Over the course of my year abroad, France’s smallest metropolitan region, Alsace, came to occupy a special place in my heart: a place once foreign had, simply put, become a second home. Already, months – almost fifteen of them – have passed since I packed my life back into two suitcases, boarded my EasyJet flight to Manchester and left Alsatian soil. So, without further ado, here are some of the highlights of Alsace . . .
Alsatian Vineyards: Turckheim to Trois Épis
On a whim, Inga (a fellow assistant) and I decided to hop on a train to the neighbouring village of Turckheim and hike in a loop via Trois Épis, a hilltop hamlet. For November, it was unseasonably warm (i.e. it would put the current British summer well and truly to shame) and the glorious sunshine over the Alsatian vineyards made for some spectacular views.
France’s prettiest village: Eguisheim
The quintessentially Alsatian half-timbered buildings exceeded any expectations that Google Images may have established for me: those multi-coloured maisons, adorned with brightly-coloured flowerpots and complete with gingerbread rooves were the stuff of fairy tales. Although there’s little to do there, Eguisheim is a charming little village which merits a place on any Alsatian itinerary.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland: Snowshoeing in the Vosges
With a combined love of hiking and untouched snow, I had a whale of a time snowshoeing in the Vosges. It’s the perfect way to reach the snow-topped summits and enjoy a postcard-perfect panoramic view of the surrounding countryside. Afterwards, there are little chalets to warm up in with a chocolat chaud and a slice of tarte aux myrtilles.
Glorious Glades: Metzeral
In the heart of the Vallée de Munster, Metzeral is an ideal starting point for several hikes. On a sunny day, the woodland walk up to ‘Lac du Fischboedle’ takes you past waterfalls, alongside glades and through woodland akin to J.K’s Forbidden Forest before reaching the lakeshore. At this point, you can either return via the same path or continue on to Lac du Schiessrothried (an artificial lake) in order to return via a roadside path.
A Gothic Masterpiece: Strasbourg
Widely regarded as one of the finest examples of late Gothic architecture, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is the cultural centrepiece of the Alsatian capital. Though remarkably intricate, the celebrated Astronomical clock doesn’t entirely live up to the hype. The view from the cathedral platform, on the other hand, exceeds expectations: besides the quaint, narrow buildings with their sloping rooftops you can see the Palais Rohan, the European Parliament, the Parc de l’Orangerie alongside the Vosges to the west and the Black Forest to the east.
France’s Venice: Colmar
Wandering through Colmar is akin to stepping into a fairy tale; many visitors compare it to Belle’s village in Beauty and the Beast. Whilst the whole town is extremely photogenic, there are three views which stand out, each of which leads to the next: Le Marché Couvert, Quai de la Poissonnerie and Petite Venise.
Overlooking the Alsatian Plain: Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
For a stunning view across the Alsatian Plain towards Germany’s Black Forest, look no further than a trip to the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg. The self-guided tour takes an hour or so to complete, and the interior is lavish in places – think tapestries, deer antlers and intricate wood panelling.
The Symbol of Alsace: Storks
Storks (les cigognes) are emblematic of Alsace, and between March and October you’ll be able to spot them perching on the rooftops. Several towns and villages are designated “Village des Cigognes”, which means there are lots of them nesting there; in Strasbourg they tend to gather in the Parc de l’Orangerie, a beautifully landscaped park which is a 20-30 minute walk from the city centre.
Have you ever been to Alsace? What were the highlights of your trip?