A perfect fairy-tale trip to Alsace, France including Strasbourg and Colmar
Alsace is a region on the Eastern side of France, on the Rhine river, at the border with Germany and Switzerland. In fact, the Alsatian dialect is very similar to Swiss German, although most Alsatians primarily speak French.
Alsace is mostly known because of its enchanting villages and for its wine routes. Anyway, during Christmas time, the magical atmosphere of the Alsatian little towns raises thanks to the colorful lights and creative decoration (like in the pictures below) and the lovely Christmas markets. For this reason, I decided to spend there a week of my Christmas holiday.
✳️ Transportation of Alsace
I stayed in Strasbourg the capital city of Alsace and from there I took public transportation to move around and visit other places.
It is important to plan transportation in advance because the area is not very well connected (which was different from what I expected). In fact, my plan was to visit three of the small villages around Strasbourg: Riquewihr, Eguisheim, and Ribeauvillé, but there were only a few buses per day leaving from Colmar going to these places, so I had to choose only one of them.
If you feel comfortable driving, my suggestion is to rent a car, since it is the easiest and fastest way to explore the area. If renting a car for yourself is too much considering your budget, It is one of the ways to find travel companions to travel through the NomadHer community.
✳️ What to see in Alsace
Strasbourg is the capital city of Alsace and it’s famous to be one of the four main capitals of the European Union (along with Brussels, Luxembourg, and Frankfurt).
Its historical center is situated on an island of the Ill river (Grand Ile) which includes the most typical headquarter of the region, the so-called “Petite France” which is part of the UNESCO world heritage site.
The main attraction of the town is the majestic gothic Notre-Dame cathedral (in the picture beside). In the square of the cathedral, there is the Maison Kammerzell. Today, this building is a beautiful restaurant, but in the past, it was the house of a rich merchant. Its amazing façade dates back to the 14th century.
There are many interesting museums to visit, but the most popular is the Palais Rohan, which is a classical palace designed by Robert de Cotte in 1730 for the price-bishops of the town. The other three museums you could visit are The Museum of Fine Arts, The Archaeological Museum and The Museum of Decorative Arts.
I suggest taking a tour of the town by boat. It is very interesting and you will discover more about Strasbourg, thanks to the audio guides (in many languages). There are various tours by boat, so you may choose which one you prefer. To avoid long lines, it’s suggested to buy tickets online on the Batorama website, where you will also find more information. There is always a way to enjoy a new city like Explore Paris in an Outstanding Way.
At the end of the “Petite France” quarter, there are the Covered Bridges. Beyond its towers, there is the Vauban Dam which has a terrace where you can enjoy a nice view over the town. If you go during Christmas time, it is nice to walk around the streets in the evening and enjoy the special holiday atmosphere created by the markets and the Christmas lights.
Colmar is one of the jewels of Alsace and one of the most beautiful towns in France. It is located less than 70 km south-southwest of Strasbourg, you can reach it in less than an hour by train.
Its most scenic and romantic quarter is called “Petite Venice”. Because of its intersection of channels. It extends from the Koïfhus to the bridges Turenne and Saint Pierre, which are wonderful spots to take photos.
The Koïfhus is situated in the Place de l’Alsacienne and is one of the most typical buildings of Colmar. In the past, it was a customs house. In the historical center, in Place de la Cathedral, there is the St Martin’s Collegiate which dates back to the 13th century and was built on the ruins of an ancient Romanic church.
The wonderful Rue Merciére, one of the best streets in town, is worth a visit: there are typical houses and shops and bourgeois houses, such as the famous “Maison de Tetes”, which is decorated with more than 100 heads, and the “Maison Pfister”.
In addition to Strasbourg and Colmar, I visited Riquewihr(photos below), a small Medieval village, with few inhabitants but it was listed as one of the most beautiful places in France.
This small town makes you feel like in a fairy tale because of its little houses with wooden roofs and colorful walls. In fact, rumors have it that Riquewihr was the inspiration for the village of “The Beauty and the Beast”. It is also one of the villages along the Alsace Wine Route and it is located 15 km northwest of Colmar.
Just a walk in Rue Charles de Gaulle (the main street) is a special experience, thanks to its colorful architecture. This rue leads to the Dolder, a term that in the Alsatian dialect means “the highest point” and is the name of a 25-meter tower built in pink sandstone from the Vosges. Today, its first three floors host the local Museum of Art and Popular Tradition.
Another attraction is the Palais du Pain d’Épice(photos below), a museum of gingerbread in Gertwiller, a very small town. The museum is very picturesque but the village is very isolated and doesn’t have restaurants or bars. It can be reached by train. It takes around 40 minutes if you get the direct one. The museum, which has also a shop, is decorated as it were in Hansel and Gretel’s tale. In the shop, you can find souvenirs and gingerbread products.
If you like wine in France, there is wine tasting in the houses of the village, you can ring and ask how it works. You can try the Gewurztraminer wine which is typical of the area. I would suggest going there if you have rented a car because it’s easier to move around. There are not many trains and in winter, waiting outside for the train you can feel cold.
At the border with Alsace, there is the German town Freiburg im Breisgau, which is easy to reach by Flixbus. This town is considered the door to the Black Forest, which was the landscape of many stories written by the Grimm brothers.
The main attraction of the town is the gothic Cathedral (Münster) with the high bell tower. Next to the Cathedral, there is the Kaufhaus, a red elaborated building that was the house of corporations and merchants in the 16th century.
Another impressive building is the Martinstor, Martin’s gate, the older of the two gates of the town that have been preserved since medieval times.
To add a little adventure to the visit to Freiburg, you can hike Schlossberg, a tree-covered hill of 456 meters located east of Freiburg’s Old Town which belongs to the Black Forest.
If you don’t like hiking or you have little time, there is a funicular railway(photos below) that links the city center with Schlossberg hill. Because I didn’t have much time, I hiked only halfway down the hill, anyhow the view of Freiburg was amazing also from there. If you have more time, also Eguisheim, Obernai, Ribeauvillé, and Kaysersberg are worth a visit.
✳️ What to eat in Alsace
The traditional Alsatian cuisine is a blend of French and German dishes.
The national dish of Alsace is the Choucroute garnie, a mix of regional cured meats (all the best meats of Alsace, bratwurst, boudin blanc, and smoked pork) served with choucroute (sauerkraut, which is a German cabbage) and boiled potatoes. It was delicious and very filling, so much so that I had a hard time finishing it.
Another traditional dish I tried was the Flammekueche, a thin layer of dough covered with sour cream, cheese, onions, and bacon. It’s crispy and tasty. It is considered the Alsatian equivalent of a pizza, even though it’s very different.
Then, there is the Baeckeoffe, a casserole made with layers of sliced potatoes and onions with two kinds of meats (beef, and pork). Other ingredients that are commonly added are leeks, thyme, parsley, garlic, and carrots for flavor and color. It is often eaten for a special occasion, such as Christmas.
Furthermore, in Alsace, you should try their delicious Bretzels: fresh baked and soft pretzels with a generous amount of salt. They can be found in the Christmas markets and they are of a different kind: with melted cheese on top and accompanied by smoked salmon or ham.
Also, in Riquewihr I stopped in a nice salon de to take a coffee with a Bûche de Noël: a French traditional Christmas dessert covered with chocolate or coffee cream and icing and usually filled with jam. It’s called the Yule log because of its shape.
😊Who is NomadHer writer
Sofia Antognoli is from Italy and can speak 4 languages like Italian, English, Spanish, and French. She has lots of curiosity about the world. That is why she has lots of countries to keep traveling to! also loves festivals! Do you want to hear more stories about her perfect fairy-tale trip to Alsace, France? You can connect to her through the NomadHer community now.
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