Getting around, finding a place to stay, and of course, which wine producers to visit while in Alsace, France.
With its picturesque villages, rich history, unique linguistic identity, and incredible wine culture, there is truly no place in France quite like Alsace. And while it’s world-renowned for the Christmas markets, the region deserves a trip during the summer and early fall – if for no other reason than to capitalize on the wine region’s beauty! Here’s how I spent one week exploring the region.
GETTING IN + AROUND
Strasbourg may seem far away from Paris (indeed, certainly closer to Germany!) but it’s only two hours away on a direct TGV train. You can book your tickets in advance on the French government’s official train website, the SNCF. I always recommend going through the SNCF website to purchase tickets because you know you’re getting the best rate, most up-to-date time schedule, and you won’t be spammed with sketchy emails afterward. There’s even an English version of the site to make things easy-peasy for us Anglophones.
I recommend booking the Paris > Strasbourg and spending a few days in the capital of the region before exploring elsewhere. Walking around Strasbourg and visiting its many museums, restaurants, and cultural landmarks will give you a real taste for the region and its quirks. Check out my Strasbourg Guide for more specifics on a suggested itinerary plus some restaurants and museums I loved when I was there!
While you could certainly use Strasbourg as your home base for exploring the wine region, I chose to head south to Colmar, known as the capital of Alsatian wine. You can take a 20 minute train ride there from Strasbourg for literally 5€ – again on the SNCF website. Once into Colmar, I recommend renting a car from the Avis – Gare Colmar. (Don’t worry – they have both manual and automatic cars available.) It’s easier and cheaper than driving in or from Strasbourg and the staff there are really kind.
DRIVING + PARKING IN ALSACE
As a nervous driver myself, I was a bit concerned that getting around would be really complicated – especially with all those hills! I was pleasantly surprised by the roads and the GPS service. I didn’t lose signal at all and never got lost, which is definitely saying something. Sometimes the roundabouts are a bit excessive (literally three within 400 meters of each other on occasion!), but that’s France for you!
I was also somewhat nervous about parking, but Colmar is very car-friendly, as long as you don’t mind driving on cobblestones. The old town might be a challenge but the periphery is completely modernized, with designated parallel parking, free overnight spaces, and tons of parking garages in case you want to leave your car and belongings in a more secure environment. I parked overnight every night at Gare Bleylé – just next to the train station – so it would be even easier to get out of Colmar and off to the wine regions. It’s 7€ a night which is a steal by New York standards! That particular station has 24-hour security and was recently renovated, so is quite safe.
WHERE TO STAY
If you’re new to my page, there’s one thing you’ll quickly learn: I love Airbnb. I always prefer to meet with French locals and live in a more homey space with enough room for suitcases and relaxation. In Colmar, I stayed at this adorable apartment. It really had the best of both worlds: it’s completely renovated on the inside but maintains that traditional Alsatian façade, complete with balcony and a view of the old town. In case you don’t want to park in a garage like I did (Bleylé was definitely a bit of a walk in the morning), there is also free street parking around as well as a paid underground garage. Chloé the host is lovely and will point you in the right direction for anything you might need.
Because Colmar is so touristy, there are tons of Airbnbs available, especially in the old town. I’d recommend booking well in advance of your stay, especially if you’re going in the summer or in the winter as things can fill up very quickly.
Colmar is simply adorable. While it’s also quite touristy, there’s no shortage of restaurants, picnic spots, parks, and sights to see. Here are a few spots I really enjoyed:
- La Petite Venise (or Little Venice) – a little stretch of canals right through the center of the town.
- Old Town Colmar – this is generally the area I stayed in and explored the whole time I was there. With its half-timbered houses, cobblestone streets, and historical landmarks, you’ll be charmed for sure.
- Musée Bartholdi – as the name might suggest, this museum celebrates the work of French artist and sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi.
- Musée Unterlinden – a lovely museum with art collections from a variety of eras, mostly specializing in religious collections.
RESTAURANTS + WINE BARS
- Au Temps d’un Verre – I discovered this wine bar completely on accident with my friends Kyle and Jenna. It was the best find of the trip! This bar has a rotating selection of wines on tap (!) from all around France. You can buy a flight or pay as you go to discover some hidden gems. The staff is super friendly and loves to hear about your wine journey, recommending things you’d like based on other French wines you’ve had. Definitely a spot that should be at the top of everyone’s list!
- Le Petit Bidon – One of Colmar’s top rated restaurants, Le Petit Bidon is simply classic French food done right. It has a modest menu that features fresh and local seasonal ingredients and is owned by a sweet couple, Christophe and Rose. A great spot to check out for lunch.
- MOKKA Café – I had some time to kill my last day in Colmar after checking out of my Airbnb. While walking around old town Colmar, I stumbled across this modern, trendy café that felt like a mix between Paris, Sweden, and NYC. For all its global influences, however, it serves up classic French cuisine (including some amazing desserts – if they have the tarte aux myrtilles in season when you’re there, you have to order it!) as well as delicious coffee and tea.
- L’Epicurien – Let’s just say this classic bistro and wine bar appeared in the Michelin Guide for a reason. There are over 200 bottles of wine on the list, including many you’ll never see stateside. Like Le Petit Bidon, this is classic French cuisine that’s done in a seasonal, approachable manner. Plus, it’s just next to La Petite Venise, so if you eat outside you’ll have a lovely little view. I ate out on the patio one night and watched the sunset. It was calm and quiet – ideal after a long day of winery tours!
- Marché couvert Colmar – You’ve probably noticed by now that I am a big fan of the impromptu picnic lunch. It’s a great way to people watch on a budget and if you’re traveling solo, it’s a nice change of pace from restaurant dining. For my last day in Colmar, I opted for informal dining and found Colmar’s Covered Market to be a perfect place to snag a salad and some sweet treats to enjoy on the banks of La Petite Venise.
- Le Fer Rouge – If you are looking for a classic, down home Alsatian experience, Le Fer Rouge is the place to go. They have all the regional specialties on the menu, like spaetzles, bouchée de la reine, and of course choucroute. I recommend going at least once for dinner to get a true taste of old Alsace!
- Restaurant Au Koïfhus – This winstub is right in the center of all the action in the main square. (What’s a winstub, you ask? Read more via the Alsace Tourism Office!) This convivial, down-home restaurant has both an enormous outdoor patio and indoor seating in the cellar. You might even be seated at a communal table and make a few new friends!
THE WINE REGION
I know this is what you came for! Alsace is one of the most underrated wine regions in the world. As one winemaker told me, “There’s really something for everyone here – if you like dry white wines, great! If you like demi-sec and floral wines, great! If you like red wines, we have those too! And our bubbly is just as delicious as Champagne.” And while Alsatian winemakers make some serious juice, they also don’t take themselves too seriously and are excited for people to visit their domaines again after a COVID-19 hiatus. Unlike areas like Burgundy, where you might struggle to get an appointment and find that many winemakers are closed off, Alsatians are hospitable, warm, and more than willing to walk you through a tasting of their wines. I’d recommend capping your day at three wineries so that your palate doesn’t get too fatigued! Here’s where I went, and my experience at each.
I left Colmar around 9:30 a.m. and headed over to Domaine Josmeyer. While they don’t have a huge presence in the U.S., I wanted to pay a visit for several reasons: 1) They’re one of the few domaines today that is owned and operated not just by one woman, but two: sisters Céline (all things business + farming) and Isabelle (all things winemaking), and 2) They are an incredibly passionate and artistic organic and biodynamic domaine. The tasting room and winemaking facilities are small but equal parts modern and charming. Isabelle incorporates her passion for art everywhere and Céline keeps a small collection of books in what seems like every room! It’s a lovely place with warm and homey vibes – to say nothing of the unique and beautiful wines Josmeyer produces.
After a quick boulangerie sandwich and outdoor picnic in nearby Turckheim (I personally love a good picnic sandwich, especially in wine country!), I headed over to Domaine Zind-Humbrecht. Situated right in the center of its vines, the domaine’s tasting room, offices and cellars are all state-of-the-art, including panoramic, 360 degree views of the mountains and vines through the tasting room’s floor-to-ceiling glass doors. A truly stunning property, Zind-Humbrecht also has an incredible line up of wines. From entry level to grand cru and beyond, this is a tasting you absolutely cannot miss. I was greeted by Olivier Humbrecht himself, who is the domaine’s kind, patient, and humorous winemaker/proprietor. His passion for biodynamic conversion and deep knowledge of the region’s climate really inspired me to try all kinds of wines from Alsace – both while there and here at home.
For my last visit of the day, I headed over to the incredibly charming village of Niedermorschwihr (say that 10x fast…) to visit Albert Boxler, which ended up being the most surprising visit of the trip. The Boxler name is huge in the U.S. – and for good reason. Loved by amateurs and collectors alike, these wines have been making waves for decades. I imagined the property would be a lot like Zind-Humbrecht’s: a little corporate while still maintaining family proprietorship, with a renovation or two on the property. I was floored to discover that the whole of the operation is run by the Boxler family and only 20 or so other employees (many seasonal)! We tasted through a dozen or so Rieslings, a few Gewurztraminers, and ended with some special aged bottles from the 80s and 90s. It was an intimate picture of one of the region’s most famous producers that I won’t soon forget.
To book a tasting, you’ll need to call them directly as they don’t currently have a website: +33 3 89 27 11 32. I recommend it for the wine geeks!
I left Colmar again on the second day around 9:30 a.m. and headed to Cave de Beblenheim, the cooperative that vinifies wines from Pierre Sparr. Led by a woman oenologist, Corinne Perez, this domaine has an incredible line up of everything from crémant to dessert wines, including one of my favorites, the Grand Cru Schoenenbourg. The people are very kind and super knowledgeable, plus the tasting room was recently redone.
Next, onto the infamous Maison Trimbach, one of the region’s most well-known producers. Julien Trimbach, the 13th generation of winemakers at the maison, greeted me personally and gave me a tour of the Grand Cru Geisberg hills (just behind the tasting room – and definitely worth checking out!), the family’s extensive personal cellars, and one of the most memorable tastings of the trip. From entry level all the way up to the incredible Clos St. Hune and Frédéric Emile, these wines definitely have something to offer everyone. (And yes – the Clos St. Hune is truly everything. Easily the best Riesling I have ever tasted, by a long shot.)
Famished for sustenance, Julien was kind enough to call ahead to a restaurant just down the street and made me a reservation. Winstub Zum Pfifferhus did not disappoint. If you’re craving local fare and ambiance in Ribeauvillé, it is certainly not a spot to be missed. You’ll feel like you’ve sat right down in the pub from that Gaston scene in Beauty and Beast – and there might even be a roaring fire in the middle of summer. I loved that the waitress knew half the restaurant personally and the spaetzle is top notch.
I headed over to Domaine Weinbach after lunch to finish out the day. Now this is a visit I truly recommend to everyone who is heading to Alsace. From the moment you drive up to Weinbach, it’s clear that it is a very special place. It was the most breathtaking estate of the visit, bar none. The domaine and family home where the tastings take place is oozing with elegance and minimalist refinement. I thought I’d gone back to the heart of France instead of the border of Germany. The vineyards on the property are paved with stunning stone walkways and the entire estate is surrounding by one of Alsace’s most revered Grand Cru hills: the Schlossberg.
While there’s no doubting that the environs of Weinbach are impressive, its mark on history is felt in every step you take too. Woman owned and operated since the 1970s, this is a place that changed winemaking forever. By producing remarkable, noteworthy wines year after year after year, this domaine proved that wines made by or kept in production by women were to be taken as seriously as those of their male counterparts. Today, the tradition continues. Even if Catherine’s children are both men (Théo and Eddy), they are carrying on a proud family heritage. Experimentation while keeping restraint, reform while staying true to Alsace’s cultural traditions – I found all this and more in every single cuvée I tasted with Domaine Weinbach. Certainly some of the region’s most exceptional wines are made here – by some of the region’s most exceptional people, too.
For my last full day in Alsatian wine country, I started with Famille Hugel, another famous producer in the region. For many Americans, the name Hugel alone is synonymous with Alsace – and for good reason. Family producers in the region since 1639, they have a vast portfolio of wines from entry level all the way through to grand cru. You name it, they’ve got it! This is a great domaine to visit at the beginning of your time in the region because it’ll really give you a taste of what you can expect from Alsace wines (especially if you’re not super familiar with them!).
I then drove over to Domaine Bott-Geyl. Sadly, this organic and biodynamic domaine is not well known in the U.S. (I hear some importers are looking to change that, and if you’re reading this – consider adding Bott-Geyl to your portfolio!), but this was a lovely visit I will never forget. Jean-Christophe Geyl was kind enough to give me a personal tour of the small plot of vines he has on the property, in addition to its vast cellars. He was among the most passionate winemakers I met this trip and unique in that he believes that experiencing wine is multi-sensory. I smelled the soil, listened as Riesling fermented, and felt the pop of crémant on my finger tips in addition to tasting a dozen wines. If you can find Bott-Geyl where you are – scoop it up! If not, these wines are magnificent and a tasting here while in Alsace will not disappoint.
Another picnic lunch later and I was off to my last domaine of the visit and a personal favorite, Domaine André Kientzler. Can we just talk about the reflection in the tasting room glass below?! This was another stunning, recently remodeled property in the heart of the vines, that also incorporated a few elements of classic Alsatian charm. Kientzler is a small, family-run property that is on its way to organic certification (one year left!). Because it is not so well known in the U.S., these wines offer incredible value for your growing Alsace Grand Cru collection and are some of my favorites from the region. The Grand Crus Osterberg and Kirchberg de Ribeauvillé are among the best and they are experimenting with natural wines, too! There’s certainly something for all in this lineup – and the views alone are worth a visit.
I’ll certainly have to return to Alsace, because I didn’t get to go to every winemaker I wanted to! If you have a few extra days, here’s where I would go:
- Domaine Ostertag
- Domaine Schlumberger
- Domaine Christian Binner
- Marcel Deiss
- Domaine Dirler-Cadé
- Vignoble des 2 Lunes
- Leon Beyer
- Gustave Lorentz
Have I inspired you to take a look at Alsace for your next summer or spring vacation yet?! Trust me, this region’s magic has something to offer everyone. Whether it’s the wineries, the fairytale villages, or the region’s rich historical and cultural traditions, I’m telling you: you have to visit Alsace.