Alsace, France – a great beginning!

Тази статия може да я прочетете и на: Български

Here we are, between the Vosges mountain to the west, the Rhine river valley and the French-German border to the east, Switzerlnd to the south and Strasbourg to the north. At the heart of Alsace in one wonderful evening in early September. We arrived at the Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg airport late in the evening and after an hour drive by the neat roads of Alsace, we parked in the village of Ammerschwihr, where we had booked a room. Our hosts Guy and Bea knew that we were arriving late but welcomed us with smile and hospitality in their cosy Alsatian house. I will tell you about these wonderful people later in this story.

The village of Ammerschwihr, where we stayed
The village of Ammerschwihr, where we stayed

When looking for accommodation in France, you may see the term „Gîte“. This is something like a guest house and you could often hire the whole of it. To be counted for Gîte, the owner of the house must live nearby so he can serve the guests if needed. Often these houses/apartments are hired for at least 5 days for a holiday, but sometimes they are offered for shorter stays as well. Gîte also have kitchen facilities. For our stay we picked a Gîte.

A great first impression

We had arrived around midnight, it was quiet and cool around. We quickly went to bed and woke up early, by sunrise, thanks to the slight time difference. I opened the window of our garret while Maria was still sleeping and I looked through the window towards Ammerschwihr. In these villages it is like everyone lives in the garret – the steep roofs often hide two or even three floors under them.

Beautiful morning in Ammerschwihr
Beautiful morning in Ammerschwihr
We found out that we were staying at the most beautiful street in the village
We found out that we were staying at the most beautiful street in the village

The sky was amazing blue and the sun was just rising above the neighbouring roofs, ray by ray. The street down was quiet and it remained like this the whole morning. All the houses were decorated with flowers – a common view in Alsace, vert beautiful.

Maria and descended by the wooden stairs to the lower floor, where the hostess Bea welcomed us in the breakfast room. She did not speak English but I managed to explain in French that I wanted coffee with milk and orange juice. It was a simple but very nice breakfast, a great beginnig of a great day.

Breakfast at Guy and Beatrice's house
Breakfast at Guy and Béatrice’s house

We had planned the first day very carefully, including a visit to a wonderful winery and meeting with Philippe Blanck. For the evening we had booked a table at a very special place in the neighbouring town of Kaysersberg. It was a 2-star Michelin restaurant – La Table d’Olivier Nasti, a part of a Relais & Châteaux complex, recommended by The World’s 50 best restaurants. On the Sunday morning we were again welcomed by Bea’s coffee and juice, had a talk with Guy who proposed to open two old wine bottles in the evening and then headed to our trip through the picturesque towns and villages of Alsace.

Colmar – the capital of Alsatian wines (capitale des vins d’Alsace)

Colmar is the postcard of romantic Alsace, although we decided to walk around it quickly and dedicate more times to the smaller places. Alsace is known for its picturesque towns and villages that look like fairy tale during the Christmas season with their markets and decoration. Colmar is no exception and looked like this even in September. We took a short walk in the most popular quarter – Little Venice, where you could walk, eat, have a coffee or take a boat trip. No matter which one you choose, I believe you will find Colmar picturesque and romantic.

Colmar is also a city with many Michelin Guide restaurants which you definitely should concider, although visiting all of them is impossible.

„La Petite Venise“ – the Little Venice in Colmar
„La Petite Venise“ – the Little Venice in Colmar
The river flowing through the Little Venice quarter in Colmar
The river flowing through the Little Venice quarter in Colmar

We would often speak of restaurants mentioned in the Michelin Guide. In our website we also have a new category – Dining with Diners Club, where we speak about notable places to eat, including some in Alsace.

The Tanners' Quarter in Colmar - Quartier des tanneurs de Colmar
The Tanners’ Quarter in Colmar – Quartier des tanneurs de Colmar

An important part of our walk is the Tanners’ Quarter – Quartier des tanneurs de Colmar. If you have been to the Tanners’ quarter in Fez, Morocco, you might have seen real tanners. However, in Colmar they no longer live here. Only their beautiful houses, reonovated in the 1960s, remain. But it is still a beautiful quarter, smelling of restaurants and coffee houses.

Colmar is extremely picturesque and full of flowers
Colmar is extremely picturesque and full of flowers

We won’t give you a long list of tips about Colmar but we can show it to you – fresh and colourful in the early September. The town is famous with its Christmas markets and I could admit that it looks like a Christmas fairy tale even in September.

Maria and Colmar, which she loved
Maria and Colmar, which she loved

The Christmas markets of Alsace are a huge attraction and the holiday season is probably the most popular time to visit the region. Everybody says that they are extremely beautiful and a must-visit. We have not seen them yet but they are on the list.

Tarte Flambee is a must-try food in Alsace
Tarte Flambee is a must-try food in Alsace

Why Colmar is the capital of Alsatian wines?

Because it is at the centre of the wine route and is home to some of the largest and most famous wine cellars there. The wines of Alsace are predominarily white, dry and semi-dry. They are produced from several main grape varieties that are allowed to grow in the region – Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Muscat, Sylvaner and the only red one – Pinot Noir.

Eguisheim

7 km south from Colmar

I want to be back in Eguisheim! Everybody who has been there would say this. We would really love to be back to the village, standing by the XI century castle, next to the Pope Leo IX who was probably born in the castle in 1002. Pope Leo IX was born Bruno of Egisheim-Dagsburg, a member of the ruling Egisheim family which gave the name of the village.

The statue of Pope Leo IX
The statue of Pope Leo IX
Eguisheim
Eguisheim

The castle once had a moat and walls but through the centuries the moat was filled and the walls became houses. In XIX century there was built a church dedicated to Leo IX. Around the Château Saint-Léon, following the contour of the former walls, were build the village’s houses and streets, looking like a snail shell from the air. And they are incredibly beautiful and photogenic.

„Château Saint-Léon“
„Château Saint-Léon“

The streets surrounding the castle form concentric circles. Beautiful houses with flowers on the windows from all sides. And although you are in France, the German influence is noticeable as Alsace was a part of Germany and the Holy Roman Empire for a long time. We spent some time on the square next to the chateau and went for a walk among the houses, following a little messy but very picturesque route.

Almost everyone fall in love with Eguisheim for its romantic atmosphere
Almost everyone fall in love with Eguisheim for its romantic atmosphere
Eguisheim
Eguisheim

Eguisheim is also a part of the Alsace Wine Route and has several wonderful wineries. All the hills around are covered with vineyards. Even some streets are named after wine – Street of Muscat, Street of Riesling, etc. So if you are in Eguisheim, do not miss local restaurants and wine cellars.

Beautiful Eguisheim and me (the orange sweater)
Beautiful Eguisheim and me (the orange sweater)

In Eguisheim there is a large public paid parking, very convenient if you arrive by car.

Riquewihr

North of Colmar

Riquewihr is a picturesque town at the foot of the Vosges mountains that has been spared by the destruction of wars. When you enter through the gates of the old town, you immerse in the amazing world of medieval houses and you feel like in the most beautiful postcard of Alsace. Beautiful and colourful, the houses of Riquewihr are impressive. And behind them are the calm hills of the Vosges mountain, some of which covered with vineyards. Riquewihr is a place to spend wonderful time and you won’t regret coming here.

Riquewihr
Riquewihr
General de Gaulle street in Riquewihr
General de Gaulle street in Riquewihr

The main street, named after General de Gaulle, takes us through the “lower” gate of the old town, near the town hall building, to the other end of the fortificated area where you will find a tower with a clock, know as Dolder. This was once the main entrance to the town.

The upper gate of Riquewihr
The upper gate of Riquewihr with the clock tower
Typical Alsatian wine glasses
Typical Alsatian wine glasses

Finally, let me show you the typical Alsatian wine glasses that you will see on many places across the region. In many restaurants you will be served wine exactly in such glass. In Riquewihr is also located one of the popular wine cellars in Alsace – Hugel & Fils, but we had no time to visit it.

What girls do when they see macarons
What girls do when they see macarons

Ribeauvillé

Ribeauvillé is a small town at the foot of the Vosges mountains and we had no special expectations about it. When we arrived, the parkings near the town centre was full and we had to find a more remote parking in the suburbs.

Ribeauvillé
Ribeauvillé

It appeared that we had just missed the culmination of Pfifferdaj. Until then we did not know about Pfifferdaj so we did not feel disappointed, but it is still an interesting event.

Ribeauvillé
Ribeauvillé

Pfifferdaj is the oldest festival in Alsace, also known as The Minstrels Festival. It perpetuates the links between the lords of Ribeaupierre and the minstrels they protected. It is held each year on the first Sunday of September and represents images of the Medieval history like peasant life, castle life, domestic or fabulous animals, buildings, travel, discovery, work, trades, beliefs, fortunes and misfortunes.

The streets of Ribeauville were almost empty while everybody was apparently having lunch
The streets of Ribeauville were almost empty while everybody was apparently having lunch
Ribeauville
Ribeauville

So, we found ourselves in Ribeauville. There were tables all around for the festival participants and most of them were already eating and drinking n their medieval garments. The town is impressive and has wonderful atmosphere, and September is a wonderful time to visit Alsace.

Ribeauville Alsace France
Ribeauville
Beautiful Ribeauville
Beautiful Ribeauville

Well, we did not take pictures of the participants because the performance was already over and we did not want to bother them during their lunch.

Kaysersberg and Kientzheim

You could visit all the towns and villages in this area even without a car, for example by bike (or even by foot). The distance between Riquewihr and Kientzheim is about 4 km if you take the pleasant route through the vineyards. These small roads are open for bikers, pedestrians and winegrowers only. Many visitors choose to stay here for a few days and explore Alsace slowly, walking or biking through the picturesque countryside.

Kientzheim seen from the air
Kientzheim seen from the air and the vineyards around

Kientzheim was the first village we visited, after a short walk from Ammerschwihr. They are so close to each other that you could easily mistake where the border is. Kientzheim is a part of the larger Kaysersberg-Vignoble municipality. For us Kientzheim was our school for Alsatian wine. Here they make amazing wines and we have stories of two wineries – Paul Blanck et Fils and Domaine Weinbach, both notable places with notable people.

Kientzheim, where everything is about wine
Kientzheim, where everything is about wine
Kientzheim village Alsace France
Kientzheim

Our walk in Kientzheim passed quietly and without other tourists. The village is extremely beautiful and in the town hall building there was an exhibition of vintage firefighting equipment.

Kaysersberg and one of the Grand Cru vineyards
Kaysersberg and one of the Grand Cru vineyards
Kaysersberg, Alsace, France
Kaysersberg, Alsace, France
Château du Schlossberg
Château du Schlossberg

Kaysersberg is the larger town in the area, in the embrace of the Vosges mountains. All the hills around Kaysersberg and Kientzheim are covered with vineyards and autumn is a colourful and beautiful season there. Above Kaysersberg stand the ruins of a 13th century castle – Château du Schlossberg. Below is the picturesque Kaysersberg.

Fun moments on the tower of the Kaysersberg castle, before the dinner
Fun moments at the Château du Schlossberg
The town centre of Kaysersberg, France
The town centre of Kaysersberg
Kaysersberg Alsace France
Kaysersberg

Kaysersberg became one of our favourite places for many reasons: for the wonderful wineries, for the walks through the vineyards and not least, for the magnificent Michelin-star food we had there, at La Table d’Olivier Nasti restaurant. But this is Alsace, no wherever you spend some time, you will love it. We kept returning to Kaysersberg during our trip.

Maria, ready for dinner in Kaysersberg
Maria, ready for dinner in Kaysersberg

Ammerschwihr – the heart of the Alsatian wine

For us Ammerschwihr will stay the heart of the wine map of Alsace. Located between the vineyards, Ammerschwihr is a bit aside of the main tourist routes but is full of wineries and incredibly quiet and calm village.

Ammerschwihr
Ammerschwihr

Here we stayed at the house of Guy and Bea, where our story started. Guy is a keen wildlife photographer (especially birds) and invests a lot of time and effort in this hobby. His occupation was related to wine production. Wine made us close immediately. On Sunday morning he let us into his wine cellar and then invited us to open a bottle or two of his wine collection. So we were quick with the sightseeing and in the evening we sat on the table in the breakfast room.

Tasting of 30+ year-old wines
Tasting of 30+ year-old wines

Guy brought two carefully cleaned green bottles with the typical Alsatian silhouette and joined us on the table. He brough three glasses branded with „Kaefferkopf“ – the name of the only Grand Cru vineyard of Ammerschwihr. We started tasting the two wines – Riesling from 1985 and Tokaji (Pinot Gris) from 1983. Impressive, unforgettable white wines. bearing the character and wisdom of their 35+ years. Ammerschwihr became our favourite place in Alsace.

Ammerschwihr
Ammerschwihr

If you decide to stay in Ammerschwihr, check the house of Guy and Béatrice – Maison Thomas. There you will find parking lot, cozy rooms and welcoming hosts who will be happy to advise you on anything (but they speak mainly French and German and a bit of English). If you see them, please send greetings from us. I hope they remember us with good thoughts.


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