Anyone looking for “l’Art de Vivre” (the Art of Living), will find it in Alsace. Whether fine wines or fresh cheeses from the cheese dairy, indulgent pleasure is a top priority in this small region of eastern France. To top it off, the landscape alternates between alpine mountains, high pastures, lakes and vineyards and does not only cast outdoor enthusiasts under its spell. At the heart of Alsace are medieval towns and villages with a particularly romantic flair. Alsace is full of surprises and ideal for cultural trips or simply for relaxing. Its famous vineyards entice thousands to this region. Christian Dior said: "A small glass of Alsatian wine is like a summer dress or a spring flower; it is a ray of sunshine that makes life brighter."
Elsass: Most important regions & places at a glance
Elsass © Hotel Château de l’Ile
Northern Alsace: Romantic towns, Hiking trails & Vantage points
This area once belonged to the House of Staufer. Even today, manor houses and castles testify to the influence of the noble family. The hilly and mountainous landscape in the German-French border region attracts many hikers and winter sports enthusiasts; cities, like Wissembourg and Haguenau, entice with their dreamlike street scenes.
Classic Sightseeing: Haguenau is one of the residences of the former Hohenstaufen emperor Barbarossa. Many imperial diets took place here over a long period of time. Remains of the once magnificent city walls of Haguenau and the Musée Historique (9 rue du Maréchal Foch) are reminiscent of the Staufer days. In the latter, you can also view ancient pieces of the Bronze Age from the many excavations that took place in Alsace.
In Goethe’s footsteps: In the small village of Sessenheim, the German poet laureate, Goethe fell in love with the young priest’s daughter, Friederike Brion, whose family he stayed with. In his notes, Goethe, who studied at the Strasbourg University, raves about Miss Brion. Today, in Sessenheim there is a small but charming Goethe memorial (Rue Fréderique Brion) and the restaurant, Auberge Au Boeuf (1 rue de L’Eglise) boasts not only good food, but also a private Goethe Museum, in which visitors can see the correspondence betwee Goethe and Friederike for themselves.
Romantic vantage points and parks: When the fog in the woods around the Château du Haut-Barr, around 5km from Saverne, clears in the morning, you feel as though you have been transported into a romantic painting. The Château, once built for Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, stands on three sandstone cliffs and offers a breathtaking view across the Rhine plain to the Black Forest from the crenellations. The rose garden in Saverne is a true scent experience in spring and summer. The strictly geometrical garden with more than 500 different varieties and more than 8500 bushes doesn’t only attract flower lovers and botanists.
Alsatian gourmet cuisine: Despite being an otherwise unremarkable location, Francois Paul’s Le Cygne (5 Grand’Rue) in Gundershoffen is one of Alsace’s best and well-visited restaurants. The kitchen is so good that three years ago, Paul was awarded two Michelin Guide Michelin stars.
Vosges: Alpine, Outdoor sports & Cheese street
The Vosges in the east are the geographical highlight of Alsace. Truly magnificent views can be seen from its 1400m peak. It is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts thanks to its many hiking and mountain biking trails. The culinary highlight of the region is the strong Munsterkäse, which is served here and not only on the farms in Munstertal.
Cheese street: What the French and Germans like to call “Cheese street” starts right behind Turckheim. In the Ferme-Auberges, surrounded by extensive pastures, the famous Munsterkäse is still being produced in the same way it was 500 years ago. There are still a number of these old cheese dairies, where you can taste the cheese directly. If you follow the cheese street further into the Vosges, you will reach the high pastures on which the cows graze in summer. The landscape is picturesque with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside.
Alpine sports: Located at over a thousand meters on the Route de Crest ski area, "Le Markstein" is a mecca for sports and leisure fans. Where skiing takes place in winter, kites are flown in the warmer months. There are also mountain biking trails as well as a summer toboggan run.
Hiking trails & Mountain lakes: The landscape of the Vosges has clear alpine features, especially in the higher elevations. Barren rocks, and rugged gorges define the area. The Martinswand in the high Vosges is a good example and is very popular with climbers. Around the former pass, Col de la Schlucht, there are a variety of trails that lead along the numerous mountain lakes. You can regain your strength frequently by taking in the panoramic views in one of the mountain stations. If you are not so good on foot, you can also drive along the mountain ridges by car.
Route de Vins d’Alsace: Wine Route, Gourmet & Quaint village squares
An ancient Roman road more than 2000 years old, a multitude of wineries and the splendid landscape of the Vosges: this is the Alsatian wine route that stretches 170km from north to south. Not only does it pass by more than a third of all wineries in Alsace, but the villages and places on the route often enchant with picturesque squares, archaeological sites and cozy restaurants.
Museum hopping: Ribeauvillé is a small medieval town on the wine route and home to the oldest cooperative wine cooperative in Alsace, which was founded in 1895. Today, in the Cave de Ribeauvillé (2 rte de Colmar), there is a museum showing the history of viticulture. Additionally, there are regular tastings with wines from the local vineyard. On weekends, local winemakers meet here to chat and get together. The Bibliothèque Humaniste (1 rue de la Bibliothèque) in Sélestat allows you to travel back in time to the humanistic world of 600 years ago. It is by far the oldest library in Alsace and includes hundreds of valuable manuscripts. You can also visit the oldest book of Alsace, dating back to the 8th century.
Gourmet cuisine: Would you like to eat like a French president? Well, you can at the Hostellerie Ville de Lyon (1 rue Poincarè). Chef Philippe Bohrer learned his craft from star chef and gourmet legend, Paul Bocuse before cooking at the Elysee Palace for the French head of state. Wine connoisseurs get their money’s worth at Le Caveau d’Eguisheim (3 pl du Château-St-Léon) - Patron Jean-Christophe Perrin not only serves top wines from the region in the winegrower’s town center, he also serves local cuisine that combines the best of Alsace with modern flavors.
Jam and sweet treats: Pastry chocolatier, Ferber (18 rue Trois-Epis) in Turckheim is a temptingly sweet-scented paradise for jam lovers. According to locals and the trade press, pastry chef, Ferber produces by far the best jams and jellies in the region.
Sundgau: Lakes & Water sports far away from the tourist trails
The Sundgau, which extends between the cities of Basel, Mulhouse and Belfort, is very popular with canoeists, boaters and anglers, who can enjoy the many picturesque waterways and lakes here, far away from mass tourism.
Boat trips: The Rhine-Rhône Canal runs here in the southern part of Alsace in snaking riverlets. It was once the most important connection between the Mediterranean and the North Sea. The Sundgau is best enjoyed aboard a sailboat or on a yacht. The canal locks between Wolfersdorf and Valdieu spans more than 30m and is not only worth seeing, but also a real experience aboard a ship.
Cycle tours along the canal: Workers used to tug boats up the canal, today the so-called towpaths are a splendid 25km cycling route. The reed-covered river is picturesque in all its splendor.
Strasbourg: Capital between province and big city flair
Strasbourg is where opposites attract: old meets new, city meets province, German and French influence each other. The landmark of the city is the Staßburger Münster, and the European Parliament also has its seat here, whose deputies, as well as the students of Strasbourg University, give the city a charming big city flair.
Notre-Dame: The beauty of the Notre-Dame, the Strasbourg Cathedral, cast a spell over Goethe and Viktor Hugo. Regardless of the time of day or the light, the Gothic cathedral, with its hundreds of gargoyles carved in the cornice and water spouts, is simply impressive. Upon the completion of the northern tower in 1439, it was the highest of its time. Its southern tower was never built. Those who would like to have a quieter and less crowded visit are advised to visit in the early hours of the evening. You can also enjoy breathtaking views of the old town from the astronomical clock.
Museum Center: Strasbourg has a number of museums to visit, all within walking distance of each other. The Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (Place Hans Arp) shows important works of classical modernism, as well as a large collection of the Strasbourg-born abstractionist, Hans Arp. Another son of the city is the illustrator, Tomi Ungerer. There is a small museum dedicated to him, (2 av de la Marseillaise), in which visitors can trace the progress of his artistic career. La Vaisseau (1bis rue Philippe Dollinger) is a science and technology museum whose interactive exhibits invite everyone, especially children, to make exciting discoveries.
Patisserie shopping: Mireille Osters (14 rue des Dentelles) Bakery is all about gingerbread. Whether with figs, cinnamon, amaretto or chocolate, their hand-sculpted pain d’épices are a real treat. In the Rue de l’Outre, Patisseur Christian creates such wonderfully light macarons in dozens of flavors that they are almost a work of art and Coco LM gives an overview of the sweet Alsatian specialties: gingerbread, Beerawecka, fruit cakes, Gugelhupf (bundt cake) and the spicy ginger biscuit, Gingerli.
Alsatian specialties in the European quarter: Located in the modern European quarter, the Buerehiesel (Parc de l’Orangerie) by Eric Westermann is one of the top gourmet addresses in Alsace, where a modernized version of Alsatian specialties is served. Classic stews and sauerkraut served in ceramic pots can be enjoyed at the Maison Kammerzell (16 Place de la Cathedrale) or the Maison des Tanneurs (42 rue du Bain aux Plantes).
Hip beer & Bar district: South of the cathedral is Strasbourg’s bar district. In the bars and pubs on the Rue de Juifs, the Rue des Frères and the Rue des Soeurs, the Alsace wine region revolves around the beer. Some restaurants have hundreds of varieties on offer. This is where more than the 50,000 students of Strasbourg University start their evenings with a cold beer. As such, the crowd is mostly young and the atmosphere relaxed.
Colmar: Small Venice & Romantic flair
The historic Colmar is all about the Alsatian way of life: cultivated, fine and small. Behind often crooked half-timbered façades are boutiques and shops with culinary delicacies, specialties and wine bars. The former tanner’s quarter and the adjoining Little Venice invite you to take a romantic walk.
Tanner’s Quarter & Little Venice: The narrow streets of the old tanner’s quarter are best explored without a road map. You get a really authentic medieval feeling while taking a walk around the rue de Clefs and the Grand’ Rue. The crooked half-timbered houses add to this unique atmosphere. The adjoining district of Little Venice on the River Lauch not only lives up to its name, but transports you back to bygone times. When twilight falls, the surroundings with its little streams, old buildings and boats are picture perfect.
Medieval Art: The Unterlindenmuseum, built around a Gothic-style Dominican monastery, has a multi-award winning collection of medieval stone statues, as well as prints by Martin Schongauer dating back to the 15th century. The main attraction, however, is the Isenheim altar by the German painter, Matthias Grünewald, which depicts scenes from the New Testament and is one of the most important works of German painting. Works by Picasso and Renoir are displayed as part of the museum’s collection of modern art.
Gourmet shopping: Colmar has so many gourmet and food shops that you are literally forced to pamper yourself at the highest gourmet level. Les Foie Gras de Liesel (3 rue Turenne) owned by the Willmanns is a paradise for lovers of goose and duck pate. It has a reputation among locals as being the best in the city. If you are looking for the Fromagerie St-Nicolas in the street of the same name, it’s best to follow your nose. The fine smell of Munster, Tomme and ripe Camembert cheese will show you the way. The matching wine from biodynamic cultivation can be tasted and sampled at Maison Martin Judd (12 rue de L’Ange).
Mulhouse: Industrial city & Magnificent architecture
What culture and history is to Strasbourg, and romance is to Colmar, is the industry to Mulhouse. In particular, the textile industry has a long tradition here and brought the city considerable wealth, which can still be admired today in the many magnificent buildings from this period.
Architectural sightseeing: Stephanskirche, located on Place de la Réunion, dominates the old town of Mulhouse with its 97 meter high tower. In particular, its ten stained-glass windows - donated in 1340 by Count von Ferette and still completely intact - are worth seeing. The Renaissance-style Hôtel de Ville, whose hand-painted facade draws the eye, is located in the same square. On the south side of the square are the so-called Mieghäuser - a series of brightly painted and colorfully mixed houses from the first years of the 15th century.
Automotive & Technical museums: The Cité de l’Automobile (192 av de Colmar) is a veritable tribute to the car. Over 400 cars and engines are shown here, ranging from a historic Rolls Royce to modern racing giants like a Bugatti or a Formula One race car. The Musée de l ’Impression su Étoffes (14 rue Jean-Jacques Henner), on the other hand, is a mecca for textile designers. From cashmere to printed silk fabrics, thousands of fabric samples are exhibited here. Mulhouse’s past as a textile trade metropolis gave the city the reputation of being the Manchester of France.
Multicultural market: There are many weekly and daily markets in Alsace, but none of them quite emanates the friendly multi-cultural flair as that of Mulhouse (Roosevelt). Many of the farmers and traders selling here come from the north of Africa and the clientele is a mix of long-established Alsatians and immigrants who buy everything here, ranging from household supplies on Tuesdays and Thursdays to everything from fruits and vegetables to colorful textiles on Saturdays.
Hiking and dining with a view: Just outside Mulhouse is the Chalet Hôtel du Grand Ballon. A wooden structure built in 1922, located on the Grand Ballon and now operated by the regional hiking club. The decor is sparse, but the most spectacular thing about this chalet is its breathtaking views from the terrace. It is without a doubt the ideal place for resting after a busy day exploring the highlands of the Vosges.
Alsace – good to know:
Year round destination: Alsace is a great place to visit all year round, but especially in the spring and the fall, when the varied landscape of the region shows itself in all its glory. In winter, the landscape is covered in snow and attracts winter sports enthusiasts.
Viticulture: Viticulture has a very long tradition in Alsace. Presumably, this goes back to the Celts, who lived here in pre-Roman times. Later, various monastic orders cultivated the art of viticulture. The long German influence on Alsace ensured that the white wines grown here differ fundamentally from those made in the rest of France.
Local weekly markets: Every self-respecting village and small town in Alsace has a weekly market. Here, as a tourist, you can get an insight into the life of the Alsatians. At the same time, you can taste and sample some of the specialties of the region, often directly from the producer. Wine, cheese, sweets, everything Alsace has to offer.
Car industry: In addition to wine and cheese, in recent decades, Alsace has earned a reputation as an automotive region. This industry is one of the most important employers in Alsace, whose history can be traced in the museum in Mulhouse. And it is one that goes way back. Emile Mathis of Strasbourg, together with Ettore Bugatti, laid the foundation stone for the automotive industry at the beginning of the last century.
Alsatian: In Alsace, many influences merge with each other, which is also true for linguistics. "Elsasserditsch" can still be heard here and there and is easy to for Germans to understand, while being completely incomprehensible to French ears. This results in many conflicts. On the one hand, the Alsatian language should be protected, but on the other hand, French is clearly the official language. For tourists, the dialect is a charming feature that, like vineyards and cheese dairies, are part of the image of Alsace.