Tuesday, March 28th, 2017

A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar

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Colmar

If there’s any country that I visit often but need to explore in more depth, it’s France. Again and again I overlook other regions in France in favor of spending all my time in Paris, a city I find difficult to resist.

But recently I had an opportunity to see a bit more. There were a few days in between the end of The Video Summit in Leipzig, Germany, and my scheduled arrival in Paris. It seemed like the universe was guiding me here.

To Alsace.

Alsace, France’s smallest region, is perched on the edge of Germany and Switzerland on the Rhine River. Alsace has been volleyed back and forth between French and German control for centuries. As a result, you have a beautiful blend of multiple countries.

In Alsace, streets are dominated by half-timbered houses with windowboxes brimming with flowers.

In Alsace, freshly baked baguettes are sold alongside giant pretzels.

In Alsace, the local Alsatian language is endangered, primarily being spoken by older residents.

In Alsace are LOTS and LOTS of older foreign tourists — my guess is many of them are on a Rhine river cruise.

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Strasbourg

I arrived late in Strasbourg, the culmination of two trains, a bus, and an ill-advised Google Maps suggestion to walk down an unlit path in the woods on the way to Saarbrücken’s bus stop. In other words, I was exhausted and frustrated and there were no cabs in sight.

“I’m sorry, do you know where I can find a taxi?” I asked a local couple in French.

They had no idea. “Why don’t you take the tram?” the woman asked. “Where are you going?”

“Close to the train station.”

“Then take the next one!” She even showed me how to buy a ticket.

Soon I was whirring across the city on the tram, and in no time I had crossed the city for so much less than what my usual taxi would have cost. It couldn’t have been easier.

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What struck me about Strasbourg was its livability. It was largely walkable, with the tram for longer distances. Flowers bloomed in every direction, even in October. The river was beautiful. And while many European cities turn ugly as soon as the city center ends, the modern sections of Strasbourg were actually quite stately as well. And everyone was so nice!

Strasbourg also has easy transit connections to Paris and all over Europe. And prices were much cheaper than in Paris.

Flowers in Strasbourg

I can’t help looking for livability over visitability — my mind automatically goes there. Strasbourg just felt so nice to me — like a good, low-key European city where you could settle down and enjoy the best of France while fitting in as a local, absent from the pressures you might find somewhere like Paris.

Strasbourg Street Sign

Street signs in Strasbourg appear in both French and Alsatian.

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The Petite-France neighborhood holds UNESCO World Heritage designation and is filled with tourists and souvenir shops. But just walk a few blocks away and you’ll be surrounded by locals.

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The Rhine snakes through the city, each bridge filled with flowers.

Strasbourg

I think I unnecessarily crossed every bridge in Strasbourg just trying to get shots of their flowers.

Strasbourg Flowers

Whether on a bridge or in a vase, Alsatians love their blooms.

Strasbourg made me so happy. As I sat on a bench in a square, eating a goose rillette sandwich with cornichons from a nearby open-air market, my heart swelled. This was everything that I loved about France. And German touches didn’t change a thing.

Colmar

Colmar

Truth? I hadn’t even heard of Colmar until fairly recently. Then Matt visited on a river cruise, Amanda visited on another river cruise, and Erin and Simon visited by train for two days. (Who says travel bloggers aren’t influential? I wouldn’t have gone if not for them!)

If Strasbourg is a revelation, Colmar is pure fantasy. This small town is just 40 minutes away from Strasbourg by train and could be worlds away. Take all of the beauty of Alsace, make it even more colorful, and distill it into a small town filled with canals.

Colmar

I found Colmar to be more colorful and more densely packed than Strasbourg.

Colmar

Chapellerie. I love that word — it means hat store!

Colmar

“Greetings from Selfie Point!” I announced on Snapchat. A few Chinese girls were taking selfies in front of this bridge and burst out laughing when I said that. This area is called La Petite Venise — Little Venice.

Colmar Bakaery

Look at all these specialties at the bakery!

Colmar

Just like in Strasbourg, flowers spill out of every opening possible.

Colmar

This doorway is amazing.

Tarte Flambee in Colmar

I had to have the most famous Alsatian dish — a tarte flambée! This flatbread is covered with bacon, onions, and lots of cheese, paired with a local Pinot Blanc.

Colmar

French or German? You decide!

Colmar

You could hire boats for short cruises down the canals.

Colmar

More of Alsace

As soon as I visited, my Snapchat followers kept blowing up my phone: “Are you going to Riquewihr? You MUST go to Riquewihr!” Unfortunately I didn’t have time to visit the intriguingly spelled town, but typing it into Google Images shows that it’s yet another beauty.

The best way to explore Alsace in depth is to rent a car and drive to different villages. Many people go on a wine tasting trail, but please don’t drive if you’ve been drinking. (On recommendation of my Snapchat follower Mark, who works in the wine industry and gives me recommendations wherever I go, you should look for Pinot Blancs like Zind Humbrecht, Dirler Cade, and Kuentz Bas!)

I would love to come back to Alsace and explore more in depth. This trip was a teaser, as so many of my trips are, but in this case I know I would jump at the chance to return.

Essential Info: In Strasbourg I stayed at the Hotel City Résidence Strasbourg Centre. Wifi did not work in my room and when I complained to the front desk, they responded, “Oh yes, wifi does not reach all of the rooms.” And they were fully booked and couldn’t move me. So for that reason I wouldn’t recommend them. If you have a data plan or internet isn’t important to you (or you can check in early and get a better room), I found it to be good value for the price and in a convenient location not too far from the train station. Doubles from 50 EUR ($55 USD). Find other Strasbourg hotels here.

Train tickets between Strasbourg and Colmar cost 12.50 EUR ($14) each way and trains run frequently throughout the day. The old town is about a mile from the train station, so be ready to walk.

One last thing — if your goal is to visit as many countries as possible, Alsace is a great place to spend at least some of your trip. Germany and Switzerland are close by and easy to visit. Luxembourg, Belgium, and the Netherlands are a bit further but can easily be visited on the same trip as well.

Is Alsace your kind of destination? Share away!

Comments

49 Responses to “A Taste of Alsace in Strasbourg and Colmar”
  1. Great photography, Kate.

  2. Alissa says:

    Pretty pictures! Was lucky to have visited 5 towns in Alsace (including Riquewihr, Colmar and Strasbourg) 2 years ago!

  3. This has me wanting to return to Strasbourg SO badly. I stayed there for 2 weeks on my very first trip to Europe, not realizing how lucky I was to have such a local experience. We stayed with my friend’s father, a bachelor professor, in this chic-yet-decrepit department. I remember you couldn’t stand in the shower but had to sit/kneel and hold it over you. My tart flambée experience was slightly different — we were down in a crowded pub with a group and large (I think they were rectangular) tarts kept showing up one after another. I’ve craved them ever since.

    Strasbourg is a college town, which is probably why you’re drawn to its livability. Those are the cities I find myself most drawn to in the U.S. Right now we live next to a university and I love the beautiful landscaping and well-lit paths where I can walk my dogs and the overall feeling of youth. (Except my next door fraternity neighbors. I could do without them.) Sorry to wax on… thanks for bringing me back to Alsace!

    • I love university towns, too! When I lived in the Fenway neighborhood of Boston, I was right across the street from Boston Conservatory and Berklee College of Music and there were at least a dozen other colleges in my small neighborhood alone. Seriously. Cheap eats and lots of culture!

  4. Maria says:

    I actually looked up how much time it would take for me to drive down to Strasbourg as soon as I saw the pictures. It looks super adorable with those flowers and those houses!

  5. Lynne Nieman says:

    Loving this Kate! I keep thinking I need to see more of France (only been to Paris once) as places like this intrigue me!!! I believe my great great grandfather on my mom’s side comes from this area (though with that German heritage) so Alsace has been on my list. You’ve made me (as has Erin and Simon) want to go even more!! Thanks, Kate!

  6. Ashley says:

    I loved this post. I went to Strasbourg and Colmar three years ago when I was an au pair and fell in love with both cities. And especially tarte flambee 🙂

  7. Danny says:

    Strasbourg is beautiful! Living in Germany, it’s pretty easy to pop on over to Alsace for a weekend. I’ve been to dying to get to Colmar for a long while now. I’ve yet to hear anything less than a raving review! Glad you enjoyed the Flammkuchen, or tarte flambée.

  8. Strasbourg is one of my faaaaaaaaaavorites in France! I haven’t been to Metz, but I’ve heard it’s gorgeous as well. Dijon, Beaune (really all of Burgundy) the Loire valley (Nantes, Angers, Tours, Saumur, Orléans), Marseille and Cassis are must sees in France!

    Then again, I’m a French teacher so I’m a little biased 😉

    • If Metz is gorgeous, it’s FAR from the train station! I transited there en route to Luxembourg and thought, “Ugh,” but I did see a pretty cathedral in the distance poking above the ugly buildings.

  9. Cam says:

    Love the photos. You lucked out with some great weather!

  10. So charming! I’ve only really heard of Alsace in relation to European history. I hadn’t ever thought about it as a serious travel destination before. Great info!

  11. Ah, this post makes me want to cry blubbery, sentimental tears! Just moved back to the US of A after living only a little over an hour from Strasbourg (in Deutschland) for a few years. Yes and yes to Riquewihr! It’s the village that inspired Belle’s in “Beauty and the Beast” and you’ll see every bit of that there. The wine is excellent as well! Can’t miss the views from Haut-Koenigsbourg either!! Ah, love Alsace.

  12. Moani says:

    Loving your photos! You like that Fuji camera? Your photos are so on point! What a beautiful region. I’ve only been to Paris in France and would love to explore more.

  13. Rachel says:

    I visited this region on my FIRST EVER foreign holiday at 10yrs old! We drove all the way from northern England (18 long hours) in a tiny little car and toured a few Eurocamp sites. This post brought back a lot of great memories, especially those amazing patisseries and cute little cobbled streets, I really should head back there some time..

  14. Lovely post, Kate! You take wonderful pictures. Looking forward to reading about your adventures in New Zealand this November.

    I hope you are going to visit Hobbiton. It is the movie set of the famous Lord of the Rings trilogy located in North Island. Be sure to check it out, if you’re an LOTR fan like me. Even if you’re not, still visit because you are sure to get some amazing photo opportunities there.

    Have fun!!! Cheers

  15. Ijana says:

    This looks amazing!! I spent my childhood in southern Germany so seeing any similar region just blows my nostalgia out of control. Strasbourg sounds like a place I would love to visit, and now it’s been added to my list! I speak high German and I’ve been interested in learning the Swiss dialect, and the Alsatian dialect is hardly different, so maybe I could even dabble a bit in the language. Perhaps when I study in Germany one day…

  16. What a lovely place! I hope to get there one day! But before then, I am going to make that tart at home. Delicious I’m sure!

  17. Tom Collmar says:

    Colmar, my first ever Euro excursion. Great pictures, such a nice reminder of my visit, thank you.

  18. Valerie says:

    This is so funny – I’m in Colmar RIGHT NOW! We didn’t make it to Strasbourg but we did visit Riquewihr and Eguisheim on a wine trail tour and they were lovely… though very similar to Colmar without the charming canals 🙂

    On to Paris next – seems like I’m following you on this itinerary 😉

  19. I’ve seen Colmar and Strasbourg pop up on a few blogs the past year or so and I’ve been dying to visit – especially Colmar! I love the sound of Strasbourg though, being such a friendly and liveable place!
    We’re actually converting a van into a campervan at the moment, and plan to take a huge roadtrip through Europe down to Slovenia and back, and I’ve already got these places both on our route there!
    It sounds like you had an amazing time there!

  20. Hi! I was born in Colmar 🙂 And I’m back in the area after 8 years away. Happy to see that you enjoyed your time in Alsace !

  21. Brooklyn says:

    I have been lusting over Colmar for years. It looks straight out of a fairy tale (Beauty and the Beast to be exact)
    I am so jealous you went!

  22. Lauren says:

    OMG looks just like The Beauty and The Beast… Bet it’d be an absolute delight in winter!

  23. Amanda says:

    I loved both cities, but it was definitely Colmar that won my love. I was there during the Christmas market season, meaning the whole city was even more festive and adorable than usual!

  24. Lovely. I have not been outside of Paris, and know that France is so much more than that. Your post has inspired me to return to explore more of the country.

    Your experience with wifi had me shaking my head. It’s become one of those things (like hot water) that you don’t think to ask about beforehand, but when you discover it’s not there it’s a huge pain.

  25. Shelley says:

    We visited Strasbourg and the Alsace region for the first time just this past summer, and I completely fell in love with the city. Like you said, total liveability. We were lucky to be staying with the parents of friend that lives there, and they took us all over the surrounding region, into the mountains, and out to Struthof (the only concentration camp in France). It was one of the best 5 days of travel I’ve ever had…and I can’t wait to head back to Alsace again and spend more time!

  26. Claudia G Branzei says:

    How can I do this Kate? I d really appreciate an answer, some pointers. Thank you

  27. Hayley says:

    OH MY GOODNESS I NEED TO GO HERE IMMEDIATELY! IT’S SO BEAUTIFUL!
    Putting on my Euro list for next year for SURE!

  28. Danielle says:

    I love this region of France! It reminds me of a little bit of Rothenburg ob der Tauber mixed with a bit of Paris. So dreamy! Thanks for sharing!

  29. Anna says:

    I visited Alsace this summer on a long weekend and fell madly in love. I stayed in Colmar and yes, I visited Riquewihr and the neighboring Ribeauville – and dear god were they worth it. Colmar is a great base for traveling in that region – the city has all the non-touristy conveniences, but you’re still fully immersed in the fairy tale. And the hiking around the area is DIVINE!

  30. Júlia Prado says:

    Wow, I love bread and pies, I was not going to leave this wonderful bakery.

    What a beautiful place Kate and congratulations on your photos.

  31. Imad Nohad says:

    Alsace looks like an interesting place with its mixed french and german culture. And especially with these amazing towns that are very well presented through your gorgeous pictures. Would love to visit Colmar if i go to France. Thanks for the post and amazing pictures.

  32. THL says:

    Great photos Kate… one of the most memorable afternoons we had was on a warm spring afternoon exploring the town via the canalways. We maybe had a bottle or two with us, which just enhanced the whole experience ; )

  33. Lady says:

    Wow. Now I want to go back to France and visit all these beautiful places.

  34. Michael Jones says:

    As a place to visit, Strasbourg is, as you found, lovely – but you can only really judge “liveability” by actually living there, and unfortunately I discovered in a year studying there that it was a complete nightmare. Then again, that was primarily because the university administration did their best to make life as difficult as possible, so perhaps it isn’t so bad if you’re working rather than studying.

    Colmar was the birthplace of Frederic Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty – there’s a scale model of the statue in the middle of a roundabout in the town (it’s a bit out of the centre, though, so even further to walk from the station), and a few of his less well known works dotted around.

  35. Emily says:

    I adore Strasbourg like no other – it’s like they mixed the best of French & German cuisine in one place! Incidentally, it also has the highest concentration of Michelin starred restaurants in the region. No wonder the EU picked it for their headquarters! =) I’ve been through Strasbourg twice, but I really want to take the time and drive through the Alsace Lorraine region, especially for the wine!

  36. Long James says:

    I’m planning to travel in France next year in June while I’ll be staying in my counsin’s apartment in Freiburg, Germany, and thanks to this story, Strasbourg definitely is in my list, not too far from Freiburg, I’d love to immerse myself in the culture and explore around this city. The scenery and architectures are amazing

  37. Amelie says:

    My parents visited this region earlier this year. My dad is from France yet he and my mom had never been. They loved it and pretty sure they indulged in the local wine scene since dad is a huge oenophile, took some kind of serious wine exam a few years ago, goes to regular tastings etc. Basically, he knows his shit. They both loved it. I was just in France for Thanksgiving in Normandy to visit my dad’s family and Rouen has lots of the same timber frame houses that Strasbourg does in your pictures. Someday a region I will definitely hit up.

  38. Sara says:

    I’m so glad I found your blog while researching the Alsace. I’m a fellow solo outgoing introvert traveler and I’m impressed with the way you unapologetically follow your principles and confidently encourage other women to travel. I’ll be following your blog! (Hope to hit country #45 this year, I just did Patagonia with a couple of friends) cheers!

  39. Kaitie says:

    Loved this post so much! We’re planning a road trip from Paris to Munich and are traveling to both of these cities thanks to your recommendations. Thank you, thank you! 🙂

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