A Few Quick Stories: Alsace Region, France
An Impending European Apocalypse
My boyfriend and I spent the two weeks before our trip completely worried about the weather, and obsessively checking the forecast. We had originally planned to go back to the Harz Mountains in Germany; it was one of our favorite previous trips. But as our vacation came closer the forecast went from partly cloudy, to possible showers, and then became what some might call a sign of the impending apocalypse.
I immediately got on my computer and searched around Google Maps for other places. There seemed to be a black cloud of rain covering the entirety of Europe that week, but finally I found an area that looked dry; the Alsace Region of France. Never having heard of this area I did a quick search and realized I had a picture on my Pinterest board of a town I had always wanted to go to, and it was in the area: Colmar, France. Imagine the cutest, most cookie cutter looking town you can imagine and then multiply that by 100.
Jan and I consider ourselves pretty adventurous and have been going on road trips together since we first met. We only had about 4 days away including travel time, so we hit the road without any booked hotels and decided to see where the wind or his Volvo would take us.
We drove about 7 hours before arriving to Colmar, France, just outside the vineyards of the Alsace Region, in the early evening and booked a stay at the Best Western Hotel Bristol. It was a small (or cozy, depending on how full your glass is) room, but comfortable with a good breakfast. I’m with a Dutch man who loves his free breakfasts, and loves to pile up his plate. “I get my money’s worth,” he likes to say. The great thing is that we were a 10 minute walk from the center.
After checking in to the hotel on our first evening, we took a walk through a lovely park with the most amazing carousel I’ve ever seen; childhood dreams were realized while looking at it. Taking a walk there literally made me feel like I was in a fairy tale and an evil witch was going to kidnap me, stuff me with candy, and boil me for supper (the candy part sounded good.) In this village you can hear your own footsteps on the cobblestone streets. A small stream of water runs through the center, half-timbered houses with bright colors adorn the streets, and soft pretzel stalls are on many corners. Plus, the Alsace Region is famous for wine. ‘Nuff said. This region is also famous for storks. You know, that story about the giant bird that will drop a baby on your door step. I decided I would go for the wine and stay away from the stork.
Most of the stores were closing for the night but we found an area near the canal that looked nice, and I spotted a bar with not so flattering purple light but alcohol nonetheless. Thinking about the famous Alsace wine, I asked the bartender what kind of wine she recommended, but she was not in the mood to speak English to a couple of tourists (most French people aren’t, as we soon discovered.) Eventually, we managed to get a beer and I tried a pinot gris.
Fortunately, we were across the street from the one restaurant that wasn’t French; Restaurant Romantica. Yes, an Italian restaurant. Blasphemy! No offense to French people, I know they are very famous for their cuisine, but it has never been my cup of tea. I had linguine carbonara and Jan had a giant pizza; we did drink wine from the Alsace Region though! The waitress brought it to the table in a rubber bag of ice to keep it cold. Interesting. The restaurant had a cozy atmosphere, and we left full, satisfied and slightly drunk. We stumbled around a bit near the cathedral in the center while I managed to read the city map under a street light, but eventually we made it back to the hotel.
Screen goes black. Soft, 70’s porn music plays. You know what happens.
We eat some pastries for dessert. Get your mind out of the gutter.
The next morning we made a point of finding the “Little Venice” area. Similar to how most big cities have a China town, every city with canals enjoys calling it “Little Venice.” We took a little walk around the Marché Couvert de Colmar, and I made sure to salivate over a soft pretzel stand. The half-timbered houses in the Alsace Region are in bright pinks and yellows, and it has exactly the kind of atmosphere that feels so romantic I want to squeeze my boyfriend’s face with all the love bursting out of me. Or pinch his butt.
How Do You Pronounce Riquewihr?
We got back in the car, programmed the GPS and headed to a couple small towns I had written down after seeing them on a list of cutest towns in the area. First stop, Riquewihr. And no, I still can’t pronounce it. Riquewihr is an adorable little town perched high up in the wine vineyards, and since we went in February we only saw one Asian tour group, and a couple families with babies. I should think that in the summer, towns like these can get pretty crowded with tourists (judging by the amount of spaces they had for large buses in the parking lot) so if you can come here during the off season I recommend it.
Riquewihr was one of the few towns not damaged during World War II, and is considered one of the most beautiful villages in France; seriously, it’s par of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The most beautiful villages of France”) association. This association sounds like something Taylor would come up with on Gilmore Girls. It also retains its medieval architecture with a castle overlooking the town and one of those pointy, intimidating gates that comes down at the entrance.
Jan and I stopped at a tea salon to get something hot to drink. The waitress didn’t speak a word of English and kept running away after we ordered each item, which became a bit comical. Finally we managed to get a Coke Zero and hot chocolate our of her but it took ages to explain we didn’t want mint syrup in the Coke. I think foreign countries keep these people around to make your travels interesting, maybe the tourism center even pays them.
After a couple hours in Riquewihr we drove through some breath taking vineyards in the Alsace Region, before stopping in Eguisheim. I will never pronounce this one correctly either. Every time I said it, I was half expecting the person next to me to yell “gesundheit!” This was a lovely little town, with not a soul on the street; although we did get a free parking ticket from a nice family who were done using it. We took a stroll, marveled at the half-timbered houses, and sat in a church over-looking the main square. In 20 minutes we had seen the town and were ready to find another cookie cutter town that would make everyone on Instagram sigh with travel envy.
We decided to drive down to Mulhouse, which is a bigger city, and we booked a room at the Hotel Mercure on the way. It was comfortable, modern, and had a great view of the cathedral in the center. During your travels in France you will find that every single city or even tiny village has an enormous cathedral, which just adds to the fancy, historical setting that encompasses France.
If I Eat a Macaroon, Will I Look French to You?
There is just something about the architecture, the bakeries, the wine; France just has that “je ne sais quoi.” Do I sound French? After visiting here I’ve decided to put a big effort into becoming more like a stereotypical French woman. I’m going to drink wine, listen to Carla Bruni music, wear a lot of black, and wear my lace bralet to bed every night. Do I sound like I’ll fit in? Or, maybe it’s just easier to stuff my face with Macaroons and watch Amelie in my sweatpants. I like to keep the balance between French and American.
Kama Sutra Alsatian
Jan and I took a stroll through Mulhouse (you’ll find there is a lot of “strolling” to be done on a romantic trip to France) and stopped for a crepe and a soft pretzel. Then I bought a postcard with cartoon sausages in sex positions with the words “Kama Sutra Alsatian” at the top. Jan and I walked around the enormous square in Mulhouse, and he sat on a bench while I sat on his lap and we made kissing faces at each other while passersby averted their eyes. The French really shouldn’t take any trips to Italy; they would be averting their eyes so often they might pull a neck muscle.
It would probably sound fancier to say we went to an expensive French restaurant for dinner but we have very specific food tastes and they don’t involve escargot or duck liver. We went to Buffalo Grill. That’s right folks, while in France my boyfriend and I went to a Tex-Mex restaurant where we ate nachos, chili, ribs, beer and burgers; to us, that is some extreme romantic bonding. We will be burned at the stake later this evening.
My Rough Guide
I’m giving you these Trip Advisor sites for a basic overview of Alsace Region, however, please leave the fanny packs at home.
Things to do in Colmar, France
Things to do in Riquewihr, France
Things to do in Eguisheim, France
Things to do in Mulhouse, France
Restaurants We Ate At:
Pros: Great food that is filling but doesn’t leave you feeling so stuffed you can’t walk
Cons: The waitress had quite a scowl on her face most of the time
Pros: Typical TGI Fridays type restaurant with tasty dishes if you love tex-mex, American style food while you’re traveling
Cons: They fake you out a bit in the menu pictures as far as the portion sizes go
Pros: We loved the soft pretzel and crepe we had, and they have tons of great pastries and bread. They have a to-go window too if you’re looking for a quick snack while you’re walking
Cons: It’s best to go somewhere else if you are looking for cutesy French decor, since the atmosphere is quite basic
Hotels We Stayed At:
Best Western Hotel Bristol:
Pros: Clean rooms, comfortable beds, and a good size bathroom. It’s just a 10 minute walk to the center, and across from the train station if you’re coming from there.
Cons: Breakfast was tasty, though a bit basic
Pros: Modern and clean rooms, with comfortable beds, and a new looking lobby. It’s also a very quick walk to the center, and across from the train station and trams if you need to take those.
Cons: We paid extra for a superior room but it didn’t seem like it was that big or much different from what a basic room probably was, so I would save the money and get a more basic room.
My Honest Opinion:
The entire Alsace Region is super romantic and I really recommend going there to make all your childhood, fairy tale dreams come true, especially if you’re traveling with your own Prince Charming. Jan and I went in February which is the off season so even though a lot of things are closed and you don’t have the pretty flowers that you do in the summer, you also don’t have the crowds.
It was so easy to walk around the smaller towns at this time of year, but I can imagine that in the summer, some of these places are jam packed with tour groups. I recommend sacrificing the pretty flowers so you don’t have to deal with tour groups mowing you down and crying babies with stressed out parents sitting next to you on the cafe terraces.
We felt it was better to stay in a hotel in cities that are a bit bigger, like Colmar, and Mulhouse since you have grocery stores, shopping, and restaurants. The smaller villages are amazing to see but you can see everything in each place within an hour, and you don’t have all the conveniences you might want. I recommend driving to a few villages each day like we did, so you can see more, and really get an overview of the region, then staying in a bigger city for the night.
A lot of people like to book Alsace Region tours, packages, wine tastings etc. and if that is your thing, more power to you! However, Jan and I prefer going on trips where we stroll around, looking for unexpected surprises along the way, stopping for coffee, and having long leisurely dinners with no schedule. The Alsace area is perfect for a non-scheduled road trip where you just drive around to all kinds of villages and see what you can find, as everything is very close together.
Colmar, France was #37 on New York Times “52 Places to Visit in 2016” so I recommend you get there now before everyone else does!
Check out my travel vlog from this trip: A Perfect Trip to Alsace Region, France!
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