While a trip to Paris is (understandably) on everyone’s travel and/or life bucket list, there are so many places in France to be explored that are far off the beaten path. Some of these are along the border between France and Germany, resulting in an interesting pattern of signage and nomenclature, for one thing, and a bit of confusion as to what language we should be speaking, on the part of local and tourist alike.
The capital of the Alsace region, Strasbourg is a must-see for all those traveling along the French-German border. Strasbourg retains an air of quaintness, while not being too small. You can explore this lovely city by foot (my preference,) by bike or even by river boat! There are many beautiful sights to see and/or photograph while exploring Strasbourg, so prepare to be inspired by its beauty. Plenty of shops are scattered throughout the city center, but the best area to explore if you only have a bit of time is La Petite France. Something you must see, but will also likely not miss, is Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg; this enormous 15th century cathedral towers above the central square, and offers an impressive view to those lucky enough to dine outside in the sunshine. A brief walk will take you to the Barrage Vauban, which is a dam built in the 17th century as a defensive work to protect the city, but now provides a perfectly-situated bridge, from which to enjoy a fantastic view of the city.
To stay: Mercure Hotel, La Petite France- situated in between the central train station and central Strasbourg, the hotel is convenient, easily reachable and a short walk from all the fun things J Breakfast is yummy as well, so if you wake up hungry and don’t feel like wandering yet, it is worth getting there, before (or after) your complementary welcome drink; I recommend trying the house made wine from the Alsace region.
To eat: Hotel Rohan – one of many lovely locales next to the cathedral, this boutique hotel fulfills most expectation of the term, with quirky décor and a similarly eclectic menu, of course combining French and German influences; one thing you will see repeatedly on most menus in the Alsace region is the Tarte Flambeé, an Alsacian/South German specialty that traditionally involves thinly-rolled dough, crème fraiche or fromage blanc and various toppings- to my confused American et. al friends, think along the lines of thin-crust pizza, or even flatbread, with 10X the deliciousness. I tried the warm goat cheese Tarte (with bacon and honey, if I remember correctly- amazing).
Jeff de Bruges- yes, it is Belgian. Yes, the chocolate is to die for. Stop by Jeff’s to create your own sample baggie from a delectable selection of gorgeously-handcrafted chocolates, or purchase a colorful, delicious souvenir for a loved one!
Le Kuhn- Playfully mixing French and German (already in its name!), this restaurant is nice for dinner, and again, conveniently close by. Here you will find the opportunity to sample from a variety of traditional Alsatian specialties, from meat, sauerkraut and potatoes, to Schnitzels, salads, and of course the beloved Tarte Flambeé.
I would have to say this is a place inevitably defined by an air of romance- Colmar feels small and can easily be explored by foot. While walking hand in hand with a loved one along the colorful, picturesque streets or even taking a boat ride along the river seems indeed quite popular, this is not to discourage the solo traveler! Grab an ice cream and your camera, and simply enjoy the feel of this cozy little town, which is indeed a welcome reprieve from some of the busier stops along your European travels. Tourist shops featuring trinkets from the Alsace region conceal themselves modestly amongst snack shops in bright yellow, pink and blue buildings, which I indeed unapologetically claimed as a photoshoot background- how could you not. If you only see ONE thing in Colmar, please make sure it is Rue de Poissonnerie in La Petite Venise- this is the insanely colorful and cute street, straight out of every fairytale that matters. If you can tear yourself away from this cuteness, go see Église Saint-Martin (St. Martin’s Church), a remarkable Gothic monument in the center of town. Everyone was very friendly in Colmar, but kept to themselves; many of course were tourists as well, but most coming only from as far away as Germany. I loved the vibe of Colmar, and while there is not an extensive amount of activities available, it is a perfect place to go for a few days to just relax and enjoy its effortless beauty and charm.
To stay: Romantik Hotel Le Maréchal – On Lauch river in the Petite Venise neighborhood of Colmar, this elegant hotel built in 1565 is only a 12 minute walk from Gare de Colmar train station. Again, perhaps this seems like a romantic snuggle haven for couples, and while it indeed does serve this purpose, it can also be an excellent getaway for the solo traveler looking to experience the antique side of Colmar. I would highly recommend the breakfast at this hotel; while it is not one of the cheapest, it serves a delightful variety of local favorites, specialties, along with coffees and champagnes to keep even the least of morning people happy.
To eat: Walk into the city center towards St. Martin’s Church and sit down at any of the cozy brasseries and restaurants, all offering delicious Alsatian favorites; I tried the Roesti dish at a Brasserie in central Colmar- this is a delicious dish with mixed meats, cheeses, onions and other things mixed and baked together and served in a hot iron skillet. After dinner, enjoy an espresso and dessert at one of the cafés near the river as the sun sets, or on your way back for the evening.
This place is straight out of snow-white, I swear. Cobblestone streets, colorful houses (almost every single house), flowers on flowers on flowers, birds singing, and hardly anyone to be seen, let alone annoying tourists (am I an annoying tourist?… awkward.) Eguisheim is one of many small villages dotting the region of Alsace, near to Colmar; it just happens to be one of the best, however- certainly the prettiest, and if I haven’t yet convinced you of its charm, it is also one of the most famous places for winemaking in this region. 😉 Eguisheim is easily reachable from Colmar by car/taxi (about 10 min drive), and you can visit it for the perfect day trip; I was only there for a matter of hours, and even though I would have loved to stay longer, I already felt like I got to know a bit of this village’s lovely personality.
Favorite Wine-Tasting Venue: Joseph-Freudenreich – A bit smaller than some of the hyped-up wineries in Eguisheim, this venue is incredibly quaint and personal. Bring out your inner connoisseur to taste from a varied menu of locally made specialties, then sit in the sunshine surrounded by flowers and sip your carefully-selected Gewürztraminer or Pinot, even take some bottles home for an almost ridiculously-reasonable price.
To eat: Pop into any place along the narrow streets, they are all terribly precious and the food will be delicious, featuring local specialties! I chose a small restaurant with private terrace and (once again) had a warm goat cheese Tarte Flambeé, though with slightly different ingredients than some others I had tried.
I could have easily spent at least a week or two exploring many of the villages around Colmar, though don’t worry if you are a bit strapped for time- I visited all three of these destinations within a long weekend, and did not feel rushed. I cannot wait to go back!!