Alsace’s Picturesque Small Towns

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Of our three days in Strasbourg, we spent one of them driving with our friends through the countryside: the route de vin. Alsace, which runs along the border of France and Germany, follows the Rhine river, with the backdrop of the Vosges mountains on the west and the Black Forest on the east. The gently sloping hills make it the perfect climate for growing grapes.

The itinerary shared here is simply what my friends and I did. I honestly don’t think you can go wrong stopping in any of these charming medieval towns, especially if you’ve rented a car and are in charge of your own schedule. Otherwise, if you book a tour, the guide is sure to take you to some of the best spots.

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Flower ranking system

As we entered our first small town, Eguisheim, I was acquainted with an interesting flower ranking system that really tickled me. At the entrance to each town, a cheerful yellow sign greeted visitors with an indication of one to four flowers. This ranking system in touristic and charming regions around France. Without more context, I assumed it was more or less a “how charming” ranking, but I did some hunting online and discovered the organization’s website.

As it turns out, a city can earn up to four flowers, indicating the qualite de vie. Determining factors include ambiance, respect for the environment, and commitment to gardening.

More from The Voyageer… Where I’ve been —Where I’ve loved

Château Saint-Léon (the pink building)

The cities where we stopped

Eguisheim

The first town we stopped in was Eguisheim (Egg-wees-hyme). This city was one of the inspirations for the artists who animated Belle’s town in Beauty and the Beast. It was voted France’s finest town in 2013. In the photo above, you can see the famous Château Saint-Léon.

The first defining feature of this medieval town is that it is constructed of two nested circles. (Look it up on Google Maps if you are having a tough time picturing it). This brilliant construction kept the town safe from invaders for centuries. Today it is easy to leisurely walk the whole circuit and take in the charming half-timbered houses.

Escargots and Baeckoffe at Caveau Heuhaus

We had lunch at Caveau Heuhaus, which serves traditional Alsatian food. Sitting downstairs in the caveau (vault, cave) surrounded by ancient stone walls I really got a sense of the town’s history and heritage. The food was phenomenal, too. Don’t forget to make a reservation before you go—the restaurant is very popular.

Ammerschwihr, Riquewihr, Mittelbergheim

I don’t recall heading far into Ammerschwihr since our main destination was outside town at Domaine Christian Binner, a winery known for its avant-garde, funky natural wines. (More on natural wines a little farther down). We were given a tour by Béatrice, one of the third-generation owners. She described how with natural wine, each wine is like a child—she doesn’t know how it will turn out until it ages.

Riquewihr was extremely picturesque and very bustling. It calls itself the “open-air museum” owing to the fact that its buildings were spared from destruction in several European wars and the city looks much like it did in the 16th century. We snacked on waffles and cafe au lait as we watched the crowds of tourists pass by.

We followed up our waffle and coffee snack with a leisurely aperitif in a vineyard overlooking another small town, Mittelbergheim. In October the harvest had finished but there were still a few leftover grapes left on the vines. Watching the sun set and enjoying each other’s company reminded me that traveling is not dependent on a strict itinerary… enjoying the moment is the most important thing. After dusk, we finished the day with a gourmet dinner at Am Lindeplatzel where we were some of the last customers left at the end of the night and got to chat at length with the chef.

Natural wine

First let me point out that most of the wine made in Alsace is the “normal” kind, like what you would pick up in the store. However, our friend and guide is crazy for natural wine, and that factored heavily into our wine-tour itinerary.

Natural wines are identified by the process of fermenting and bottling the grapes. That is, they use no sulfites or additives, so every year’s vintage can be different. It’s a bit of a gamble, but unpredictability is part of the charm of this ancient winemaking tradition. If you’re interested, two of my friend’s favorite natural winemakers are Domaine Christian Binner and Domaine Pierre Frick.

If you want to learn more about natural wine, please seek a more knowledgeable teacher. Here are some articles to get you started:

Small-group day tour of Alsace from Colmar: The 4 Wonders of Alsace. From Viator.

Where to Stay in Alsace

Booking.com

Thanks for joining me. I only made it to a few towns… Did you visit one that I missed? Please share your experience in the comments!

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Photos by Doug and Staci Jackson for The Voyageer.

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