If you know a bit about wine, you probably already associate the Alsace region with fresh, mineraly whites. But there are so many other layers of interest to the Alsace region, and each layer is another reason to add this part of Northeast France to the top of your travel bucket list. The main factor that sets the Alsace apart is its roots: It was founded by both French and German cultures, which make it an intoxicating cocktail of multicultural charm.
I recently explored the region, as part of a French canal cruise on the La Nouvelle Etoile. The region checks off all boxes for every kind of traveler. While there, I got to know impressive Strasbourg and encountered charming villages along the canals. I experienced art and culture, wine, food, animals, museums, lavender fields, wineries and so much more — in all kinds of ways. I explored via airplane, train, shuttle, horse, bike, electric bike and on foot. Every day was a new adventure. Here are eight (of the many) great reasons to check out France’s Alsace region.
Strasbourg is a must-see, and not just because it’s the capital of the region and the seat of European Parliament. It’s also home to one of the world’s oldest, most picturesque Christmas markets. Its rich French-German history has earned it the honor of being titled a UNESCO World Heritage Site. While in Strasbourg, humble yourself below the glory of the Strasbourg Cathedral, with its dramatic Gothic and Romanesque architecture. This building is impressive; it used to be the world’s tallest building (until 1874) and remains the sixth-tallest church in the world. It’s also the tallest remaining building created entirely in the Middle Ages. You can’t miss the 12th- through 14th-century stained-glass windows, the tombstone for Conrad de Lichtenberg and the pipe organ, suspended in the central nave.
Strasbourg astronomical clock
The Strasbourg Astronomical Clock is the third clock of its kind in this spot. It’s no ordinary clock. It includes a planetary dial, a “perpetual calendar” and features that indicate the eclipses and the positions of the sun and moon. Visit this attraction around 12:30pm (“solar noon”) every day, when figures of Jesus Christ and the Apostles make a special appearance, and a mechanical rooster crows.
Here’s an unexpected delight in the Alsace region. While riding bikes along the canal and through villages, you might discover a fun stork “neighborhood.” The village of Lupstein is where countless storks live most of their lives in huge, high nests. Spend time watching them roost and call out, and then swoop down to the field to dine on local insects. The site is simultaneously peaceful and entertaining, as well as a nice glimpse at the region’s wildlife. Storks have been residents of Alsace for hundreds of years.
Sometimes, the best way to enjoy a region is to explore it with no plan. While on my Barge Lady Cruise through the canals of France, many days were packed with sightseeing and touring castles and museums, per my request on my custom itinerary. But one of my best memories of the trip was that every morning after breakfast, I hopped on an electric bike and ventured out into nearby villages. Some days, I wandered leisurely along the water’s edge, just enjoying the small-town simplicity, looking for hidden cafes and beautiful buildings and soaking in the relaxing energy of the region. When you have no agenda, anything is possible.
If you’re looking for something different than a castle, cathedral or museum and you’re craving a little adventure in nature, take a ride on horseback through a stunning forest not far from the Black Forest. I was thrilled to ride horses through the forest with a horseman who only spoke French from Country Ranch du Stoss. I will never forget the beauty I witnessed and the freedom I felt while perched atop my spirited horse named Jolie.
The stunning flower fields stretch out across France like violet waves; southern France and the Provence area are especially famous for lavender. It typically blooms mid-June through mid-August, depending on the weather and specific area. Experience this quintessential French attraction via guided tour or by yourself via car, bike or foot. You’ll have to take a day trip south from the Alsace region to see the biggest fields, but this is a day trip worth every mile. You will literally want to lie down and stay forever.
Vineyards and wineries
One of the best ways to experience the Alsace region is via its culinary highlights, including foie gras (Strasbourg is the birthplace of this dish), tarte flambee (a flatbread, pizza-esque snack stacked with toppings) and spaetzle (small, dumpling-like noodles). Devour delicious local cuisine and pair it with celebrated local wines and cheeses. Then work these calories off later by riding the electric bikes on my Barge Lady Cruise along the Canal de la Marne au Rhin.
Wine tasting, centered around the wine route, should be another high priority and you can taste it right at the source, and meet multi-generational winemakers. A highlight of my trip was meeting the owner of the Albert Seltz winery, a 14th generation owner in Mittelberghein. Participate in a tasting inside a building that’s been used to make wine since the 1400s. You’ll learn about the process and history, as well as the related culture and etiquette.
There’s something about the bright lights, playful music and whirling animals on a carousel that awakens pure joy. Treat your inner child to a spin on a carousel in the Alsace region—they can be found in many cities like Obernai and Saverne. Meanwhile, Strasbourg is home to the elaborate, vintage, French-style carousel at the Place Gutenberg. It’s also a great spot for a quirky photo shoot.
Sweet dreams are made in Alsace, France. My entire journey along the canals on my was like a dream. Once you see this photo on Instagram, you will understand!
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