Fate would have it that the first adventure I would undertake as a new expat in France was an Alsace road trip, something I was glad to cross off my bucket list. I didn’t need much talking into; I’m a big fan of white wine and 15th-century architecture and trust me, it doesn’t get any better than Alsace for both of these things.
Culturally sandwiched between France and Germany, Alsace has only been part of the French territory since World War II. It obviously retains a strong German heritage, from the local dialect to the traditional meals and iconic architecture – and this is precisely what made me so interested in the region at first. That dual identity. How it is so definitely French in some ways, yet infinitely German in others, and how, at times, it is neither.
But besides this intriguing culture, I was also drawn to the vineyards and picturesque villages. Alsace is, after all, one of the most beautiful areas in France, and one of the most visited – rightfully so, if you ask me. Let’s see what I did while I was there.
Alsace Road Trip: A Few Noteworthy Stops
European Parliament in Strasbourg
Seat of the European parliament and many international organisations, Strasbourg has so many different faces it’s hard to find the right word to describe it. Über-modern in some areas, beautifully historic in others, it boasts an eclectic mixture in both its culture and its architecture – it is, appropriately, Alsace’s capital city.
The first place you want to visit is Petite France neighbourhood, the oldest part of the city. It includes miraculously well-kept half-timber houses, numerous canals, cobblestone streets and mature trees, which makes for a nice post-al-fresco-dinner stroll in the evening. It is basically romantic France in a nutshell. Speaking of which, I recommend that you try the famous flammkuchen, a traditional Alsatian pizza with extra thin crust.
Another important stop is the Strasbourg Cathedral. Once the world’s highest building (and now the 6th tallest church), it’s one of the finest work of late Gothic architecture, easily recognizable not only because of its detailed carvings but also because of its distinct pinkish hue. It is, honestly, the most impressive church I have ever seen (entry is free of charge). If you visit in the summer, make sure to plan some time to attend the very entertaining light show at 10 PM.
That’s when the Alsace road trip actually begins! Hop in your car and head south to the stunning Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, an important stop between Strasbourg and the smaller vineyard villages. Nestled in the Vosges mountains, it dates back to the 12th century and is a sight for sore eyes, both the castle itself and the scenery of the Alsatian plains. It is everything like what we, modern-age people, imagine what a medieval fortress looked like.
My favourite place on the entire itinerary! This is a “postcard” kind of place, with impeccably preserved timbered houses in various rainbow colours. It’s a very small village, with just one main pedestrian street, but I can’t stress how much it is worth going. It felt like walking in a medieval dream as if everything had remained untouched for the past 10 centuries. The main street is filled with local artisans, flowers, wine cellars, cafés and quaint B&Bs.
Shortly after Riquewihr, you will be entering the heart of the vineyard region. Don’t hesitate to stop and explore, go winery-hopping (with moderation, of course, unless you want to walk all the way back!) and taste the many wines the region is famous for, like riesling and gewürtztraminer, as well as crémant, the Alsatian version of Champagne.
I stopped in Hunawihr because there was an open-door event with discounts, and it was a great deal – there will be signs indicating where the local sales are alongside the road. Wine-makers know their stuff, and they are happy to answer your questions in order to make sure you find a wine that suits your taste.
The second idyllic village on this Alsace road trip didn’t disappoint. It is a little bigger than Riquewihr and it is every bit as beautiful. One of the best reasons to go to Kaysersberg is to enjoy the magnificent view of the village and the surrounding vineyards from the castle remains – definitely worth the small hike to the top. You will not be able to enter the village with the car, but it’s just as well since you get to walk by the canal and its beautiful houses on your way to the main square. Enjoy the pedestrian life, grab some ice cream and sit at one of the many terraces and indulge in some good old-fashioned people watching.
Last but not least on this idyllic road trip, Colmar is slightly bigger than the previous ones but still easily walkable. There are many interesting sights, such as the House of the Heads, whose facade is, unsurprisingly, decorated with 111 heads. Nothing creepy, rest assured, it is in fact quite a work of art. Nearby is also the famous Pfister house, St.Martin’s church, Bartholdi Museum (the architect behind the Statue of Liberty) and the Little Venice neighbourhood (something about the canals…). For dinner, I opted for another typical Alsatian winstub called Restaurant des Tanneurs and was impressed with the cozy feeling of the place, decorated with large wooden beams and dim lights. There is also a large terrace outside for the nicer days.
Alsace Road Trip: A Few Tips
- You should plan around 4 days, maybe more if you plan on visiting vineyards and tasting samples (keeping lots of water in the car might be a good idea). It does sound like a short amount of time considering you will be visiting five different places, the distance between the villages is minimal so it is easily doable.
- Do not drink and drive! EVER!
- For accommodation, I suggest staying out of town centres as parking can be a hassle. I stayed in Ibis hotels along the way.
- Other interesting stops: hike in the Vosges mountains, stop in Alsace’s third city in Mulhouse, visit the quaint villages of Obernai and Eguishem, frollic through a vineyard.
- Tourisme Alsace and Wines of Alsace are great resources to plan your trip. Cycling Alsace, too, if you don’t want to drive.