The hill-towns of Alsace were lovelier than I had imagined. Fairytale towns and castles, one more charming than the next. The food was interesting, but I learned that I am not a big fan of the local cuisine, a bit heavy for me, and much prefer the French style restaurants. But the wines were delicious, and not only the whites. The new generations of wine makers are producing Pinot Noir’s that will soon give Burgundy a run for their money!
Alsace is a region lying on the French west bank of the river Rhine, but it’s heritage and culture, with its villages of brightly-painted steep-roofed half-timbered houses, is definitely Germanic. Alsace was part of the German-speaking area of central Europe, and a large proportion of the population still speaks Alsacian, similar to the German spoken in Switzerland. In the last two centuries, Alsace has passed from Germany to France and back, and back again.
The capital, Strasbourg, is home to one of France’s most beautiful Gothic cathedrals, a pedestrian old town center, and the country’s premier Christmas Market. We loved this city and actually cancelled other reservations to come back for two extra days. We also stayed in another major touristic town, Colmar. Most people we talked to loved Colmar, but for some reason we didn’t connect with the town. Worth a visit but only stay a day or two max. One thing you don’t want to miss is the Wine Route and you can travel it easily from either site.
Two words can pretty well sum up Alsatian wines: Dry Riesling. Alsace wine will change your perception of a traditionally sweet Riesling. Besides Riesling, Alsace produces quite a lot of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Crémant d’Alsace: a sparkling wine. And 90% of the wine produced is white. But that other 10%, Pinot Noir, is really starting to grow as the wine makers realized the potential for this lovely red wine. We arranged for a full day wine tour and can vouch for the drink-ability of these lovely wines.
We ended our trip with four glorious days in Paris. Please see my other Posts on Paris for tips and recommendations.
You can’t see the charming hill towns on a tour. You need to spend time, stroll, and take in the local culture. Recommend renting a car and doing some traveling on your own. They are all easy drives from where ever your base is. And of course you can do a little wine tasting on your way!
- Riquewhr – A medieval town right in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards, classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France. Charming says it all, with its cobbled streets dotted with half-timbered winemakers’ shops and tasting rooms. Winemaking tools and a restored kitchen are on display in the 16th-century Maison de Vigneron. Also wander through the 1291 Dolder Tower which houses the Musée du Dolder, featuring centuries-old weapons and the 14th-century Tour des Voleurs, a former prison, complete with torture instruments.
- Chateau du Haut- Koenigsbourg, Orschwiller – On the highest point of Orschwiller, this imposing castle can be seen from miles away. Once at the top, it offers an outstanding view of the valley, Germany’s Black Fores, and the Alps in clear weather. When you enter this Castle through its main gate, you begin a journey back into the Middle Ages. Its courtyard, forge, mill, spiral staircases, drawbridges, arms room, keep and canons are constant reminders of the original purpose of this mountaintop fortress. Built in the 12th century, it belonged to a series of owners over the years but it was Emperor William II who decided to restore it at the turn of the 20th century. The restoration took only eight years and Haut-Koenigsbourg, restored to its former glory, opened its doors again in 1908.
- Ribeauville -The town is located on the Wine Route, between the vineyards and mountain, and was one of the stops during our wine tour where we had a couple hours of free time for lunch and exploration. Driving in you can see the nearby hills dominated by the majestic ruins of the Three Castles of the Lords of Ribeaupierre. The main street (Grand-Rue) and the little side streets are all charming and picturesque lined with 15th- to 18th-century buildings and Renaissance fountain-decorated squares. And yes, vineyards… which have been in existence since the Middle Ages. This allows many winegrowers, as well as the wine cooperatives, to offer visits to their cellars and tastings, which we indulged in.
- Hotel Cour du Corbeau, Strasbourg – so beautiful that there were always people standing in the long courtyard entryway photographing this magical hotel. The rooms were lovely and the staff friendly and helpful. They didn’t have a room for the two days that we wanted to return but asked us to be patient and figured it out in a couple of hours. We got a lovely room and a warm welcome back when we returned.
- La Maison des Tetes, Colmar – another beautiful hotel, set back from the street with a flower and tree lined courtyard. It is run by Éric Girardin, a Michelin star chef, who makes you omelets for breakfast and has his star restaurant on site. Loved the hotel and the amazing dinner we had at his restaurant.
- Relais Christine, Paris – we have been to Paris many times and stayed in many hotels, but this one is by far our favorite. We were three-for-three on beautiful hotels set back with inviting courtyards at the entry. And this one also attracted everyone who passed by to look at the well tended gardens. The hotel is a renovated 16th-century former private mansion. They kept some of the original touches—from painted wood beams to paneled walls lined with portraits—and added a touch of modern, smart sophistication. In the lounge, plush velvet seating invites lingering around the wood-burning fireplace in the winter. Other areas are a bit more dramatic, with patterned marble floors and brocade sofas.
- Le Pont Corbeau, Strasbourg – Was touted as the most authentic “winstub” (wine restaurant) in town and recommended by everyone we talked to. It was small, very local, friendly (including the locals at the tables next to us who helped us through the menu) and had a great wine list. They served traditional Alsatian food; Onion Tart, Sauerkraut with Pork and Sausages (Choucroute Garnie), Meat and Vegetable Stew (Bacheofe), and Sauerkraut with Fish in Cream Sauce.
- Le Petit Tonnelier, Strasbourg – Another Alsatian restaurant but more varied and with French touches (had the Veal Shank and it was tender and tasty!). Small, cozy, with good food and friendly service.
- La Hache, Strasbourg – Hache’s (Ax’s) hung all over the walls of this cute pub style restaurant. Good food with more French style cooking. Had a big pot of Moules in a Thai broth.
- Mademoiselle 10, Strasbourg – Our favorite restaurant in Strasbourg and we returned a second night. Family owned and run, Dad the chef, Mom and daughter running the front of the house. Casual, friendly, warm and welcoming…and some of the best food we ate. Creative but not over the top so the flavors of the fresh vegetable and fish (or meat) really come through.
- La Cambus, Strasbourg – The second favorite restaurant we ate in while in Strasbourg. Husband and wife team, with the wife the Chef and the husband the host (and a very charming and friendly host). This cozy, fish only restaurant, has you feeling like you are boarding a ship from the moment you enter. The entire dining room looks like the elegant living quarters of a yacht. And food was delicious!
- Girardin, Colmar – Entering this totally white, soothing room, you suddenly feel like you just had an hour massage. Your completely relaxed and then the pleasure begins…a lovely glass of bubbly with a delicious amuse bouche, the chef comes over to discuss the menu and take your order, the sommelier discusses the wine list…and the food begins to arrive. Everything is beautiful to look at and tastes heavenly. Don’t miss the mille feuille for dessert, you will have the entire restaurant straining to watch as it comes out of the kitchen.
- Frenchie, Paris – My favorite dinner in Paris. Gregory Marchand’s small, extremely good neighborhood restaurant with an extraordinary tasting menu under $100. They have a very lively wine bar across the street where you can have some small tastes or just a drink before your dinner (the restaurant has two seating a night). Book a month in advance as this chef has a cult-following and is always booked.
- Baieta, Paris – Truly a disappointment. We expected so much from this young chef, Julia Sedefdijian, who won her first Michelin Star at 21. She has been written up recently as the hottest chef in Paris (NYT + many other) and we had a wonderful lunch there last year. Arriving for dinner we entered the small, overheated room that was filled with loud American tourists. Add to that a menu that didn’t change from the year prior and harried, overworked staff (only 2 working the entire room). All-in-all an unpleasant evening.
- Semilla, Paris – We eat here every time we are in Paris. It is just perfect, from the space, the food and the friendly service. The bartender gave us a warm welcome back even though it had been a year since we were there last. Order anything on the menu and you won’t be disappointed. If you can reserve one of the tables in the window grab it, as I think it (along with the bar) are the best seats in the house.
For serious wine tasting we always take a tour so we don’t have to worry about driving while a bit tipsy. Our preference is a private or small group tour so you really get to talk to the wine makers and they can usually accommodate any preferences you may have on wines or a special vineyard you would like to visit.
- Ophorus Excursions – Decided on the full-day small group tour. The tour had only five people, all of whom were interesting fellow wine lovers. We visited three wineries in three villages; Ribeauville (Louis Sepp), Barr (Noelle Bachert) and Dambach (Schaeffer-Woerly). Our favorite was Noelle Bachert in Barr. She is a small wine producer who gave us a tour of her vineyards, and a tasting in her backyard. Her love of and enthusiasm about wine making was contagious. I could have stayed all day in those lovely surroundings drinking her wines (bought two and drank them on the trip).
Au revoir jusqu’au prochain voyage!