Close your eyes for a minute and transport yourself to a Disney fairy tale, like Beauty and the Beast: walking along the picturesque streets lined with colourful houses, taking in the sweet scent of the flowers while the birds are singing and the pottery are dancing… all perfectly coordinated in a delightful symphony for the senses. Then, open your eyes and find yourself in Alsace, unable to discern imagination from reality, because the Disney fairy tale you were dreaming of is in fact inspired by the small villages of this picturesque French region.
Alsace, a cultural and historical area in eastern France, is the place where all your childhood dreams come true, with a side of locally-sourced French wine.
The capital of the region, Strasbourg, is where we start our 4-day voyage. The city is colourful and lively, bustling with students, tourists and locals all blending together seamlessly. On a tour along the city’s canals (highly recommended), we learned about the city’s history, which has seen France and Germany fight over it for centuries. This Germanic influence gives the architecture in this region of France its signature picturesque style.
Unmissable, standing tall in the centre of the city is Strasbourg Cathedral. Considered amongst the finest examples of Gothic architecture, this impressive construction was the world’s tallest building from 1647 to 1874. To our delight, we had the opportunity to witness the spectacular light show La flèche dans le nuages (The arrow in the clouds), which was projected onto the Cathedral and depicted the history of its construction.
The city boasts a relaxed atmosphere, with outdoor music filling the air and wine bars in every corner. Oh, the wine! Within Alsace runs a thousand-year-old world-renowned wine route; stretching some 170 kms, it winds through extraordinarily charming towns, dotted with hundreds of vineyards. One can drive, cycle or navigate through this route via a reliable and affordable rail system. Opting for the latter, we hopped onto the train and headed to Colmar – a colourful city built on canals; the pearl of the region.
We arrived in Colmar on a golden afternoon, as the sun was starting to set. We came across one of the city’s many bridges and spotted a restaurant perched over the river. It was overflowing with laughter, delicious scents, and amazing views. Naturally, we decided to enjoy an evening of wine and cheese right there, as any respectable tourist would.
In Colmar we stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast alongside the River Lauch, opposite the local market hall. Here you can get lost amongst stalls of fresh fruit, cheese, pastries, nuts, coffees and whatever else your heart (and stomach) desires. After exploring the delicious bounty, you can enjoy breakfast on a terrace, while watching the small tour boats sail past. From one of these boat tours, I learnt that Colmar’s tradition of painting houses in different colours stems from the middle ages, when most people didn’t know how to read and therefore, rather than having written signs, they painted their homes to indicate their line of work. This way, if people needed to get something they would know where to go. Blue houses were for fishermen, green for farmers, yellow for bakers, red for butchers, cream for textile workers, and so on.
Yet another colourful town worth visiting while in the region is Riquewhir, which legend has it, was the inspiration for the setting in The Beauty and The Beast. This town is magical: multi-coloured, quaint, and surrounded by vineyards. Only a 30-minute bus ride from Colmar, Riquewhir will make you feel giddy even before you have tried their delicious local wine. Give yourself plenty of time to get lost in the the maze of flower-filled streets, visit the decorated water-wells dotted around the town and remember to bring extra batteries for your camera, because you won’t want to miss any details.
So, if you’re a fan of fairy tales and wine, you definitely must make a trip to Alsace the next thing on your bucket list!