Touring and tasting along the Wine Route of Alsace

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by Judy Hodges, Denton, MD

It quickly becomes apparent, upon arrival, why France and Germany have fought over the boundary lines of the region in France known as Alsace. Here you will find some of the gentlest riesling and finest pinot wines produced anywhere. Add to this the marvelous combination of German and French cuisine (there are more Michelin-starred restaurants here than anywhere outside of Paris) and you can appreciate the advantages of having the influences of two cultures on one area.

So in early June ’04, my husband and I decided to take to the back roads of Alsace, which contain some of the most beautiful, picturesque villages filled with lush greenery and magnificent flowers that one is likely to see anywhere.

Choosing Alsace

Since one of our major requirements when selecting a destination is for the area to be excluded from the major tourist guides and tours, the wine road of Alsace fit the bill. Certainly, Strasbourg is mentioned everywhere, but the small villages along this route that provide pottery or honey or perhaps a stellar meal using local ingredients do not so frequently appear in the average guidebook.

If we had a week to amble and while away the day in a most leisurely fashion, we might be able to do credible justice to the area — two weeks would be even better — but the luxury of having so much time to devote to one region is an option few of us have. So we would explore a portion of Alsace in three days, which is a far more realistic venture for most travelers.

We will begin by saying this: don’t travel in the height of summer when, despite its relative tranquility, tourists are much more plentiful than during other, equally appealing seasons of the year. Alsace is superb in spring and fall and a magical fairy tale during Christmas with enchanting Advent markets. On one such trip to Strasbourg, which boasts one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe, we found Baccarat crystal chandeliers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging outside with relatively little or no protection!

Wine tours and tastings

A good starting point for our wine-tasting adventure in Alsace was Marlenheim, the beginning of the Route du Vin.

This wine route is about 200 kilometers in length, which means it can be done easily in three days. Covering 70 kilometers (about 50 miles) a day means you won’t be spending the day in the car.

Marlenheim, 15 kilometers west of Strasbourg on N4, is one of the oldest wine villages in Alsace. It is filled with charming houses and slightly sloping streets, and the lovely whitewashed 18th-century Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs church with a baroque chapel is well worth the hike.

The village has its own vineyard walk (sentier viticole), which is well posted. Wines to sample in the area include Tokay-pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer. Producers include Mosback, Laugel and Fritsch Romain.

Bear in mind that most producers along Alsace’s wine road have cellars where they offer wine tasting, and many offer guided tours. There is usually a signboard somewhere in the center of each village listing the local producers and their addresses.

Most times there will be a fee for the tour, but the price is usually subtracted from your bill if you buy wine. Many of these vintners are so small that they don’t export to the U.S., which makes the wines even more special.

Accommodations

One of the best places to eat in Alsace is located in Marlenheim. At Le Cerf (30 rue du Général de Galle; phone 03 88 87 73 73), we found a mixture of traditional and modern cuisine with an emphasis on fish specialties. The restaurant is a member of La Fédération des Chefs de Cuisine Restaurateurs d’Alsace. It is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

You may also rent rooms here which are quite attractive and surround a courtyard. At last visit, the meal cost more than the rooms! But the meal was worth the price, about €75 (near $97) per person.

After enjoying two or three hours of fine eating, it might be a good time to pick up a brochure on Logis de France (www.logis-de-france.fr). These family-owned small properties located outside the major cities are always charming and reasonably priced and many times have Michelin-starred restaurants.

For example, Marlenheim’s Hostellerie Reeb (2 rue Albert Schweitzer; phone 03 88 87 52 70) has been awarded two stars and three chimneys in the Logis book. Half-board, which includes breakfast and dinner, runs €47-€65 ($61-$84) per person.

Diversions

From Marlenheim we continued into Molsheim, where we would feast on wonderful duck with muscat sauce at Au Cheval Blanc (Place de l’Hotel de Ville; phone 03 88 38 16 87). It is closed Sunday (dinner) and Monday.

It also has rooms, in case you want to stay over (€60), and it has 2-star and 2-chimney ratings with Logis.

While in Molsheim, check out the classic car factory for Bugattis. The museum for these classic cars, however, is located in Mulhouse in the Haut-Rhin. Closed on Tuesdays, it is open 2-5 p.m. in off-season and 10-5 from June 15 to Sept. 15.

Obernai

We got back into our non-Bugatti auto and cruised over to Obernai, one of the oldest towns in Alsace. In the market square there is a lovely, 16th-century Corn Exchange which houses a museum. One photo opportunity that shouldn’t be missed is the beautifully decorated Well of the Six Buckets filled with red geraniums in spring, summer and fall.

Obernai is a good spot for settling in and exploring the rest of the region. You can’t go wrong when selecting a place to stay here — charming hotels and excellent restaurants abound.

Hostellerie la Diligence (23 place de la Marie) is old-fashioned and filled with antiques, but it’s chic and reasonably priced (under €100, or $130; no restaurant). Half-timbered De La Cloche (90, rue Général Gourard) is very historic, as it stands on 14th-century foundations. Its reasonable rates start at €50, with breakfast €6. The dining room’s claim to fame is a large fresco signed by a master craftsman, Spindler.

Hotel à la Cour d’Alsace (3, rue de Gail; www.cour-alsace.com) is a grand hotel and a bit of a splurge, as its rooms ring in at about €150 ($195); it does offer half-pension. Its restaurant is a member of the Federation of Chefs.

For a reasonable meal at a great little Weinstube, try l’Anneau d’ Or.

Of course, there are wine producers to visit here also. CV Obernai is the local cooperative where wine makers take their grapes to be turned into wine. Two grand wines produced here are gewürztraminer and riesling, which may be found at Domaine du Clos Saint-Odile (just follow the sign that can be seen when entering the town).

Because we had only three days, we had to skip some wonderful villages. Feel free to stop at any and all if your time frame permits, but since we couldn’t, we moved on to St. Hippolyte, 10 kilometers north.

The most northerly of the wine-making regions, St. Hippolyte was the first region known for pinot noir. Here, we once again found those delightful half-timbered houses.

Du Parc (6 rue du Parc; phone 03 89 73 0006) is a lovely hotel and offers a Weinstube and half-board for about €100 per person. It rates three stars and three chimneys.

A La Vignette (66, rte. du Vin; phone 03 89 7300 17) is rated two stars (and chimneys), and half-pension runs about €50 per person.

All lodgings post their rates, so there are never any surprises.

Thann

The last spot on our Wine Road tour, Thann, is a charming village on the banks of the River Thur with three standout places to stay and eat.

The De France (22 rue du Général de Gaulle; phone 03 89 37 02 93), while small with only 14 rooms, offers a half-pension which ranges from €75 to €116 per person, depending on the season. Its salmon-pink exterior with deep-rose awnings make it a standout kind of place.

Aux Sapins (3, rue Jeanne d’Arc), sporting two stars and chimneys, runs about €43 a night. Au Floridor (54, rue du Floridor) is out of town and runs about €36-€50 per night. Just look for the chimneys, which indicate they belong to Logis de France, and you can’t go wrong.

Sites not to be missed include the Church of St. Thiebaut (look for the figures of the gossip, the fiddler and the bespectacled man) and an early 16th-century corn market which houses a museum.

We tested our wine and charm quotients on this 3-day journey. It was not long enough, but it does guarantee a return visit to soak up more of the peaceful, tranquil pleasures each village offers.

In all the many times we have experienced Alsace, we have never been disappointed.

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

by Judy Hodges, Denton, MD

It quickly becomes apparent, upon arrival, why France and Germany have fought over the boundary lines of the region in France known as Alsace. Here you will find some of the gentlest riesling and finest pinot wines produced anywhere. Add to this the marvelous combination of German and French cuisine (there are more Michelin-starred restaurants here than anywhere outside of Paris) and you can appreciate the advantages of having the influences of two cultures on one area.

So in early June ’04, my husband and I decided to take to the back roads of Alsace, which contain some of the most beautiful, picturesque villages filled with lush greenery and magnificent flowers that one is likely to see anywhere.

Choosing Alsace

Since one of our major requirements when selecting a destination is for the area to be excluded from the major tourist guides and tours, the wine road of Alsace fit the bill. Certainly, Strasbourg is mentioned everywhere, but the small villages along this route that provide pottery or honey or perhaps a stellar meal using local ingredients do not so frequently appear in the average guidebook.

If we had a week to amble and while away the day in a most leisurely fashion, we might be able to do credible justice to the area — two weeks would be even better — but the luxury of having so much time to devote to one region is an option few of us have. So we would explore a portion of Alsace in three days, which is a far more realistic venture for most travelers.

We will begin by saying this: don’t travel in the height of summer when, despite its relative tranquility, tourists are much more plentiful than during other, equally appealing seasons of the year. Alsace is superb in spring and fall and a magical fairy tale during Christmas with enchanting Advent markets. On one such trip to Strasbourg, which boasts one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe, we found Baccarat crystal chandeliers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars hanging outside with relatively little or no protection!

Wine tours and tastings

A good starting point for our wine-tasting adventure in Alsace was Marlenheim, the beginning of the Route du Vin.

This wine route is about 200 kilometers in length, which means it can be done easily in three days. Covering 70 kilometers (about 50 miles) a day means you won’t be spending the day in the car.

Marlenheim, 15 kilometers west of Strasbourg on N4, is one of the oldest wine villages in Alsace. It is filled with charming houses and slightly sloping streets, and the lovely whitewashed 18th-century Notre-Dame-des-Sept-Douleurs church with a baroque chapel is well worth the hike.

The village has its own vineyard walk (sentier viticole), which is well posted. Wines to sample in the area include Tokay-pinot gris, riesling and gewürztraminer. Producers include Mosback, Laugel and Fritsch Romain.

Bear in mind that most producers along Alsace’s wine road have cellars where they offer wine tasting, and many offer guided tours. There is usually a signboard somewhere in the center of each village listing the local producers and their addresses.

Most times there will be a fee for the tour, but the price is usually subtracted from your bill if you buy wine. Many of these vintners are so small that they don’t export to the U.S., which makes the wines even more special.

Accommodations

One of the best places to eat in Alsace is located in Marlenheim. At Le Cerf (30 rue du Général de Galle; phone 03 88 87 73 73), we found a mixture of traditional and modern cuisine with an emphasis on fish specialties. The restaurant is a member of La Fédération des Chefs de Cuisine Restaurateurs d’Alsace. It is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

You may also rent rooms here which are quite attractive and surround a courtyard. At last visit, the meal cost more than the rooms! But the meal was worth the price, about €75 (near $97) per person.

After enjoying two or three hours of fine eating, it might be a good time to pick up a brochure on Logis de France (www.logis-de-france.fr). These family-owned small properties located outside the major cities are always charming and reasonably priced and many times have Michelin-starred restaurants.

For example, Marlenheim’s Hostellerie Reeb (2 rue Albert Schweitzer; phone 03 88 87 52 70) has been awarded two stars and three chimneys in the Logis book. Half-board, which includes breakfast and dinner, runs €47-€65 ($61-$84) per person.

Diversions

From Marlenheim we continued into Molsheim, where we would feast on wonderful duck with muscat sauce at Au Cheval Blanc (Place de l’Hotel de Ville; phone 03 88 38 16 87). It is closed Sunday (dinner) and Monday.

It also has rooms, in case you want to stay over (€60), and it has 2-star and 2-chimney ratings with Logis.

While in Molsheim, check out the classic car factory for Bugattis. The museum for these classic cars, however, is located in Mulhouse in the Haut-Rhin. Closed on Tuesdays, it is open 2-5 p.m. in off-season and 10-5 from June 15 to Sept. 15.

Obernai

We got back into our non-Bugatti auto and cruised over to Obernai, one of the oldest towns in Alsace. In the market square there is a lovely, 16th-century Corn Exchange which houses a museum. One photo opportunity that shouldn’t be missed is the beautifully decorated Well of the Six Buckets filled with red geraniums in spring, summer and fall.

Obernai is a good spot for settling in and exploring the rest of the region. You can’t go wrong when selecting a place to stay here — charming hotels and excellent restaurants abound.

Hostellerie la Diligence (23 place de la Marie) is old-fashioned and filled with antiques, but it’s chic and reasonably priced (under €100, or $130; no restaurant). Half-timbered De La Cloche (90, rue Général Gourard) is very historic, as it stands on 14th-century foundations. Its reasonable rates start at €50, with breakfast €6. The dining room’s claim to fame is a large fresco signed by a master craftsman, Spindler.

Hotel à la Cour d’Alsace (3, rue de Gail; www.cour-alsace.com) is a grand hotel and a bit of a splurge, as its rooms ring in at about €150 ($195); it does offer half-pension. Its restaurant is a member of the Federation of Chefs.

For a reasonable meal at a great little Weinstube, try l’Anneau d’ Or.

Of course, there are wine producers to visit here also. CV Obernai is the local cooperative where wine makers take their grapes to be turned into wine. Two grand wines produced here are gewürztraminer and riesling, which may be found at Domaine du Clos Saint-Odile (just follow the sign that can be seen when entering the town).

Because we had only three days, we had to skip some wonderful villages. Feel free to stop at any and all if your time frame permits, but since we couldn’t, we moved on to St. Hippolyte, 10 kilometers north.

The most northerly of the wine-making regions, St. Hippolyte was the first region known for pinot noir. Here, we once again found those delightful half-timbered houses.

Du Parc (6 rue du Parc; phone 03 89 73 0006) is a lovely hotel and offers a Weinstube and half-board for about €100 per person. It rates three stars and three chimneys.

A La Vignette (66, rte. du Vin; phone 03 89 7300 17) is rated two stars (and chimneys), and half-pension runs about €50 per person.

All lodgings post their rates, so there are never any surprises.

Thann

The last spot on our Wine Road tour, Thann, is a charming village on the banks of the River Thur with three standout places to stay and eat.

The De France (22 rue du Général de Gaulle; phone 03 89 37 02 93), while small with only 14 rooms, offers a half-pension which ranges from €75 to €116 per person, depending on the season. Its salmon-pink exterior with deep-rose awnings make it a standout kind of place.

Aux Sapins (3, rue Jeanne d’Arc), sporting two stars and chimneys, runs about €43 a night. Au Floridor (54, rue du Floridor) is out of town and runs about €36-€50 per night. Just look for the chimneys, which indicate they belong to Logis de France, and you can’t go wrong.

Sites not to be missed include the Church of St. Thiebaut (look for the figures of the gossip, the fiddler and the bespectacled man) and an early 16th-century corn market which houses a museum.

We tested our wine and charm quotients on this 3-day journey. It was not long enough, but it does guarantee a return visit to soak up more of the peaceful, tranquil pleasures each village offers.

In all the many times we have experienced Alsace, we have never been disappointed.