Alsace is a wonderful area in the east of France that offers a lot of attractions for the curious tourists. Starting with historical towns, cozy villages and medieval castles to a charming rural area and wine tastings, it has everything one might expect and even more. The Alsatian rolling hills of vineyards are known world-wide and you can hop from one wine-cellar to another on the touristic Alsace Wine Route. The towns and villages along the way will charm you instantly with their colorful houses, winding alleys and fresh flowers at the windows.
Here are 9 fascinating towns and villages in Alsace that you shouldn’t miss on a trip to Alsace. Some of the medieval towns in Alsace are already quite popular (Riquewihr, Ribeauvillé , Kaysersberg), while some are more off-the-beaten path. But all of them are picturesque and it is a wonderful experience to discover them.
The most beautiful towns and villages in Alsace
Strasbourg – the economic and cultural capital of Alsace
Strasbourg is, without doubt, the most wonderful gem of the Alsace region. This lovely city on the border of France and Germany has been part of both countries during its history and this is also clearly visible in Strasbourg itself! The ancient French architecture combined with the newer-built sleek German buildings is only one of the many things that make Strasbourg so unique.
What also characterizes this city is its incredibly large Christmas market. In the month of December, the whole city is transformed into a Christmas paradise. Think decorations on every wall, hot drinks and delicious comfort food to keep you warm during this cold month, and hand-crafted French products. They even call Strasbourg the Capital of Christmas! Therefore, December is definitely the best time to visit Strasbourg.
The top things to do in Strasbourg besides visiting the Christmas market include its impressive gothic cathedral, which oversees the entire city, as well as Barrage Vauban, the old defense structure of the city, and the German-influenced Neustadt! These three places should be on top of your list when visiting Strasbourg. Also, don’t forget to just take a walk through the old town of Strasbourg, called Grande Île because of the many canals surrounding the historical center.
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Named “France’s favorite city” in 2017, Kaysersberg is a must-see if you’re in Alsace. Even if it get more and more popular, it still remains a bit of a well-kept secret! Its name translates to “Emperor’s Mountain” from German, emblematic of the deep ties Alsace and Lorraine have with Germany.
Located quite close to neighboring beauties Colmar and Strasbourg and right along the Route des Vins d’Alsace (the famed Alsace Wine Route), Kaysersberg is the perfect blend of gorgeous half-timbered architecture, adorable cobblestoned streets, and quaint, quiet, and picturesque landscape, perfect for a half-day or full-day trip if you’re exploring the Loire Valley and beyond.
While wine production is still one of the predominant sources of income for the town, especially Pinot Gris, there is a bustling downtown area to explore, and several places to window-shop, grab a pastry, sample regional specialty tarte flambée, or sit, relax, and people-watch.
While you’re here, don’t miss the Château de Kaysersberg (also called the Château du Schlossberg) a granite castle and defense fortification built in the early 1200s; the Medieval Église Sainte-Croix; the Constantine Fountain in the main square of town; and the Pont Fortifie bridge for fantastic photos! However, arguably the best thing to do in town is just meander along, gazing up at the beautiful houses and enjoying a sneak peek into historic France.
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Kientzheim is a great place to get away from it all for a weekend. It’s a small town on the Route du Vin, so it has its share of fantastic wineries. It’s a bit quieter than some of the surrounding towns. So you could stay there, then wander out to other places whenever you want.
Surrounded by medieval walls, when you walk or drive through the main arch, the town lets you know that you’ve entered another world. The half-timbered and vibrant colors of the houses make you feel that the town is as magical as a Disney movie. There’s nothing better than just taking a walk, stopping to taste all the amazing wines and crémants, of course.
While in Kientzheim, make sure to visit the Musee du Vignoble d’Alsace. Here you can learn all about the wine of the region. From the two huge wine presses and other large farming equipment on the ground floor to all aspects of the wine business (like glass blowing, bottling, technical aspect of wine growing), there is lots to learn. After taking a walk, find a great café, serving up the best Alsatian dish, the tarte flambee, and wash it down with a great glass of local wine. If you are visiting the Alsace region, make sure to put Kientzheim on your itinerary.
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Eguisheim might not win the accolade of best town. But it probably wins the prize for the cutest of the Alsace Villages. The 17th century marvel is arranged with its streets in a concentric fashion. This is perfect for wandering and getting a little lost.
Worth finding though is the house known as Le Pigeonnier. It’s the village’s most photographed street, which won’t surprise you. The impeccable little pigeon house separates an intersection of Rue du Rempart Sud and Rue de l’Almend-Sud. It’s one of the most iconic images of the Alsace. From there it’s a short walk past half timbered houses and sand floral displays to the square at Equisheim’s heart. At one time a castle stood here, but now it’s marked by a fountain, and the tiny St. Leon church. It’s the perfect place to people-watch and see what inspired Beauty and the Beast. Don’t miss the storks that nest in the roof of the church and other buildings.
Eguisheim was voted Frances favorite village in 2013, and is easily visited in an hour or two. May and June are the perfect months to visit, with blue skies and without the crowds of summer. The village is well noted for its wine too.
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Colmar – the city of fairy tale in Alsace
One of the best small-town destinations in Europe is the Alsatian city of Colmar. This city is the launching point for most visits to the Alsace wine region. It’s also an extremely popular stop on Rhine River cruises. The town features canals, historic half-timbered buildings, and more French charm than you can possibly imagine.
Most visitors start their time in the Petit Venice neighborhood where canals wind their way through buildings dating from the 1700s. Much of the town was spared during the war years from 1870-1945. So when visiting Colmar, the city itself becomes the main attraction.
The museums are excellent. From the under-appreciated toy museum to the Bartholdi Museum, featuring the works of local sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi, there is a significant amount of culture to be found here.
The culinary scene in Colmar is vibrant. Chefs from the local Michelin-star restaurants scour the countryside seeking out the best local ingredients. The dishes are paired with local wines, creating a magical culinary experience. The covered food market is a must for lunch.
There’s no bad time for a visit. The city blooms with flowers in the spring and the fall wine harvest is a popular time for sampling the local vintages. And the city is magical in the winter, boasting one of the best Christmas Markets in all of Europe.
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Dambach-la-Ville is one of the prettiest and lesser-explored towns in the Alsace region of France. The village is enclosed by a wall which makes it unique. It is famous for being the largest wine producer in the Alsace, one of the best wine regions in France.
The medieval village is full of picture-perfect landscapes with brightly colored half-timbered houses and winding cobblestone streets. The houses are adorned with beautiful flowers in Spring and Summer, while during Christmas time you will enjoy the Christmas spirit as the Alsace region really goes all out for Christmas.
You will easily fall in love with this place wandering each adorable street. You don’t need an itinerary to explore this cheerful town and it’s quite small, so you don’t need a whole lot of time to visit it. There are also many hiking trails where you can admire even more scenic walks. This town should surely not be missed as you plan your trip to France.
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Riquewihr – one of the best Christmas Markets in Alsace
Riquewihr is one of the most famous villages of Alsace. This medieval village is located on the Alsace Wine Route, 15km northwest of Colmar. Riquewihr is known for its picturesque architecture and good wines. Thanks to its proximity to Colmar, Riquewihr is covered by most of the day tours from Colmar.
Riquewihr is a medieval village surrounded by two fortified walls. The first line of ramparts was built in the 13th century, while the second dates from the 16th century. By then Riquewihr was a prosperous town thanks to wine production and trading. Most of the houses that you can see today are from this period.
The town boasts more than 100 buildings listed as French Historical Monuments. The main attraction in Riquewihr is the Dolder, a 25-meter tower built as a watching tower in the 13th century. It is located at the end of the main street (rue Charles de Gaulle), so you cannot miss it! The town is also an excellent place to taste delicious regional specialties and good white wines.
There’s no wrong time to visit Riquewihr, but one might prefer spring or fall. Summers in Alsace are too hot and winters too cold. Christmas is also a good time to visit Riquewihr. Its Christmas Market which is one of the best Christmas Markets in Alsace.
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Ribeauville is one of the small and picturesque French villages that lie on the Alsace Wine Route. It has a population of just under 5,000 people. Located just 16 kilometers from Colmar and an easy day trip from Strasbourg France, Freiburg Germany and Basel Switzerland, it is highly popular with travelers exploring Alsace.
The village is surrounded by fields of vineyards stretching all the way to neighboring towns. The main street is filled with restaurants, bakeries, cellar doors and medieval cobblestones. Stop and have a coffee and cake at delicious Patisserie Schaal and Co. At Christmas time, the town holds a very popular market with local crafts and seasonal foods.
You should definitely try the local wine from Cave de Ribeauville, the oldest wine co-op in France. If you want to experience Ribeauville like a local, head off the main streets and find some local establishments such as Gorman Drinks where the locals drink and eat.
On the hill directly behind the town, you will find Castle Saint-Ulrich, Castle Girsberg and Haut-Ribeaupierre. There is a popular walking trail from the centre of town that takes in historical sites. A visit and stay in Ribeauville is a must.
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While many have Colmar on their list, they tend to forget about quaint Munster located just 15 kilometres away from Colmar.
Turophiles may associate the name with Munster Géromé, a soft-washed rind cheese made here in the Vosgian abbeys and monasteries since the Middle Ages.
However, it isn’t just cheese that you should visit Munster for as it’s got quite a few attractions to keep you busy.
Munster is best visited between the months of April to September, as this is also when the best Munster cheese is produced when the cows graze on some of the best straw in the Vosges.
The Abbey of Saint Gregory is where you should start your tour around this town, which was founded around the 600’s. Most of the abbey (and the city) suffered immense damage during the 1st world war; however, you can still see the old cloisters and the staircase ruins.
Other things to do around Munster include taking a walk around the town while you admire the architecture in this town and monuments like the Lion fountain in the Market Square dating back to the 1500’s, installed to memorialise the signing of the ‘Treaty of Kintzheim’ and visit the Munster Town Hall full of paintings, tombstones and a collection of other curious items.
Those not keen to wander but prefer to be more active can head off on a hike on the Route des Cretes’ – a scenic route passing by the Vosges Mountains, indulge in Paragliding and hang gliding or head off on the trail of the waterfalls of Stolz Ablass.
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Just one more thing
Alsace is one of the most beautiful regions in France, perfect for a fun and picturesque road trip. Next time you think of travelling to France, maybe you’ll give it a chance and go beyond Paris. Just rent a car and visit some of the most beautiful towns and villages in the country.
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