Top things to do in Alsace

Sorry I’ve been so MIA lately.  We recently got back from a France trip, and before that, I was planning away, etc… I’ll start being more diligent in my posting!  That was directed at you, Mom.

We started off our France trip with four nights in Alsace, France.  Alsace is a region located on the France-Germany border.  This area was turned over between France and Germany four times within 75 years.  Because of this, the culture is uniquely part French, part German.  Many people from this region consider themselves “Alsatian,” not French.   What did we think of Alsace?  Go there now!!!!  This haven will not stay as it is – it is too wonderful to stay “off the beaten path” for long.

Seriously, this place is amazing and has somehow escaped mass tourism to date.  The only vacationers you will see here are French people from other regions.  In our time there, we maybe saw 8 other Americans.  What does this mean?  This area is unspoiled and not commercialized.  We stuck to the Alsace Wine Route, which meant small picturesque villages and views of unending vineyards and wheat fields with the Vosges mountains in the background.

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I wanted to write this because the Alsace part of our trip was quite hard to plan.  There are few tourist books on the area besides brief mentionings.  One thing to mention is that you should really have someone with you who speaks a little (un peu) French.  Along with little tourism comes few English-speakers.  Next, rent a car.  It seems a lot of people stay in Strasbourg or Colmar and maybe take a bus trip out to a village one day.  You want to explore the entire Alsace Wine Route and at your own pace.  The driving is quite easy and not stretched out for long distances, so you aren’t stuck driving for long.

We stayed in a small town between Strasbourg and Colmar called Stotzheim at Chateau de Grunstein.  It is an amazing, restored 16th century chateau run as a B&B.  Delicious breakfasts, beautiful grounds, and very helpful owners.  Be aware of places (including this) with no AC.  This is absolutely fine most of the year, but on days where it reached over 100 degrees F (weird heat wave for early June), I was waking at 3 AM for cold showers.

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From here, we explored all the nearby cities.  Here were our favorites and not-so-favorites:

1. Strasbourg – yes this is the major city, which largely contradicts all the quaintness I described above.  We spent one night in this city, and we weren’t really looking forward to it.  This is why I put it at the top of the list – being completely surprised.  It was such a lovely city, with one of the most stunning churches I’ve ever seen (walk to the top for amazing views!), a beautiful canal-ed “Petite Venice” area, and delicious food.  French patisseries EVERYWHERE, great beer options, and refined food.  Our dinner at La Cuiller a Pot was delicious.

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2. Best Small Towns –  Obernai, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg.  No need to hit certain spots in each one – just wander and enjoy!! Stop for local wine tastings when you see “Degustation” signs.  People-watch on benches.  Peruse menus and enjoy the French/German food given in huge portions.  Keep an eye out for storks.  Dip into locally run shops for cheese and souvenirs.

For Obernai, we went at nighttime, and it was so lovely.  The following day was a bank holiday, so the locals were out really late (including kids).  We feasted on choucroute (German sausage and sauerkraut), wiener schnitzel, and a kind-of pot pie.

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In Riquewihr, a walled town, we also went at night for dinner (and a return morning trip due to my lost phone – whoops).  More delicious food, including foie gras, local game, and a kind-of Alsatian meat pie.

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For Kaysersberg, we spent lunch and a short afternoon.  It, too, was lovely and sleepy with not many people.

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3. Towns I would skip (or spend limited time in) – Eguisheim, Colmar, Soufflenheim.  Eguisheim was recently voted the Favorite French Village, a high distinction.  While I am sure it was very charming, it is now packed with people.  We even showed up pretty early in the day, and the buses were already there.  I’ll take a sleepy, equally charming, town any day.  As for Colmar, it was definitely a bigger town (city?), but simply lacked the charm of the smaller towns or the impressiveness of a big city like Strasbourg.  The Little Venice area was a let-down, unlike the one in Strasbourg.  Finally, Soufflenheim, north of Strasbourg and known for its pottery, was a last minute stop for a pottery purchase.  NOT a cute down and, from what we heard (though I cannot verify this), some vendors have begun selling bad stuff (things that can’t be heated, etc…), knowing that tourists pop by for pottery and don’t really know the difference.

4. Go to Haut Koenigsbourg – just go.  I can’t BELIEVE I almost kept this off my itinerary. This castle, which does take a full morning as it takes some time to get up the mountain, was maybe the coolest thing I saw on my trip and definitely the coolest castle I’ve ever been to.  The date it was built is unknown, but it was at least built by 1147!!! You also get stunning views of Alsace.

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5.  Eat Foie Gras.  Yes, there are awesome local specialties, like the Tarte Flambee (sort of like a local pizza on a thinner dough base).  But you will never eat such good foie gras at such amazing prices.  It was my husband’s first time eating foie gras – I’m a bad wifey.  We ordered foie gras at almost every dinner, despite my stomach’s protests.  That stuff is rich.  Get it cold and smeared on bread, wrapped in pastry, or seared hot like a piece of meat.  MMMMMMMM.

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(Yes, that is seared foie gras on top of a steak – maybe the best thing we ate on our trip.)

6.  Drink the crémant, the local “Champagne.”  You can’t call it champagne because it is not from the Champagne region.  But the crémant, the sparkling wine made in Alsace, is deeeeelicious and so affordable.  Of course, Alsace is known for its white wines, but we just aren’t that big into the local grapes there.  Sorry.  But a rosé (or traditional) crémant from here?  Heaven.  When our train to Paris was delayed thanks to a strike, we feasted on our rose crémant with fresh local strawberries.  Oh, that’s another thing.  The fruit here, especially the strawberry and cherries, are amazing.

I know I am leaving out so much about Alsace.  But I hope I have shown you how awesome it is.  Next time you plan a trip to France, consider skipping a more well known region and make your way to Alsace.  You will not regret it.

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