Alsace, one of the French’s favorite tourist destinations, has gained even more fame lately because of Disney’s film Beauty and the Beast. In fact, the villages of this region have inspired both the film’s producers and the artists of the cartoon of the 90’s and they are so beautiful that seem to come directly from a book of fairy tales.
With this post we will tell you a little about the history of these places and travel across ancient streets, full of colors and flavors.
Alsace is a French cultural, historical region located on the border with Germany and Switzerland. It belongs to the Grand East administrative region whose capital is Strasbourg, home of several international organizations.
In ancient times Alsace was inhabited by the Celts, later becoming part of the Roman Empire. The Romans introduced grape growing in this area, still one of the most important economic activities of the region.
Alsace now has nearly 1,000 wine producers that grow seven main grape varieties: Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Muscat d’Alsace, Tokaj Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir.
This wine-producer region is cut by the Wine Road, a road long over 170 km that goes from Marlenheim to Thann (including also an isolated area around Wissembourg) and develops itself in the midst of forests, rolling hills, castles and medieval villages that are real treasures from the architectural and historical point of view.
Mainly during spring and summer these villages organize various events around the excellent Alsatian wine, worldwide famous. In this period you can also visit cellars and do tastings by simply following the indications that you will find on the signs scattered along the Wine Road and that will lead you to the producers.
With the approach of the festive season, every village turns its historic center into a lively Christmas market (Marché de Noël) amid spectacular Christmas decorations, where you can find a wide variety of handicrafts and French gastronomy. In this period you can taste many types of cakes and cookies, not to mention the kaeskueche, a ricotta cake made in a special mold that looks like a pudding, and the traditional pain d’épice.
In the cold weather you can find the vin chaud (a delicious hot wine with spices) and the jus de pomme and jus d’orange chaud (apple and orange warm juices with spices) everywhere. It is mandatory to try them! Drinks are distributed in customized glasses at a cost of € 2.00: every village has its own and you can keep it as a souvenir. If you want to return it, you will make € 1.00. The “recharging” costs € 1.00.
Traditional Alsatian dishes such as choucroute, foie gras, coq au Riesling and the tarte flambée (flammkuchen in German) points to the German influence on their cuisine.
The architecture of Alsatian villages, mainly in the city centre, is completely dominated by medieval half-timbered houses (buildings with wooden frames and traditional sloping roof), very colorful. Outside of the buildings you will find these picturesque signs that indicate their economic activity.
The stork is the symbol of Alsace: it will be easy to find the nests on the roofs of several buildings, some inhabited all the year.
What to visit
We will give some detailed suggestions about Colmar because it is the third largest city of Alsace. However we must say that it is impossible to choose the most beautiful village: one is more beautiful than the other and they are all different from each other. With no doubt Riquewihr, Eghisheim, Bergheim, Kaysersberg, Niedermorschwihr, Ribeauvillé and Turckheim worth a visit. Be surprised by the magic of these places and get lost in their streets.
Wine Capital of Alsace and the town of Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, to whom Colmar has dedicated a museum.
Not to be missed
– Maison Pfister – Rue des Marchands, 11. Built in 1537, declared a Historic Monument of France.
– Maison Adolph, built in 1350, with frescoes inside, is probably the oldest building in the city. Place de la Cathédrale, 16.
– St. Martin’s Cathedral, whose construction began in 1237 and was completed in 1365/66, is one of the most important examples of Gothic architecture of the region. Place de la Cathédrale.
– Old Customs – Grand’Rue, 29, whose construction began in 1480 and was modified in subsequent years.
In addition to various buildings of historical interest, a particular area receives the attention of tourists: the Petite Venise (Little Venice), romantic area cut by channels (accessible from the rue des Tanneurs). It is very impressive during the evening, when the lights turn on and reflect on the water.
Between March and October you can navigate through its channels: departures from Saint Pierre bridge, next to the restaurant Le Caveau Saint-Pierre, with access from the Quai de la Poissonnerie or the Boulevard St Pierre. Navigation is carried out daily from April to September and during the weekends of March and October (always weather permitting), from 10:00 to 12:00 and from 13:30 to 19:00. Fee: € 6.00.
You can also take a ride with the tourist train that leads us to visit the main attractions of the city. The first option is the white train that runs from March to early November. The outing lasts about 30 minutes and explanations are delivered in 16 languages. Departures: next to Place des Martyrs. Price: € 7.00.
The second option is the green train, which runs all year. It departs from rue Kléber and offers a similar service.
Each village has a tourism information office, usually located in the main street. Here the address of Colmar Tourism Office: rue Unterlinden, 4. Tel.: +33 (0) 3 89 20 68 92, website https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en/
Another place that you must visit is the Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle, a wonderful castle of the XII century located in the town of Orschwiller, 26 km north of Colmar.
Open all the year. Tickets: € 9,00 + audio guide. Website: http://www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr/en/