I discovered Alsace purely by coincidence.
After reading Peter Mayle’s lavish books, I couldn’t stop dreaming of Provence. Its lavender scented air, generous Mediterranean sunshine, glorious vineyards with their fine terroir, colourful fields of flowers and the seductive glamour of the Cote d’Azur. Nice, Saint-Tropez, Marseilles, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Gordes, Grasse, Arles, Manosque; with a list like that, it’s very hard not to get carried away.
Early 2015 was a particularly depressing gray winter here in the rainy West Coast of Canada. As I was plotting our itinerary, I forgot that when we finally get to France it would be at the full height of summer. A magnolia skinned ex-Albertan, Al, my husband was terrified he’d burn his skin to a blistered lobster red. He put an immediate stop to my madness. Paris was a given but my heart was dead-set on Provence. As a protest, I didn’t pick up the travel guides until April. With just two months left to plan the rest of our 5-week trip to France, I had to quickly find a substitute for Provence.
One night, I saw a picture of Colmar while I was browsing Pinterest. I clicked it and found similar pins. I had to do quite a bit of digging because unlike Provence, it doesn’t seem like a well-known tourist destination. Surprisingly, it is only 2.5 hours away from Charles de Gaul Airport in Paris on the high-speed TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse).
There’s something magical about the romantic fairy-tale villages of Alsace. This little corner of Europe seems to exist happily between the present and the past. It was a surreal experience walking in places that by weird logic could only possibly exist in books of fairy-tales except there were no princes and princesses or witches and evil villains. Instead real living and breathing present day human beings inhabit these villages and go on with their lives. These post-card perfect medieval villages dot the Alsatian landscape like colourful precious gems against an ocean of wheat fields and vineyards.
As luck would have it, a family friend lives in Kaysersberg. Strangely enough it didn’t occur to me to tell her that we were going to France. She was our gracious and generous hostess during our stay which made it all the more special.
On the day of our visit, she took us to her home where three generations of her husband’s family live in a 200-year-old half-timbered Alsatian house. She prepared a feast of foie gras made by her mother-in-law’s friend, eggplant caviar with crème fraiche, lamb stew served with buttery egg noodles and freshly made baguettes from the baker next door. There were about five different wines to go with the meal, all from the wineries around the village. For dessert, we had a creamy honey bundt jelly cake with fresh red currants and berries from their garden.
Our friend took us for a walk around Kaysersberg. She then drove us to see Riquewihr, Bergheim, Ribeauvilée, then on to Eguisheim before dropping us back to our apartment in Colmar. A few days later, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, she took us to the magnificent Château du Haute-Kœnigsburg. Because naturally, no fairy-tale is complete without seeing the castle.
To plan your own trip to the vineyards of Alsace, visit:
Tip: If you plan to visit the villages along the wine route, it is best to use Colmar as your base. It’s advisable to rent a car as the bus trips between villages are infrequent. To find out about the transport information, visit the Tourism Alsace site. While the site is in French, you can find out more about the bus schedule on the Trace website.