For as long as I’ve known him, Mike has talked fondly about his solo weekend trips to Alsace, one of his favorite regions from his time in Europe. So when Annie and I started planning a trip to France and Switzerland, I added a little wine stop between Paris and Zurich to our itinerary.
About 300 miles east of Paris, the Alsatian wine route runs north to south along the eastern side of the Vosges mountains. Germany and France have exchanged ownership of the Alsace region four times, so you feel influences from both countries.
During our spring visit, we drove (or rather, made Bobby drive, given our lack of stick shift skills) past sunsoaked vineyards and through lush green hills between idyllic, pastel-painted Medieval villages. At every turn was another photo opp: Alsatian’s distinct half-timbered houses, overflowing flower boxes, and the occasional stork, perched on a chimney top. It’s said that Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast is based on Colmar, the largest and most bustling village of Alsace. It's so picturesque that American and British military avoided bombing the historic city during WWII.
TIPS FOR VISITING THE ALSACE WINE ROUTE
Wineries on the Vin Route d’Alsace, or the Alsatian Wine Route, are very unlike Napa: they're mostly small, unpretentious, and family owned. Many have tasting rooms, and tastings are typically free. If you have any wineries on your bucket list, call ahead of time to make sure they’ll be open and able to accommodate you. Relative to bottle prices in regions like Napa or Tuscany, wines are very reasonably priced in Alsace—most bottles we purchased ended up being close to $20.
Unlike most French wines, Alsatian wines are labeled according to their grape varieties instead of where the grapes grow. The most highly regarded of the region are riesling, gewurztraminer, pinot gris, and muscat. In the past I’ve incorrectly assumed that all rieslings are sweet, but the ones from this region are dry and wonderful. And I found that I loved the beautifully aromatic gewurztraminer, a wine that you don’t see that often in the states. All of the sparkling wine in Alsace is called cremant d’Alsace—it’s generally a high quality, affordable bubbly.
Once you're in Alsace, I’d recommend having a car for the greatest flexibility around your itinerary. You'll find that GPS is spotty, so it's best to rely on a classic paper map and a strong navigator sitting shotgun (hint: not me). There are also burnt red signs indicating "route des vins d'Alsace" that will point you where to go. If for some reason you can't drive, you can also hike, catch taxis, or take minibus tours from village to village.
THE BEST WINERIES IN ALSACE
Many of the wineries were closed because it was the week of Easter, to our dismay. But we did manage to stumble into a few tastings unplanned and weren’t disappointed by any of our visits. Two of the stops we loved were:
Address : 33 Rue de la Montagne, 67140 Mittelbergheim, France
Phone : +33 3 88 08 95 80
Location : 19 Rue Basse du Rempart, 68240 Kaysersberg-Vineyard, France
Phone : +33 3 89 27 33 31
We absolutely loved the hospitality of the sweet couple that ran Stoll François. The green glass stems pictured are typical to Alsace.
One of my go-to resources for wine trips is The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil. Here are several other wineries she recommends:
- Lucien Albrecht
- Domaine Marcel Deiss
- Domaine Ostertag
- Domaine Weinbach
- Domaine Zind Humbrecht
- Domaines Schlumberger
Along the drive, we also found a little walking path up to the Point de Vue du Zotzenberg (Google map for the parking lot), where a short stroll brought us to a clearing with sweeping views of the nearby villages.
HOW TO GET TO THE ALSATIAN WINE ROUTE
Above is an Alsatian wine route map showing the main villages of Alsace. We took a 2.5 hour train ride from Paris to Strasbourg, stayed one night in Strasbourg, rented a car at Hertz at the Strasbourg airport the next morning (about $150 for 24 hours), and then drove the wine route before dropping our car in Colmar the following morning. You can also fly into one of Alsace’s two major international airports: Basel-Mulhouse and Strasbourg.
WHERE TO STAY IN ALSACE
The wine route is dotted with dozens of charming villages where you can find a place to stay. You’ll find all types of accommodations, from homestays in the countryside to bed and breakfasts in town.
Colmar is considered the capital of the Alsatian wine route and has the most going on—but of the villages, it’s also the most packed with tourists. Riquewihr, Ribeauville, or Kaysersberg are a few of the other more well-known villages, where you’ll be able to find shops, restaurants, and accommodations. If you’re interested in a place more under the radar, some of the other villages that struck my interest were: Turckheim, Eguisheim, and Guebwiller.
Because we were traveling from north to south, we spent one night in Strasbourg before our wine tasting day, and then ended the day Kaysersberg, which was toward the southern end of the route and close to Colmar, where we’d be departing to Switzerland from.
WHERE TO EAT IN ALSACE
1741 (Strasbourg) : We spent one night in Strasbourg before embarking on the wine route, and decided this would be our *special* meal of the trip. Bobby booked a spectacular tasting course with wine pairing at the Michelin-starred 1741. Opened in 2012, the restaurant is set in an early 19th-century mansion with four levels, tastefully decorated in Baroque boudoir style. The lower floors feel like you're in the sitting room of a very chic French aunt. We sat on the top floor, which had a less formal feel and a view into the kitchen. We loved the course after course of elegant dishes, the pairings of local Alsatian rieslings and gewurztraminers, and the BUTTER—when a restaurant has the perfect butter, I know we're in a for a beautiful meal.
Restaurant du Chateau (Kaysersberg) : During our one night in Kaysersberg, we had dinner here on the recommendation of the hotel staff. The cozy restaurant sits across from a pretty fountain and church. Both the dishes and the decor were both classy, modern takes on Alsatian style.
Auberge Le Brochet (Barr) : For lunch during our wine tasting day, we stopped at one of the oldest inns in Barr that was founded in 1514. Nestled in a cozy town square, the winstub (wine lounge) is a typical Alsatian restaurant that serves carafes of wine and many of their traditional foods, like tart flambé and sauerkraut. We also enjoyed the pike filet with Riesling sauce. They have a lovely patio with outdoor seating that would have been glorious for warmer weather.
FOODS TO TRY IN ALSACE
- Definitely try flammekueche (also called tart flambé), a crispy, extra-thin crust flatbread smeared with fromage blanc (fresh white cheese) and heavy cream, then topped with smoked bacon and onions.
- Choucroute garnie is essentially pork and sauerkraut (sauerkraut not pictured). This may have prevented us from getting too tipsy in the afternoon, but also made us a little sleepy.
- White asparagus is also a regional specialty, produced by covering the shoots with soil to prevent photosynthesis.
One last tip: Don't forget to look up! Above the half-timbered houses, you might spot a white stork—the official bird of Alsace.
I have such warm, fond memories of our <48 hours in Alsace and can't wait to experience it a second time. It'd make a great romantic getaway or quick weekend add-on to your visit to a major European city. And the next time, I might try to time a trip to indulge in Alsace's famous Christmas markets.
Almost a year later, my bottle of cremant d'Alsace—painstakingly schlepped from France and through Switzerland before making it home in my checked luggage—still sits in our wine fridge, waiting for a special occasion—or for the first time Bobby and Annie visit me together in Denver!