What’s So Special About Alsace, France?
Your trip to France isn’t complete until you’ve visited the beautiful Alsace region. Driving along the 170 km Route des Vins (wine route) for at least a short stretch, say between Kaysersberg and Ribeauville, is a must. The charmingly quaint villages, fortified walled towns, hilltop castles, and glimmering green vineyards will transport you back in time.
As expats living in Germany, we make one or two trips to France every year. We’d go more often but we’re on the other side of the country so it is a little more difficult. Our usual France weekend looks something like this:
We finish work on Friday and hit the road as soon as possible, bags already packed the night before. Drive west along the German Autobahn as fast as traffic and road conditions will allow. Arrive sometime between 8 – 10 PM and have a small, late dinner and a welcoming glass of Alsatian cremant after checking in to our favorite hotel, Hostellerie Schwendi. Then, depending on the time of year, we’ll go for a stroll around the quiet, starlit village of Kientzheim.
Why Kientzheim? It is one of the prettiest, walled villages in Alsace but it’s still not overflowing with tourists and tourism businesses. This is a small, charming town with a beautiful fortified gate, a small chateau, two excellent restaurants, two boutique hotels, and several family run wineries. It makes the perfect base for exploring the region as it is directly on the Route Des Vins with several major attractions nearby.
Waking up in the morning we hear the swallows chirping busily as they fly to and fro feeding their young or building their nests under the ancient wooden beams of a brightly painted half-timbered building. The air is fresh and clear as the sun rises and shines on the hillsides covered in a quilt-work pattern of acre upon acre of neatly arranged vineyards.
After a delicious breakfast of local cheeses, meat, eggs, and baked goods (croissant, pain au chocolate, and perfectly baked bread) it’s time to go exploring. Kaysersberg is nearby and is one of the jewels of Alsace. Several ancient buildings, a beautiful cathedral and of course the ruins of a medieval fortress will take a few hours of our time. One of our favorite boulangerie/patisseries is here, L’enfariné, so we must stop in for a delicious cup of cafe au lait and a mouth watering mille feuille. Or, if it is later in the day, we’ll stop for a light lunch of flammkuchen at Flamme & Co; I recommend the Chèvre Miel with goat’s cheese, honey, walnuts, and onions–perfect!
After lunch it’s time for some shopping. Yes, there are plenty of shops with regional artisanal products such as ceramics, knitted items, wood carvings, and other souvenirs, but for us, one of the main reasons for these French pilgrimages is the wine, cheese, and french gourmand groceries. Our Saturday afternoon always involves a stop at Cora, a French mega-supermarket chain. It is fun to wander the aisles, check out the bakery, cheese counter, deli meats, sea food, and, of course, the wine selection. We’ll stock up on some favorites and pick out a few new things to take home.
By now it’s time to go for a walk in the Vosges mountains along one of the well maintained hiking trails, do some backroads driving in the vineyards, or explore a new village on the route. Regardless, we need to be back in Kientzheim with enough time to change and get ready for our reservation for dinner at the Schwendi. I know there are other excellent restaurants to try, but I just can’t bear to pass by my favorite meal, Truite soufflée aux légumes et braisée au Riesling (the perfect trout dish), and another glass of their fabulous homemade wine.
If we can’t get into one of the two hotels in Kientzheim, our next choice is Colmar. Colmar is a small city on the Route des Vins with one of the best preserved medieval centers. It is convenient for our visit to Cora and packed full of gourmet restaurants, wine bars, markets, and festivals. Plan you’re Route des Vins journey with starting or ending at one of these comfortable Colmar hotels.
Sunday is all about slowly heading home, maybe stopping at another boulangerie or patisseri to pick up some treats for the ride. Perhaps we’ll stumble upon a farmers market, wine festival, Spring festival, Marche Gourmand, or other special happening. There is something happening every weekend somewhere in Alsace and we have loved every single one of them.
Wouldn’t you just love to have a recharge weekend in Alsace?
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