Dabbling in Jet Lag
Alsace stands apart from any other region of France. For visitors, it offers a quaint mix of German and French cultures while showcasing medieval castles, vineyards, and traditional villages, all at the foot of the Vosges mountains. If you are looking for a destination that incorporates a rich cultural heritage engulfed in natural beauty, then Alsace is for you.
Since moving to Strasbourg in 2020, I’ve been able to explore every corner of this magnificent region. And, today, I want to share with you my favorite fairytale villages in Alsace to help you plan your next trip!
Table of Contents
- A Brief History of Alsace
- Must-See Fairytale Villages in Alsace
- Other Must-See Places in Alsace
- Tips for Visiting Alsace
A Brief History of Alsace
Over the last 200 years, Alsace has changed nationality (between France and Germany) at least four times. And, even though it, now, belongs to France, it still retains many of the laws it once had under German rule. It even has its own language, Alsacian, a dialect that mixes both French and German languages.
But Alsace is most known for its brightly colored half-timbered houses. And, while there are several theories on why they are so vibrant, two stand out. The first suggests that the color of the building was used to identify the type of business (butcher, baker, etc.). And the second says that the colors represented the religion of the household. Blue for Catholicism and red for Protestantism. Today, the goal is to have a color different from your neighbor.
Must-See Fairytale Villages in Alsace
Strasbourg is the economic and cultural hub of Alsace. It also serves as the formal seat of the European Parliament. This beautiful, charming city is a true mix of German and French cultures. Highlights include the Notre Dame Cathedral, La Petite France, and Parc de l’Orangerie. And, if you are visiting in winter, don’t miss the Christmas market! Plan to spend at least three days here if you want to take advantage of all Strasbourg has to offer.
Since Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, it’s very easy to reach. And, while Strasbourg does have an airport, I would recommend flying into either Paris, Frankfurt, or Basel. Each of these cities has several options for reaching Strasbourg.
- From Paris: Direct trains from Paris to Strasbourg take roughly 2 hours and there is no shortage of departures.
- From Frankfurt (Germany): Trains from Frankfurt to Strasbourg usually involve one change and take about 2 hours. Lufthansa also offers an express bus between Frankfurt’s airport and Strasbourg.
- From Basel (Switzerland): Direct trains from Basel to Strasbourg are as frequent as those from Paris and take about 2 hours.
Colmar is most renowned for its colorful half-timbered medieval and early Renaissance buildings. It’s easy to get lost in the side streets while admiring the gorgeous architecture. Needless to say, there are endless things to do in Colmar. My favorites were visiting the Unterlinden Museum and watching the sunrise over Little Venice. Don’t forget to try the flammekeuche at the local farmer’s market, it’s the best in Alsace.
- From Strasbourg: Trains run hourly and take roughly 45 minutes.
- From Freiburg (Germany): While Freiburg appears very close, public transportation to Colmar is not direct. It requires, at least, 2 changes and takes about 2 hours.
- From Basel (Switzerland): Trains run regularly and take about 1 hour.
Located in the Haut-Rhin region of France, Riquewihr is one of the most picturesque villages in Alsace. This medieval town has retained its rustic charm from the 16th century, creating a sense of timelessness.
From the Old Town to world-renowned wineries, Riquewihr is something not to be missed. It’s also a great base for exploring the nearby forests or biking Alsace’s Route des Vins (Wine Route).
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 106 to Riquewihr (30 minutes).
Ribeauvillé is situated 16 kilometers (9.9 miles) north of Colmar at the foot of the Vosges mountains. Its narrow streets are adorned with medieval-style houses and cafés. And every Saturday morning, there is a market in front of the Hôtel de Ville. For stunning panoramic views hike up to one of the Ribeauvillé’s three castles (Château de Saint-Ulrich, Château du Girsberg, and Château du Haut-Ribeaupierre). They are all accessible via a marked trail.
If you are in Ribeauvillé on the first Sunday in September, don’t miss the Fête des Ménétriers de Ribeauvillé (also called Pfifferdaj). It’s one of the oldest and popular festivals in Alsace. Since the 14th century, this end-of-summer festival has brought together medieval enthusiasts to celebrate the guild of minstrels that was under the protection of the lords of Ribeaupierre in the Middle Ages. It’s something not to be missed!
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 106 to Ribeauvillé (45 minutes).
Hunawihr lies between Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé, and, while it may not be as popular as these two, it’s definitely worth a visit. This little town is home to only 602 citizens and is a great place to enjoy complete serenity. Walk among the vineyards and relish the amazing views. Given its size, there are not a lot of options for accommodation. I would recommend staying in Riquewihr or Ribeauvillé and visiting Hunawihr as a day trip.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 106 to Hunawihr (45 minutes).
Kaysersberg or Emperor’s Mountain received its name from the high fortress, Château de Schlossberg, that overlooks the village. While it served as an important strategic location in the past, it’s now one of the prettiest villages in France. In fact, it receives nearly 700,000 tourists per year, so don’t expect to get off-the-beaten-path here. Popular activities include hiking in the Vosges mountains, biking on one of the many trails, and enjoying delicious wine.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, take the train to Colmar (45 minutes) then take Bus 145 to Kaysersberg (15-30 minutes).
Rosheim dates back to the 8th century, and, to this day, it has retained many vestiges of its glorious past. The most impressive archeological relic is Saints Peter and Paul’s Cathedral. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the most beautiful Romanesque churches in the region. For some of the oldest civil construction in Alsace, stop by the Roman and Pagan House in the town center.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run regularly and take 25 minutes.
Obernai is located in the Bas-Rhin department and lies on the eastern slopes of the Vosges mountains. After Strasbourg, it’s one of the largest cities in Alsace and serves as a gateway to Alsace’s famous Route des Vins (Wine Route).
Overlooking the city is Mont National. This historical monument pays tribute to the Alsatian soldiers, who were forced to serve under the German army in World War II. Not only is it a place overflowing with history, but it also offers stunning panoramic views. So, if you’re asking yourself, “Is Obernai worth it?” The answer is yes. But you don’t need to spend more than one or two days here.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run regularly and take 40 minutes.
Barr is an undiscovered gem in Alsace. Most who venture this way stop in Obernai and continue south without ever giving Barr a thought. While there are not an overwhelming number of highlights, I found Barr to be more beautiful than Obernai. There are also plenty of day hikes in the area. The most popular, include the hike to Landsberg Castle and Mont Sainte Odile. Both trails start at the Saint-Martin Protestant Church.
Getting there: From Strasbourg, trains run regularly and take 55 minutes.
Since the 17th century, Mittelbergheim has been a true wine-growers village. And almost every house on the main street offers wine tasting. For stunning views over the valley hike up to Rocher Sainte-Richarde. Château de Spesbourg and Château d’Andlau are also not to be missed.
Getting there: Transportation to Mittelbergheim is almost nonexistent. I would recommend taking the train to Barr and then, walking to Mittlebergheim. It takes less than an hour.
Other Must-See Places in Alsace
Mont Sainte Odile
At an elevation of 767 meters (2516 ft.), in the heart of the Vosges mountains, Mont Sainte Odile is a symbol of Alsace. For centuries it served as an influential convent dedicated to the patron saint of Alsace, Odile. While the church is still active, the remaining buildings have been converted into a hotel. Today, it mainly serves as a tourist attraction offering spectacular panoramic views over the region. From here you can even see Strasbourg’s Notre Dame Cathedral!
Getting there: While you can visit Mont Sainte Odile via public transport, I would recommend hiking. The three most common starting points are Barr, Obernai, and Rosheim.
Built during the Middle Ages, Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle is one of the largest castles in Alsace. Up until the Thirty Years War, when it fell to Swedish forces, it served as a lookout point for the region. But, after its collapse, it was burned to the ground and abandoned for more than 200 years. Extensive renovations restored the castle to its original glory. And, today, this is an absolute must-see destination in Alsace, especially if you’re a history buff! Tickets can be bought online (here) or onsite.
Getting there: Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle can be accessed by car or public transportation. By car, it’s 55 kilometers (34 miles) south of Strasbourg and takes about 40 minutes. Click here for driving directions. If you prefer to take public transportation, it can be easily reached from either Colmar or Strasbourg. First, take the train to Sélestat, then take the Haut-Koenigsbourg Shuttle directly to the castle.
Route des Vins (Wine Route)
Stretching from Marlenheim to Thann, the Alsace Wine Route is the most famous in France. This 170-kilometer route weaves in and out of all the villages listed above. You’ll indulge in delicious wine and food while taking in some of the most spectacular scenery. It’s something not to be missed if you’re visiting Alsace!
Useful Tip: My favorite winery is Horcher Wines in Mittlewihr. It’s a small family-owned vineyard with delicious wine. If you are looking for an intimate setting, this is the place for you.
Getting there: Click here for a complete map of the Alsace Wine Route. If you’re short on time, the easiest way to travel along the Wine Route is by car. But if you have more time, try biking it. Strasbourg, in particular, has several options for renting a bike (click here for the best option.)
Tips for Visiting Alsace
- For a map of all the places listed above, click here.
- The two most accessible cities are Colmar and Strasbourg. Then, the best way to travel is by bike/train or car. If you want to visit some of the smaller villages, a car will be necessary.
- The best time to visit Alsace is in April-June or September-November. The weather is pleasant and there are fewer people.
- If you want to see the Christmas Markets, early December is the best time. At the end of December, the crowds are unbearable.
- For the most immersive experience, plan to spend at least a week in Alsace.
- The largest cities in Alsace are Strasbourg, Colmar, Obernai, and Sélestat. Use these cities as jumping-off points for accessing smaller villages.
Alsace is a must-see region in France. Whether you love history, culture, or nature, there is no shortage of things to do. Use this guide to organize your next trip and take advantage of all this wonderful region has to offer!
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Check Out My Other Articles on France
I hope you enjoyed my favorite things to see and do in Alsace and found it useful. Here are some other articles about France that I think you might enjoy!
- How I Got My Long-Stay Visa (Spouse of a French Citizen)
- Above the Clouds – Paragliding in Reunion Island
Have questions about visiting Alsace? Send me a message in the comments below!
Interested in more travel tips & tricks? Check out my other posts for more travel tips.