Every month, My Next Memory gives you our real feedback from a French destination and tells you how it’s really like to travel there.
So buckle up, and come with us. This month, we take you to Alsace!
You might have already sensed it if you read our previous posts that Alsace is one of our favorite winter destinations. Why? First because it is one of the few French regions that really comes alive in the winter with plenty of things to do. And second, Alsace enjoys some kind of micro-climate, making it actually one of the sunniest regions of the country!
How much time to spend in Alsace? And doing what?
Many visitors tend to rush to Strasbourg and Colmar for the sake of convenience, as the city centers are accessible by high-speed train from Paris within 2 or 3 hours.
But really, to discover the best of Alsace, we really recommend you get a car and plan at least 4 or 5 days over there. You will not only have time to wander through the beautiful cities, but you will also be able to explore the countryside, the villages and vineyards!
Architecture and heritage
Alsace is well-known for its easily recognizable colorful houses! This medieval architecture style made from wood pillars was so strong in this region, that it actually survived the ages and has been used for building all new houses until the late 19th century. Alsace houses can be found in the historical center of towns like Colmar but also in all the small villages around: Ribeauvillé, Kayersberg, Eguisheim and many more! Most small villages have pedestrian centers making it really nice and pleasant to discover.
While summer has flowers and a good breeze, winter has one of the highlights of the year: Christmas markets! Ubiquitous in all Alsace towns from early November all the way to Christmas, the markets are enjoyable to shop local souvenirs and artefacts, and to discover local delicacies sold everywhere.
Be traditional and join the locals: grab a glass of hot wine to keep your hands warm while you walk around!
As for major historical sights, the Strasbourg Cathedral and the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg should not be missed! The Castle in particular, overlooking the winter valleys in the clouds, has an ever romantic feeling to it, while you walk past the ancient 12th century rooms still decorated with traditional furniture and objects!
Alsace fine wines
Alsace white wines are probably some of the most underrated by both French people and visitors. So for the wine amateurs looking for great value for money, or for the beginners looking for a friendly initiation to wine, Alsace is perfect!
Thanks to its sunny but cold climate, Alsace is specialized mostly in the production of white wines, using very special grape varieties similar to the ones in Germany, such as Riesling, Gewurtzramminer, Pinot Griggio or Sylvaner. Each of these varieties offer a very unique and distinctive range of aromas, but most of them are made for time: with a high acidity, some of Alsace white wines can be kept for over 15 years and up to 30 for the best of them !
Alsace is also very good at dessert and sweet wines which make perfect pairing for the Christmas time! Look for “Vendanges Tardives” (late harvest) or VT on the label!
Finally, what My Next Memory loves the most with Alsace wines, is the winemakers themselves! Alsace is still one of those few regions where individual visitors can arrive at vineries without appointment, any time, any day and have a free tasting with the producers!
Nature and well-being
Even in the winter, enjoying the outdoors and the indoors for self-recharge is a good idea in Alsace! The region hosts the beautiful mountain range of Les Vosges and a few ski stations, making it a good place for hiking and winter sports at a casual pace, and below 2 000 meters of altitude. The ascent of the Ballon des Vosges, the local summit, is accessible to beginners.
Alsace also has numerous indoor spas which are very appreciated by the locals and visitors alike to unwind after a cold day outside. Most of them are located within hotels and resorts, so just book a few days ahead and you’ll be most welcome to enjoy the heated pools, saunas and massages!
How about accommodation and food?
Well, to be perfectly honest with you, we were not blown away by accommodation in Alsace. It offers mainly two styles of hotels: comfortable, large and often out-of-city center Resorts, fully equipped with sport and spa facilities. Or, within city centers, typical and traditional Alsacian hotels: often family-managed, with few rooms, these little hotels will allow you to discover the very cute and girly Alsace decorations in a comfy room.
On the luxury side, it is worth noting that the main cities both have 5-star hotels in the setting of historical buildings, an option worth considering if your wallet can afford it!
As for food, Alsace is mostly famous for its stews, such as the traditional choucroute, a filling dish combining fermented cabbage, local sausages and potatoes, but also for its flammekuche, a kind of local pizza with a very thin crust, and a base of cream, onions and lard! Local delights all of course served with abundant local biers or wines, and followed by really nice and creamy desserts, very often made with a nice twist of spices such as cinnamon or cloves!
Did you know? Alsace is also home to France’s best jam maker….Nested in a small mountain village almost impossible to find, this shop attracts the best Paris restaurants and celebrities to buy its fine and delicate jams. Shhh it’s a secret!
Alsace is truly a region for the epicureans, willing to take their time and be surprised along their road-trip journey through the villages, the vineries and the mountains! While Alsace does not host the most famous French landmarks, it actually combines great food, wine and historical discoveries for the most curious! Be brave and explore during the winter days, you will be highly rewarded by the warm hospitality and beauty of this region!