Several months ago Franck and I had arranged with his sister and brother-in-law for Charlotte and Camille to spend a weekend at their place in Magny-les-Villers with their cousins.
The designated weekend was fast approaching, however, and Franck and I still hadn’t chosen a place to go for our getaway. The problem with living in Burgundy is that we’re spoiled for choice. Did we want to grab a cheap flight to Morocco? Head up to the Swiss mountains? Go to Belgium perhaps for some moules frites?
Even though we’ve been living in France for going on three years now, the myriad of possibilities of things to see and do in such close proximity to our house never fails to thrill and, at times like this, paralyse me!
But when it came right down to it we only had two nights and not a huge budget, so on a whim we booked a hotel room in the gorgeous town of Colmar, in Alsace, where we had stayed in December 2004 with the girls taking in Colmar’s very famous and not-to-be-missed Christmas market. Within a few minutes of making the phone call I began fantasizing about enjoying a “tarte flambee” with a pint of cold Fischer beer.
Colmar (and the region of Alsace) is only a two and half hour drive away from our house here in the Cote D’Or, yet when we arrived we really felt as though we had landed in a different country. The proximity to the German border creates a fascinating French / German fusion evident in the culture, the architecture, and, of course, the fabulous food. You even hear many people in the street speaking incomprehensible (to me, anyway) Alsatian which is a mix of French and German.
Somewhere between a frothy hot chocolate and a huge slice of apple pie in our favorite tea and coffee shop, it occurred to me that Alsace is a wonderful short trip for our guests to take from any of our three vacation rentals, so here is all the info. that I have gathered to help you do exactly that.
As always, don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. I don’t want to post my email here so as not to be spammed to death, but you can find it if you go to our website http://www.myburgundy.com/ .
We find Colmar to be a great base in Alsace. It is an amazingly picturesque town, near all the famous wine villages such as Riquewhir, Hunahwir, Saint-Hippolyte, etc. and is very easy and pleasant to walk around. Similar to Beaune, there are tons of restaurants and shops for you to enjoy within easy walking distance.
To plan the (short) drive, go to the website we always recommend for trip planning by car in Europe: http://www.viamichelin.com/
Seeing as we would only be there two nights, and were planning on going to restaurants quite a bit, we chose a hotel rather than a vacation rental. When we were in Colmar for the Christmas market, we stayed at the very central and charming Hotel Saint Martin, but it was closed for winter holidays. However, we would certainly stay there again and recommend it. Their website is: http://www.hotel-saint-martin.com/uk/index.html
This time we stayed at the Hotel Le Colombier, which is also very central and near what they call “La Petite Venise” – a very picturesque area of town where the river winds its way through the colourful beamed houses and cobbled streets. The rooms were a bit more modern than the Hotel Saint Martin but they were very luxurious (a marble bathroom and free soaps!) and quiet. We would recommend it as well. Their website is: http://www.hotel-le-colombier.fr/
The food in Alsace is just as sublime as in Burgundy, but completely different. A few of our favorite meals ; the tarte flambee I had been dreaming about, of course, which is like a pizza but with a base of mixed fromage blanc and creme fraiche, Choucroute which is the traditional hearty fare of sauerkraut and meat, and then other wonders such as the lovely smelly cheese munster melted over potatoes, and so on and so forth. We ended up eating in Colmar itself for every meal, and here are our favorites restuarants…
Jadis & Gourmande
8, Place du Marche aux Fruits 03.89.41.73.76
For breakfast, a casual lunch, or a snack you can’t do any better than Jadis & Gourmand which boasts amazing tarts and pies. The atmosphere is cozy and very Alsatian – great hot chocolates, teas and coffees.
2, Place de l’Ancienne Douane 03.89.23.04.90
We ate at this restaurants, known as a “Weinstrub” or Alsatian bistro, several times. It is popular amongst the locals, very good, and reasonably priced. Go here for tarte flambees, munster melts, and all the other traditional Alsatian dishes. Reservations recommended as it is very busy (always a good sign!).
23 rue des Marchands 03.89.41.37.84
This was Franck’s choice, and I’m sure the fact that the waitresses are all kitted out in traditional Alsatian dresses had, ahem, nothing at all to do with that…in any case, at first glance it was evident that our waitress wasn’t quite the sort of fetching Alsatian lass that Franck had had in mind, but nevertheless we had a delicious choucroute with friendly (and costumed!) service. However, we felt the price to be a bit excessive compared to the Koifus. The choucroutes are HUGE so whatever you do, don’t bother ordering an entree beforehand.
Alsace is a very well-known wine making area, so of course we had to stock up our ever diminishing cellar and also buy a few bottles to put in my Dad’s cellar. the wines are completely different than Burgundian wines, and make a good contrast to gauge the mid-blowing depth and diversity of France’s “terroirs“.
Last time we stopped in the the wine co-op in the village of Hunawhir, which was very good, but this time it too was closed for winter vacation. Instead, we tried the Caveau de Ribeauville in the equally charming village of the same name, and were not disappointed!
The diversity of the wines was huge, the prices very reasonable with a large range in prices, and we had the luck of having a tasting with one of the winemakers who sells his grapes to the cooperative. He absolutely insisted on pouring us huge glasses as he was; a) thrilled to be talking to a Burgundian and, b) convinced that otherwise we wouldn’t be able to properly smell the aromas. Eventually Franck and I had to request for the “crachoir” to be brought out, which is a rare occurrence for us! Definitely a great place to taste and purchase local wines such as Rieslings, Muscats, and Gewurztraminer.
Cave de Ribeauville
2 route de Colmar 03.89.73.61.80
Alsace has a “Route des Vins” or “Wine Road” just like Burgundy, so just follow the signs and definitely devote a day to wandering around the winemaking villages such as Riquewhir, Saint-Hippolyte, Benwhir, etc. etc.
We also visited the Musee d’Unterlinden (right beside the tourist information office) in Colmar, which is a very human size (it only takes about 1 and a half hours to tour through) and has a a stunningly rich medieval art collection. If you have the time it is certainly not to be missed.
As always, Happy travels!
“Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.” — Frank Herbert