If you need one more reason to visit Strasbourg—or to stay one extra day—you’ve got it!
The city is a perfect launch pad to explore some of the other beautiful Alsatian towns that are just a short distance away.
After consultation with the concierge at our hotel in Strasbourg (Regent Petlte France), we settled on three places to visit—Colmar, Kayserberg and Riquewihr—mainly because of their rich historical and architectural heritage. Yes, these villages have become somewhat over-touristed, but when you visit them you can easily see why.
We toyed with the idea of renting a car but the hotel concierge suggested booking a driver and car because parking might be a problem. As it turned out, we were happy to have the opportunity to spend quality time with Stephan, an English-speaking driver, who was eager to share his opinions about Alsatian culture, politics, food and the economy during our six-hour day.
To reach the first of these villages, Colmar, we entered the toll-free highway, Autoroute A35. The ride in light traffic on a Saturday morning took about an hour. Located in the northeast part of France, the Alsace region borders Germany. Along the highway, every charming village is surrounded by vineyards, all set in the dramatic backdrop of the foothills of the Vosges Mountains and Black Forest.
Here are a few highlights of our stops!
With a population of some 68,000 people, Colmar is by far the largest of the three towns we visited but its well-preserved historic center is small and intimate.
Upon exiting the highway, we entered a roundabout at the north end of town where we were welcomed by (and surprised to see) a 12-meter (almost 40-foot) resin replica of the Statue of Liberty. Built to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the death of sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, it foreshadowed our visit to the birthplace of one of Colmar’s most famous citizens. (Bartholdi’s home is now a museum there).
In the town center, we set off on foot. Like much of the Grand Est region of northeast France, Colmar is filled with color. Floral displays drape the railings of the canal on the Lauch River, an area so picturesque it has been dubbed “Little Venice.”
The tiled roofs on the Gothic Saint-Martin’s Church and the old Custom’s House (Koifhus) are splashed with color, too.
The lively town is said to have been the inspiration for Belle’s hometown in Disney’s “Beauty and The Beast.” Narrow cobblestone streets wind through Colmar, lined with characteristic half-timbered houses.
The covered market first opened in Colmar in 1865 but its interior is quite contemporary, filled with a mix of German and French delicacies including plenty of pretzels, a specialty of Alsace. Here and in each of the cities we visit, beautiful Iron-forged medieval guild signs hang from the cafes, pubs and shops that line the cobblestone streets.
Especially noteworthy: Like Beaune is in Burgundy, Colmar is the wine capital of Alsace, the region’s main center of wine trading and marketing.
For more information: Tourist Office of the Ribeauville-Riquewihr Region
About 20 minutes away and reached on much smaller roads, picture-perfect Kayserberg pales in population (with only about 2,700 residents) and in size to Colmar. Located in the Weiss Valley, the village’s Renaissance-style Hotel de Ville (Town Hall) dates back to 1521.
With two Michelin starred restaurants in the same tiny town, Kayserberg is known for its food and wine (especially Pinot Gris). The five-star Le Chambard, a Relais & Chateaux property, sits right in the middle of town. The hotel (and the town) sadly achieved recent notoriety as the place where author, chef and TV host Anthony Bourdain took his life.
Kayserberg was the birthplace of Nobel Prize-winning humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer; a small museum occupies a house where he once lived in as a child. It’s fun to wander through the town filled with small shops and eateries.
The beauty of Kayserberg, although tainted by the memory of the death of Bourdain, was one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever visited. In 2017, Kayserberg was named France’s favorite village. Also, France’s National Council of Town and Villages in Bloom (Villes et Villages Fleuris) named it one of 4,246 floral towns because of it beautiful landscaping and floral displays.
For more information: Colmar Tourist Office
The trip from Kayserberg to Riquewihr was just 15 minutes by car. Riquewihr is one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (one of the most beautiful small, rural villages). A large producer of Riesling wine, the village is filled with wine shops, tasting rooms and winstubs—pub-like wine lounges (that are typical in Alsace). Winstubs serve simple foods along with the wine.
The quaint 16th-century storybook architecture of the town is eye-catching.
Of the three villages, this one is the smallest (population of 1,200) but seems most geared to tourists: In fact, Riquewihr receives more than 2 million visitors every year. In addition to wine and souvenir shops, it has an abundance of eateries, bakeries and sweet shops. Some of the building facades date back to the 1500s.
For those who prefer to go beyond the touristic center, a mini-train runs past wineries and manor houses, departing almost every hour. (We also found mini trains in the historic centers of Colmar and Strasbourg).
The village recently launched GeoVino Alsace, a new immersive wine tourism experience that allows visitors to walk through the vineyards, meet with winemakers and learn about the terroir. The developers hope to sponsor 11 such walks by 2020.
For more information: Tourist Office of Kayserberg
Best day trip from Strasbourg – The bottom line
This road trip through Alsace proved to be a wonderful opportunity to get a glimpse of these fairytale villages and the surrounding vineyards before embarking on our European Waterways hotel barge trip from Strasbourg.
We’d love to return someday and stay a week or more, perhaps in idyllic Kayserberg—to more slowly savor the region’s good food and wine along with its architectural and natural beauty.
Route of Our Road Trip in Alsace
Visiting Alsace?: Read my article on Forbes.com
For more information:
All photo credits: Jerome Levine
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