The Vibrant Palette of Alsace
Explore the most colorful region of France
The medieval Alsace region in France is suddenly in the spotlight. Take a leisurely stroll on the cobblestone streets and look up in admiration at the brightly colored half-timbered houses. It’s no wonder that the Alsatian villages provided the architectural inspiration for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Alsace is a historical region with Germanic influences located in northeastern France and counts Germany and Switzerland as its bordering neighbors.
The fairytale villages really look like a page out of Beauty and the Beast and the “little town” and “quiet village” Belle sings about with a tinge of apathy. But don’t be fooled by its small town appearance. The Alsace region boasts the greatest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants in the world and its famed Alsatian wine route is one to be rivaled.
I teamed up with Expedia.ca to bring you three cities and villages you need to visit in Alsace today:
Strasbourg is the capital city of the Alsace region. This large city became my hub as I traveled back and forth between the other smaller villages by TGV train. The Strasbourg Central Station – the glass building itself is a modern piece of art – is centrally located and is a short walk to the city center.
EXPLORE Take a scenic boat cruise for an overview of the main attractions, including Place Kléber, the central square in Strasbourg. Walk up to the Strasbourg Cathedral and stand in awe at this masterpiece of Gothic architecture. The delicate carvings on the facade are so richly ornate it looks as if the structure is shrouded in a thin veil of lace. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Petite France feature buildings from the 16th and 17th centuries.
SHOP The Grand Île is home to a cosmopolitan shopping center with two high-end department stores – Galeries Lafayette and Printemps.
EAT If you want to have a great alfresco meal in the heart of Petite France and don’t mind a bit of a wait, you have to eat at La Corde de Ligne. I really enjoyed the relaxing vibe over a pint of beer.
When you imagine an idiosyncratic fairytale town with charming houses, cobblestone paths, and geranium-framed windows, Colmar totally fits the bill. If you’re lucky enough, you might even see a stork nesting on a rooftop. Buildings in Colmar were once painted a certain color based on the type of shop. Today, the colorful half-timbered buildings have become a tradition of Alsatian architecture.
EXPLORE Colmar is every Instagrammer’s dream! Find the building with the bicycle mounted on its façade in the Tanner’s District. Visit Little Venice where you can board a boat from Saint-Pierre Bridge for a 30-minute ride. Colmar is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, the Statue of Liberty sculptor and the Bartholdi Museum holds a large collection of his artworks.
SHOP Visit the Covered Market for the freshest selection of cheeses, pretzels and produce. Rue Des Clefs has all the stores you would find in any major city center. I forgot to bring my face sunscreen that day, but luckily I stumbled upon a Sephora in this town.
EAT There is no shortage of great restaurants in Colmar that highlight the region’s authentic local flavors. I had the most delightful lunch at the 2-Michelin starred, JY’S sitting on the terrace overlooking the river. Read more about my 3-course JY’s lunch here.
Along the Alsace Wine Route, there are picturesque villages set among sun-drenched vineyards and Riquewihr is truly the gem of the region.
EXPLORE The town is a perfect specimen of medieval architecture. Channel your inner Belle by dancing around the Fontaine de la Sinne, built in 1560. Nearby, the Thieves’ Tower is an 18 meter high tower that is pentagonal on the outside and square on the inside. Take a ride on the Petit Train and look for the timber-framed Nail Maker’s House that features two corner posts sculpted in the shape of a man.
SHOP Riquewihr is a wine producing town and Riesling is one of its specialties. Visit one of the many wine cellars for a great bottle of Alsatian wine.
EAT Regional specialties include the traditional Alsatian tarte flambée, (a thin flatbread similar to pizza without tomato paste), spaetzle (a dense egg noodle), sauerkraut, and kougelhopf (a bundt cake).
The slower pace and more old-fashioned way of life in Alsace left me feeling refreshed and rejuvenated. I highly recommend visiting Alsace, France soon, as the small towns aren’t too badly overrun by tourists – yet.