In the Northeast of France, lies the splendid land of Alsace-Lorraine, perched on the edge of Germany and Switzerland. The culinary tradition, heavily-influenced by the neighboring Germanic cuisine, offers a wide variety of unique delicacies that will accompany you all along the River Rhine plains. Here's a short itinerary we followed over the course of 4 days, that will hopefully guide you through the good living of this region and its fairy-tale like landscapes.
Our first stop on this long weekend was the largest city of the Grand Est, the capital of Alsace, Strasbourg. From the main train station, we passed by the Barrage Vauban, and headed towards la Grande Île, awarded World Heritage Status by UNESCO back in 1988. We wandered around the greatly-preserved streets of Petite France for the entire morning, admiring the unique French and German mix of influence on the city’s architecture.
Shortly after having crossed the swing-bridge, we sat down at the Brasserie La Corde a Linge for a quick lunch, savoring some of their freshest products. We ordered La Planchette d'Henri (a mix of local cheese and meat platter) together with the "Terrine de Campagne Maison" that is served with a delicious home-made pear compote.
In the afternoon, we further explored the inner city and its street markets and reached the imposing gothic cathedral of Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, where we later felt tempted to taste our first glass of wine at one of the many winstubs (wine rooms) nearby. I suggest you try the "Terres a Vin", for a variety of different aromatic wines made of the native white grape variety Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
At night, we returned to the inner city to try our chance at the Binchstub without a reservation. We had come here to try our first Flammekueche. This thin bread dough is a well-known local specialty, which typically comes served with fromage blanc (white cheese) and lardon (pork fat). We accompanied this with a glass of Klevener de Heiligenstein, a deliciously soft and fruity local white wine.
The morning after, we hopped on a train and reached the lovely little city of Sélestat in less than 20 minutes. We stayed at the Hostellerie de la Pommeraie, a fine example of Renaissance architecture. The Pommeraie hostelry is a charming private house with a remarkable roof, just a few minutes away from the historical center.
The town of Sélestat takes his name from the giant Sletto, who according to local legends, founded this town. Sélestat prospered in the 19th century from its intellectual influence and evidence can be found at the Humanist Library, one of the three great cultural treasures of Alsace. To maximize your time around the city, I suggest you walk around Quarter des Tanneurs then visit Tour des Sorcières, walking past Porte de Strasbourg, and ending at the Church of Saint-Georges.
From Sélestat, you should make time to visit the Castle of Haut-Koenigsbourg nearby. If you are traveling without a car, you can hop on one of the navette (local bus) that leaves from the train station for about 5eur (one-way). There's a bus leaving about every hour, and it will get you to the castle in a little more than 30 minutes. This prestigious fortress is very well preserved and will plunge you back into a medieval epoch if you decide to visit its interiors. If you have sufficient time, you can also visit the Parc des Singes where over 200 Barbary macaques roam free in 60 acres of beautiful forest. Atypical in France or Europe.
Sélestat provided us with some unique culinary experiences. A local woman we met around the city during the day, suggested we either try the Restaurant la Vieille Tour or Restaurant Bon Pichet. We tried the later, where we had the Teutonic-renowned Choucroute Garnie, a feast of pork and sauerkraut accompanied by a bottle of Frankstein, an aromatic white wine made of a mix of Riesling and Gewurztraminer grapes. At dinner, we learned the many health benefits of sauerkraut and even how this finely cut cabbage was supposedly brought all the way from China by the troops of the Mongol Emperor Ghenkis Khan, more than 2000 years ago!
On our third day, we headed further south to the city of Colmar. Literally, less than 10 minutes ride by train from Sélestat. We dropped our luggage at the bike shop near Colmar's train station and made our way to the historic center where we were ended up surrounded by a large mass of Asian and German tourists, taking infinite pictures around Colmar's cathedral.
Colmar offers a wide variety of restaurants with inviting open-air terraces where you surely should take a short break and try one of the many local beers for a change. Don't miss the chance to snack on a slice of Quiche Loraine, a savory open flan consisting of a pastry crust usually filled with eggs, cheese and meat. If you had too many Quiches already, try a Camembert au Four, a wheel of camembert cheese cooked within a wrap of flaky puff pastry. We clearly did so at Restaurant Pfeffel, after walking 2.5 hours along the self-guided and signposted trail (golden triangles embossed with Lady Liberty) that leads you around the city.
Make sure you visit Little Venice, one of the most attractive parts of the Old Town. Also, taking a Colmar canal tour is probably the best way to see the beautifully decorated homes along the river. Other major highlights in Colmar include the Pfister House, the House of Heads and the beautiful brick and metal Market Halls that dates back to 1865.
For our last stop, we took a cab to a little village called Kientzheim, where we had booked our stay at a magnificent and reasonably-cheap hotel called, Hotel l'Abbaye d'Aspalch... ideally located on the Alsace Wine Route. The Alsace Wine Route is one of the oldest wine routes in France, winding some 170 km across over 70 different wine-growing villages, which can all be explored (and savored) all year round. If you are planning your trip, you can find all the information you need on the Alsace Wine Route official website. I strongly suggest you rent a car to make the most out of your trip.
In the late evening, we walked over to the town center of Kaysersberg nearby, for our last dinner in the heart of Alsace. We quickly realized that most restaurants were closing their doors at 21.00, and decided to try out Le Chambard, a 2 Michelin-star restaurant where we indulged in some flavourful escargots de la Weiss and a unique variety of flammekueche covered with fresh black truffle.
Lastly, If you decide to bring home some local wine back with you, I suggest you pay a visit to the caveau (French for wine cellar) of the Famille Blanck back in Kientzheim. You'll get a chance to taste and purchase a wide variety of Grand Crus, which are aged for several years before being offered for sale.
Although we did not manage to visit cities such as Nancy or Metz, we did savor a generous slice of Alsace in just a few days. All in all, this short itinerary has offered the perfect weekend getaway for the many of us who enjoy nature, wine-tasting and immersive culinary experiences.