A weekend in Alsace

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It was the start of Summer and a long weekend. That meant, most of the famous European destinations were going to be expensive to reach. Me being in the southwestern region of Germany, while hovering over google maps and the extra smart search engine, found suggestions about Alsace. Why Alsace??

Historical Facts

Beautiful view of 17th century Palais Rohan, from the banks of the river III which flows through Strasbourg. This is a busy location in the evening with people strolling around or gossiping over a drink. The palace looks stunning in the dark.

Alsace is a region in France situated on the banks of Rhine river, sharing its boundaries with Germany on the east and north. The cultural heritage of Alsace has its roots in Germany as it was the Germanic region in ancient central Europe. The territory has always been a talking point as it was being tossed in the hands of France and Germany and back to France during the interwar years. Finally, after World War II, it was again annexed by France and since 2016 it belongs to the Grand Est division with Strasbourg being its capital.

Living the Alsacian dream

This is a part of Little Venice, a neighbourhood in Colmar. It is characteristic of Alsace with charming half-wood houses having slanting roofs.

With steep wooden roofs, colourful houses, cuisine and culture, Alsace is still Germanic. The people in this region still speak French mixed German called as the Alsacian German dialect. Alsace region is famous for its wine, numerous castles, exotic nature and preserved pretty towns. Strasbourg along with fairytale villages of Colmar and Riquewehr make it a perfect weekend destination.

As said, Alsace is famous for its wine culture and especially the Riesling wine. On any hiking trail, you would be greeted by such large and neverending vineyards.

Location and Access

Located in central Europe, the city is easily accessible from any big city by train or bus. The city of Colmar is located 70km from Strasbourg and every hour there is a train that will take you there in 30 minutes. The best is to rent a car so that you can go for day trips and also go on hiking trails through some spectacular views and castles, Hoh Koenigsburg being one of them.

Things to do in and around Strasbourg

The Cathedral Notre Dame

This the most famous landmark of Strasbourg and Alsace itself- the cathedral Notre Dame. The cathedral is a wonder with its architecture presenting delicate carvings at night especially under moonlight.

This is an outstanding masterpiece of Gothic architecture from the 14th century. The cathedral has a breathtaking look at night. During the day one can admire the interior of the cathedral if you are really into churches and architecture. I have read on the official tourism website of Strasbourg that the pink sandstone changes according to the time of the day and colour of the sky. Try your luck! My best time was wandering around the vicinity of the dome in the evening’s admiring the beautiful and lively neighbourhood.

Le Petite France

This is again the view of the cathedral tower from Le Petite France, a postcard-perfect neighbourhood of Strasbourg. Unfortunately, that’s the only picture I have from Le Petite France. But I strongly recommend doing a free walking tour of Le Petite France.

The typical postcard image popping up in google searches portraying the beautifully coloured timber houses on the canals – that is petite France. But it took us half a day to find out this place from the postcard image, thanks to the free walking tour http://happy-strasbourg.eu/ that took us to this artistic neighbourhood. I recommend taking the free walking tour as this district has some fascinating stories to tell. One interesting fact is that this quarter belongs to the UNESCO world heritage site of Grande Île. This was once the home to butchers and tanners who were in constant need of water. I would recommend this article from culture trip if you are looking for some specifics.

Colmar

If you are in Alsace then you should visit this charming town. It is the wine capital of Alsace and also regarded as one of the wonders of Alsace. If I have to define some characteristics of Colmar it would surely be the colourful half-timbered houses (like Strasbourg) and overflowing flower pots (unlike Strasbourg). I initially wondered if it was due to the Easter celebrations but Google informed that it is Colmar’s distinguishing feature.

The typical characteristic of Colmar is the over-flowing flower pots in the balcony. You would come across such houses while strolling through one of the main streets – Fishermen’s quay. This is one of the prettiest towns in central Europe.

Le Petite Venice

Like Petite France in Strasbourg, Colmar has a neighbourhood known as Petite Venice. It was relatively easy to locate this picturesque neighbourhood resting on the river Lauch. Strolling along the river or having a boat ride like in Venice definitely would take one to a fairytale dreamland. The Fishermen’s quay (Quai de la Poissonnerie) is the beautiful street that many of you would have already seen in images of Colmar.

Little Venice, influenced by Venice in Italy also gives the opportunity for tourists to explore Colmar with a boat tour.

Stroll through the old town

I especially admired the old town which is a few steps from little Venice for its cobbled stone streets and beautiful cafes sitting on those streets. Check out this blog from earthtrekkers.com for some attractions in Colmar. On the way to Colmar is the castle HohKonigsburg.

Cobbled stone street in central Colmar.

HohKonigsburg

As already mentioned, this region of Alsace is full of mountains, never-ending vineyards and numerous breathtaking castles. One such gem is the castle Hohkonigsburg, 12th-century medieval castle. On a sunny day, the top view from the castle could stretch up to the black forest at the other end. The castle went through notable hands until it was destroyed in the first world war, finally rebuilt in 1909.

A magnificent castle- HautKoenigsburg, around 45min from Strasbourg. On a bright sunny day, one can easily spot the Black Forest from this castle.

Saint Hippolyte 

Resting at the foot of the castle is the mesmerizing village of Saint Hippolyte- another wonder of Alsace.  The town is famous for it’s Rouge de Saint Hippolyte (Pinot Noir), which appears to be a darker red. I would have loved to spend a night here, but sadly we had our stay booked in Strasbourg.

At the feet of the castle, Hohkoenigsburg is a charming commune named after Saint Hippolyte.

Ribeauville

Another fairytale village in Alsace- Ribeauville.

As it was a beautiful sunny day and we now had a fair idea about the Alsacian charm, we decided to go on a hike nearby Strasbourg. The 13km hiking route that we had decided upon took us to a ruined castle called Château de Saint-Ulrich. The route was just amazing with dense forest allowing just enough light to filter in. At the end of the hike, we ended up again in a quaint village of Ribeauville in Ribeauville -Riquewehr commune. This village also has some architecturally old-fashioned buildings- The Pfifferhüss, the butcher’s tower and the St. Catherine church to mention a few.

What to eat in Alsace:

Alsacian Baeckeoffe(oven bake)- This is a blend of vegetables such as potatoes, onions, mushrooms, etc along with beef or pork meat marinated overnight in Alsacian white wine, baked and served in a casserole.

Flammkuchen- It is a bread dough rolled flat and covered with fresh cream, sliced onions and lardon (small strips or cubes of bacon) baked in an oven.

Other than these two specialities Cordon Bleau, Coq au Riesling (my favourite)- chicken in riesling sauce are specialities from Alsace.

This was my favourite from the local Alsacian cuisine- Coq Au Riesling (or chicken in a creamy Riesling sauce). The chicken has a special Riesling aroma that makes this recipe an exotic one.

Important Insights:

* * *Try the momos at a Tibetian restaurant ‘Les Momos Tibetains‘. I have had the best momos of my life there but I confess that I haven’t been to Tibet, Bhutan or Nepal for a true comparison.

Oh, those are the best momos I ever had in my life. The people working there are very humble and hospitality is at its peak. Do try this restaurant- Les Momo Tibetain.

* * * Try Belgian waffles at ‘Les Macarons c’est si bon!’

For things to do in Colmar and Ribeauville, following links were very handy for me.

https://www.visit.alsace/en/colmar/

https://www.ribeauville-riquewihr.com/en/

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