions and lardons.
Sauerkraut (pickled cabbage) is also iconic, widely celebrated in Alsatian villages and eaten with various types of sausage. And did you know the first foie gras was made in Alsace? In the village of Kaysersberg, chef Olivier Nasti of the Restaurant Chambard serves this delicacy with a traditional regional gingerbread. You must leave room to taste the star of the Alsatian cheese platter: Munster.
Wine is big business in Alsace – the Alsace Wine Route along with the Museum of Vineyards and Alsatian Wines reveals the secrets and flavors of the sylvaner, pinot blanc, noir or gris, riesling and gewürztraminer, not forgetting the beer and brasseries. The many facets of winemaking and life on a wine estate over the centuries are illustrated at the Museum of the Vineyards and Wines of Alsace (Kientzheim), the Ecomusée d’Alsace (Ungersheim), Strasbourg's Museum of Alsace and the Unterlinden museum in Colmar. A growing number of producers also have their own private museums. A number of producers have also started Wine Schools or organise wine tastings, wine and food pairing courses, and theme meals, often in partnership with local chefs.
The Ballons des Vosges and North Vosges natural parks are perfect for hiking. Take in the incredible panoramic views and enjoy hiking between the lakes and forests through a network of some 15,500km. Gentle, rounded slopes and moderate altitude provide hikers with varying levels of difficulty so there’s something for everyone – and in summer, the many lakes are great for recreational water activities, best in areas such as Gérardmer and Longemer. Along the peaks, the famous Route des Crêtes marks the border between Lorraine and Alsace and is ideal for motorcycling. On the Alsace side, the steeper slopes and often rocky faces lend themselves perfectly to rock-climbing.
You can ski in the Vosges too – at the resorts of Gérardmer, La Bresse, Xonrupt and Bussang – all of which are also suited to Nordic and cross-country skiing. Alsace also boasts a 700km network of marked cycle paths between Strasbourg, Sélestat and Molsheim and in the area around Colmar (the Hardt forest), with many especially geared towards families. The mountain foothills are covered with vineyards and you can cycle lazily from village to village, pausing en route for a wine tasting or two.
There’s nothing quite like the wafts of freshly-baked Alsatian gingerbread and kouglof, a delicious raisin-studded brioche. During the Advent period, the locals also make bredele, small Christmas cakes baked in many shapes and flavours. Alsace has long been associated with gingerbread and there’s a dedicated museum in Gertwiller: the Musée du Pain d’Épices.
Alsace’s grape harvest normally takes place between late September and late October, with exact dates varying according to the ripening of the grapes. The joyful exuberance of the grape pickers and the rich colours of the vineyards in the warm autumnal sunlight give an added charm to this season – it’s a wonderful time of year to visit, especially to join in the harvest yourself.
Aromas also abound at Alsace’s many outdoor fairs, where local cuisine and crafts are on display – don’t miss the Alsace Wine Fair, the Onion Festival in Mulhouse and the Strasbourg European Fair. The region’s varied events calendar culminates with the grand Strasbourg Christmas Market, France’s oldest setup of festive stalls where the heady scents of mulled wine and spices fill the air.