If you thought that the world of children’s storybooks was just fiction then think again! In the far east of France next to the German border there is a world where Night Watchmen wander the cobbled streets of centuries old towns, castles steeped in history tower above sleepy villages, and 16th century houses each with their own distinctive color and so well preserved that you would think they were built yesterday. This is the world of Alsace!
If you leave the main tourist areas of Strasbourg and Colmar and travel down the country roads you will see towns and villages that will remain in your travel memories for ever. Here is a brief description of 6 must visit towns within easy access of Colmar.
West of Colmar on the slopes of the Vosges lies the fortified historic village of Turckheim. This unique village is surrounded by a medieval wall and entered by 3 doors. There is the Munster Door that opens into the Munster valley, The Door of Brand which begins ‘The Alsatian Wine Route’, and The Door of France which has a road leading to Colmar and the north of Alsace.
When you enter the village through one of these ‘Doors’ you are then in a world of well preserved 16th century gabled houses and cobbled streets. Each house is painted with its own individual color. Another unique feature about this village is the Night Watchman who wanders through the narrow streets every night at 10pm during the summer. He is clothed in black and carries a lamp whilst singing Alsatian folk songs. Turckheim is also famous for its Gewurztraminer wine. And if you visit the village Inn you must try the local specialty of Flammekuche (onion tart similar to pizza but without cheese). This is a real treat washed down with an ice cold Kronenbourg lager.
The origins of this well preserved town 5km from Colmar goes back to prehistory. The name is derived from ‘Egeneheim’ which means ‘Egino’s House’. This historic place has an 11th century castle perched on a hill above it. This castle was occupied by The Counts of Nordgau who were the most powerful Alsatian family of the 11th and 12th century.
The town of Eguisheim is situated on the famous ‘Alsatian wine road’ and is made up of Gothic 16th century houses that are decorated with an abundance of flowers especially during the summer months.
The wine producing town of Kaysersberg is one of the most well preserved towns in the whole of Alsace. The whole town is surrounded by vineyards that grow the grapes to create the famous Tokay wine. And to remind us of the importance of wine to the economy of the town throughout the centuries there is an old well in the heart of the town with the inscription:
“Do you drink water at the table? It will chill your stomach, Drink wine with moderation old and subtle wine, I advise you to do as such for me, leave the water to the side”.
7 miles from Colmar lies yet another perfectly preserved Alsatian wine town. Riquewihr is surrounded by forests, The Vosges mountains and vineyards. This really is a fairytale town especially around Christmas time. The old houses are adorned with every Christmas decoration imaginable as the whole town prepares for the celebrations. Many of the townsfolk will travel to nearby Strasbourg to attend the Christmas market regarded by many to be the most spectacular in Europe.
The town center is a maze of narrow cobbled streets with quality restaurants and Inns that serve the many fine wines produced here including the world famous Riesling.
The ancient town of Obernai is about 12 south west of Strasbourg. It was originally called ‘Eneheim’ because of its location next to the River Ehn. As you would expect this is yet another world of medievel houses, pointed towers, and cobbled streets with wine taverns and gastronomic restaurants hidden in unexpected locations. The town holds many events throughout the year for the visitor including a wine fair in August.
10 miles to the north of Colmar below the ruins of Girsbergs castle lies the wine producing town of Ribeauville. This atmospheric place dates as far back as the 8th century. On the 8th of september every year there is a music show that attracts tourists from all across the world. This has been a regular event on this date for centuries as a tribute to the Counts of Ribeaupierre who are known in Alsatian history as protectors of travelling musicians and actors many centuries ago.
There are many fine traditional hotels and guest houses here. After a beer or two and a good meal in one of the Inns or restaurants on a warm summer evening why not take a stroll along the narrow cobbled streets and see the many fountains and flower adorned gothic houses that are everywhere.
These 6 places are just a taste of the vintage Alsace that awaits the traveller. There are many other ‘fairy tale’ places like Selestat, Molsheim,Bergheim and Ammerschwihr. I think september and october are the best months of the year to see this part of France at its atmospheric and best.