Mini guide to Alsace, France
A local parish church and a wine wagon in provincial Alsace, France. (Barbara Van Zanten/LPI)
Alsace is a cultural hybrid with its Germanic dialect and French sense of fashion, its love of foie gras and fine wine, beer and sauerkraut. The landscape is distinctive too, with grand castles and half-timbered houses topped by storks that look like the set of a Disney movie.
The Alsace Wine Route meanders 105 miles from Marlenheim to Thann taking in some of the region’s prettiest countryside. Along the route, family-run wineries, such as Vignoble Klur offer wine-tastings, guided tours and even cookery classes.
Strasbourg’s Gothic cathedral is a riot of filigree stonework and leering gargoyles. To appreciate it at its best, visit in the early evening. A spiral staircase takes you up the 66-metre belfry where you can view the whole city (place de la Cathédral; 7am-7pm; tower admission £4).
Amid the houses of Colmar’s old town runs a series of canals that give the area its name Petite Venise – Little Venice. Wander medieval streets such as rue des Tanneurs, the old leather district, before launching off in a rowboat from the rue de Turenne bridge (£5 for 30 minutes).
The Vosges is a pristine range of mountains, popular with walkers and cyclists, and crowned by ballons (rounded peaks). Highest is the dramatic, wind-buffeted summit of the 1,424-metre Grand Ballon, reached by a short trail from the D431 road.
Famous for its creamy cheese, the cow-grazed Vallée de Munster is one of the loveliest valleys in the Vosges. See the tourist office website for details on dairy farms where you can taste, buy and see Munster in the making.
Eat and drink
Market-fresh cuisine and discreet service lure discerning gourmets to L’Assiette du Vin. The bistro serves classic dishes such as onglet of roast beef (5 rue de la Chaîne; lunch and dinner Tue-Fri, dinner Mon; mains from £7).
Pork cheeks braised in pinot noir, pike dumplings and oxtail are among the fortifying specialities at Zum Pfifferhüs, a convivial wood-beamed winstub (tavern) in the historic Fifers’ House in Ribeauvillé (00 33 3 8973 6228; 14 Grand’ Rue; closed Wed-Thu; menus £20).
Chefs juggling plates of steaming sauerkraut with noodles are just the tip of the iceberg at La Choucrouterie bistro and playhouse. The atmosphere is tavern-like with stone walls and a ceiling hung with retro lamps (20 rue St Louis, Strasbourg; lunch and dinner Mon-Fri, dinner Sat-Sun; mains from £8).
Behind the leaded windows of the Maison des Têtes is a traditional dining room where dishes such as foie gras in riesling are served (19 rue des Têtes, Colmar; lunch and dinner, closed Tue; menus from £25).
Michelin-starred chef John-Lac Brendel is famed for his seasonal cuisine at Table du Gourmet. His menu features home-grown produce such as asparagus and escargots (rue de la Première Armée, Riquewihr; lunch and dinner Fri-Mon, dinner Wed-Thu; menus from £35).
For a dose of old-fashioned romance, check into Hôtel Gilg, a 17th-century half-timbered building with an elegantly rustic restaurant, in the hillside village of Mittelbergheim. A spiral staircase leads up to spacious rooms in pretty pastels, some with wooden beams (00 33 3 8808 9137; 1 route du Vin, Mittelbergheim; from £65).
Vignoble Klur is an organic family-run winery offering wine tastings, cookery classes and herb walks in the vineyards. Ochre walls and wood create a cosy feel in the converted barns, where you can read a book by an open fire, or unwind in the sauna (00 33 3 8980 9429; 105 rue des Trois Epis; from £85).
Bordering the Illwald nature reserve, which is home to France’s largest population of wild deer, the Hôtel L’Illwald is a classic half-timbered structure. It keeps the mood intimate with hardwood floors, four-poster beds and antique pine furnishings (00 33 3 9056 1140; Schnellenbuhl; from £90).
Hotel St Martin sits in a prime location on Colmar’s place de l’Ancienne Douane. The 14th-century patrician house is decorated with handcrafted Alsatian furniture and French fabrics. Choose a top-floor room for sweeping rooftop views (00 33 3 8924 1151; 38 Grand Rue; from £100).
Once an ice factory, the Hôtel Régent Petite France is now Strasbourg’s hottest design hotel. The luxury waterfront pile has a traditional exterior and super modern interiors. There is also a champagne bar with views of the River Ill (00 33 3 8876 4343; 5 rue des Moulins, Strasbourg; from £170).
When to go