Alsace is the region of France we know best. Michal has been to Strasbourg nearly 100 times and on some of these ocasions he got the chance to go beyond the Alsatian capital into the beautiful postcard-like countryside.
Alsace is world-known for its great wines which are produced in fairytale-like towns and villages. They are located on the Alsace wine route, which we have travelled from Traenheim in the North to Thann in the South throughout a number of years. The whole route is 170 km long and is one of the oldest wine routes in the world. No need to take the highway – just drive the scenic route and enjoy the magnificent views of one of the most beautiful regions of Europe. It winds on the western slopes of the Vosges Mountains through over 70 villages and towns partially along a former race track.
Here are our 14 favourite places on this route.
Barr is the northernmost towns on the route we recommend. Just like so many towns of Alsace, it looks like a live postcard, but it is slightly bigger than many of the places we describe. For us it is usually the starting place of our Alsace wine tour. I must however admit that the place is becoming less lively during the years and losing some of its charm, hence the rather low location on our list. Here are the photos from our first trip.
The story of this town starts in 660 AD, when the abbey was built here by Boniface, Duke of Alsace. Abbey is called “Munster” in German, hence the name. The town developped rapidly in the Middle ages and became known for its smelly cheese munster, which is one of the French classics still today. The French Revolution reduced the abbey to a few walls. The First World War was even worse for Munster. The war frontline was just a few kilometers from the town and due to the heavy fights, it was reduced to a pile of rubble. Thankfully it has been beautifully restored since then and it’s a great place for a stopover. What is rare for Alsace is that it is a town where cheese and not wine is the king.
A picturesque medieval town. Nestled on the hillside in a green setting, this delightful village has kept its charm and authenticity. Full of half-timbered houses, sculpted porches, flowers and vineyards. Dominating the village square, the 12th century Romanesque bell tower is the jewel of the village. Surely worth a postcard picture.
Murbach is situated a bit higher in the Vosges, above the wineyards. An abbey was founded here in the 8th century AD. In the Middle ages, the abbey became one of the most important in Alsace. However, it started to decline in the 14th century. In the late 18th century, in order to revive it, the monks decided to build a modern abbey on spot of the old one. When they managed to collect the funds and nearly dismantled all of the buildings, the French Revolution came, the abbey was dissolved and the money collected by the monks taken over by the state. Nowadays only the front wall of the nearly abbey remains, which looks surrealistic. However in our opinion it surely is worth a small detour. The place is very serene and Gosia recomends the pictoresque garden.
Turckheim is a small wine-producing town near Colmar. It hosts the Hotel des Deux Clefs, a beautiful half-timbered house dating back to 1620. Turckheim has a church which is partly Romanesque, partly Gothic. One tradition that has remained much alive in the town is that of a night-watchman. During the summer he walks around Turckheim in his loose-fitting greatcoat with his lantern and his halberd, crying out at every corner: “Veillez au feu et a la lumiere” (“watch your fire and your lamps”). It is also home to the famous Turckheim grand cru wine.
This is where the Alsace wine route ends. It’s southernmost tip.
Thann was an important pilgrim site in the late Medieval times and its church is a small Gothic masterpiece with a fine vaulting in the flamboyant style, which impressed us. We must admit we really like the atmosphere of this town. It is a less rustical and more town-likely, yet at the same time laidback and enjoyable. A place to discover surely.
Colmar is the biggest town on the wine route and the most famous one. For many it is the essence of Alsace and its most beautiful town. Unfortunately we cannot concur. We have given Colmar many chances to steal our hearts and yet it never succeeded in doing it. It is of course full of colourful houses which look great on pictures, but it is full of tourists, too. In our opinion there are a number of places which look even better and have a nicer atmosphere.
This small village hosts Ecomusee d’Alsace – an open air museum, which is the largest living open-air museum in France. It shows an Alsatian village from early 20th century. It illustrates what rural life was like in Alsace and invites visitors to find out about popular traditions and art of the region, including buildings and artefacts, craftsmen at work, temporary exhibitions, attractions and events both small and large. A great place for kids, who can learn how horseshoes were made or how women washed clothes before the invention of the washing machine. Adults can enjoy the destillery and its eau de vie, while the kids play 😉
This small village is surely a nucleus of Alsatian beauty. It has all the essentials and a few things more. Hunawihr is well known for its live exotic butterfly center, where you can walk among hundreds of beautiful butterflies. It also hosts the Alsatian Stork Recovery Center, which houses around 200 storks which are slowly reintroduced into their naturial habitat. Storks are symbols of Alsace and you can have fun spotting them in various places, nowhere as many/often as around Hunawihr though :-).
5. Haut-Kœnigsbourg castle
Haut-Kœnigsbourg is the most important castle in Alsace, one of the symbols of the region. It majestically stands 720 meters above the Rhine valley. It can be seen from afar. The castle was built in the 12th century and rebuilt a few times since then. In the late 19th century it was a ruin, which was bought by the German Emperor Wihelm II. He decided to rebuild it based on his own and his architect’s concept of Medieval castle rather than on how it looked like previously. The interior was enirely refitted to match the fashion of the time. It is certainly a place not to be omitted when you are on the wine route. Do you see the castle at the first picture? 🙂
One of the top pics of tourists coming to Alsace. This pictoresque town seems idyllic – surrounded by city walls, it has one main staight street on the slope of the hills ending with a characteristic towered city gate. Sorounded by beautiful wineyards. It would be a perfect spot, if not the buses of tourists who are unfortunately overcrowding it. We can thus recommend it only half-heartidly.
This town has preserved its charm of the by-gone days. The Grand Rue is lined with old houses and the squares have fountains. The Lower and the Upper Towns are seperated by the 13th century Tour des Bouchers (Butchers’ Tower). It is also home to the famous Kirchberg Ribeauvillé grand cru wine and one of the flowery prize winners. A lovely Alsatian gem unfortunately already discovered by tourists, although less crowded than Colmar or Riquewihr.
Surely one of our favourite spots on the route. It’s a pocket-size town with remarkably well preserved houses. Moreover, its wines are prime too. Eguisheim is circumvened by Medieval ramparts which make the town look like the houses were built around a castle in the center. The castle was slowly transformed into a 13th century residence of the bishop’s bailiff. What we loved most in Eguisheim were the triangular houses at the end of some of the streets. Top it with the fact that Eguisheim is also one of the most flowery towns in Alsace.
As it is a lovely place a bit less frequented by tourists, we sincerely recommend you to see it. We are sure you’ll fall in love with Eguisheim just like we did.
Our favourite place on the Alsace wine route. Not only because it is just as charming as Ribeauville and Riquewihr but way less populated by tourists. It feels way more authentic because of that. Add to it with the fact that it is one of the oldest towns on the wine route, founded already by the Romans. Then top it with the fact that since the 12th century the village belonged directly to the German Empreror, becoming a free imperial town. Finally add to it that Kayserberg is the birthplace of dr Albert Schweitzer, the Nobel Peace Prize winner (there is a small museum you can visit).
One of the many reasons we love this town is that we discovered there Jeannala & Seppala – two silly Alsatian comic characters who appear on various typical Alsatian objects, like pottery for example (don’t ask us how many we bought). Their happy faces with no eyes and their hilarious adventures will surely make a great souvenir from your wine tour.
Defintely we’ll keep coming back to Alsace as it is one of the most charming regions not only of France, but dare we say, of the entire Europe. Landscapes, architecture, food, wine, people – all of this combines in a unique exquisite blend, existing only between the Vosges and the Rhine.