Straddling the border with Germany and Switzerland, France’s picture-perfect Alsace region is an absolute gem, not to mention a wine lover’s dream! A beautiful fusion of French and German influences, the Alsace offers a cultural experience not to be missed, with fabulous cuisine, wine, architecture and local traditions.
The geology and geography of Alsace make it ideal wine-making territory, with the Vosges Mountains in the west protecting the vineyards from excessive rain, resulting in below average rainfall and above average sunshine hours – an ideal formula for wine production!
With such a strong wine-making tradition, it’s little wonder that the Alsace region boasts its very own wine route – the famous Route des Vins. One of the oldest and most popular wine routes in France, this 170km trail offers stunning views as it criss-crosses the age-old vineyards between the Rhine plain and the Ballons des Vosges. Along the way and an undoubted highlight of the region are the quaint, picturesque flower-filled villages featuring unique half-timbered buildings which are often painted in bright, pretty colours. Each one is different, but with its own timeless charm that is sure to captivate. Small, well-known wine-making towns will also offer breath taking views, illustrating the richness and diversity of Alsace’s terroirs which contribute to the wine quality. They also ensure ample opportunities to sample the local wines along the route, so be sure to take advantage!
The wine route takes in some of the Vosges National Park which is a protected area of woodland, wetland, farmland and historical sites that spans Alsace and the neighbouring region of Lorraine. The park presents an opportunity to relax in the natural surroundings and take in the tranquillity of the environment, not to mention the simply stunning views of the Alsatian plain. One of the park’s many natural features is the Vosges mountain range which runs through Alsace from the summit of the 1,400-metre Grand Ballon in the south, then north along the hair-raising hairpin bends of the Route des Crêtes, the Petit Ballon and Col de la Schlucht. These summits regularly feature in stages of the Tour de France, up to the border with Germany. Here, the crowds that follow the wine route thin out, and the low mountains, lakes, waterfalls and forests are a paradise for walking, cycling and other outdoor pursuits.
Not all the attractions are outdoor however, as at Sainte-Marie-Aux-Mines there is a breath taking trip down an ancient silver mine, while the Vallée de Villé is lined with artisan distilleries that specialise in the production of the region’s famous fruit brandies – Distillerie Nusbaumer is particularly popular and offers organised tours and demonstrations of the distillery in action. This is a great way to sample the product so be sure to stop by for a tipple.
Riquewihr is considered by many to be the jewel in the Alsatian crown, and is a must on any tourist’s itinerary. Hidden between the Vosges Mountains and some of the most famous vineyards in Alsace, this quintessential Alsatian village features beautifully coloured, half-timbered buildings adorned with window boxes laden with flowers. Historically, this small, medieval town served as a trading hub for Alsatian and German wine, and was also one of the few towns in the area not to be badly damaged during WWII. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is the fact that the town is surrounded by medieval fortifications and is overlooked by a castle from the same period – now a museum depicting Alsace during the Second World War.
Today, Riquewihr is famous for the Riesling and other great wines from the Alsace region, like the highly aromatic Gewürztraminer wines. Despite its popularity it still retains much of its historical charm and distinctiveness, looking more or less the same as it did in the 16th century. It’s officially one of “Les plus beaux villages de France”, making it an absolute ‘must see’ for anyone visiting the region, so be sure to stop by and sample the local wines as you absorb the atmosphere of this quaintest of Alsatian towns.
Whether you’re a wine lover, or simply want to experience the cultural diversity that the Alsace region has to offer, hopefully this has given you a flavour of the experience that awaits you. It really is the perfect place to sample the local delights and explore the fusion of Germanic-French traditions. To find out more about our walking and cycling holidays in Alsace, request a brochure today.