Self-Guided Tour of Alsace, France
Alsace, which lies in Northeastern France, is a hidden gem recognized for its white wines, which account for more than 90% of the region’s output. Due to several historical transfers of ownership between France and Germany, the area has a distinctive history and culture. The region is not only known for its wines, but also its unique and delicious cuisine, its charming villages, and its world renowned Christmas markets.
Geography & Climate
Alsace is a long, narrow wine region that extends from north to south, tucked between the Rhine River to the east and the Vosges Mountains to the west. The Vosges Mountains create a rain shadow over Alsace, giving the area a dry, sunny climate. In fact, despite its location in Northern France, it is one of the sunniest and driest wine regions in France. This allows the region to produce full bodied, rich white wines.
View of Alsace
La Route des Vins
The best way to visit Alsace’s wine region is to drive a part of la route des vins, or the wine route. It starts just northwest of Strasbourg and winds 112 kilometers along the edge of the Vosges where the region’s most famous vineyards and wineries are located. The drive is known not only for its famous wine, but also its incredible scenery and cute, historic villages, a few of which have been named the most beautiful villages in France. The route also includes the larger city, Colmar which is another tourist destination itself. And for those that would like a bit more adventure, much of the wine route can be explored by bike.
When is the Best Time to Visit Alsace?
The tourist season in Alsace lasts most of the year. In spring villages are bursting with flowers, vineyards are turning green once more, and the temperature is moderate, which makes for a great time to visit the region. The summer months are also sunny and beautiful, though it can be a bit hot and crowded with tourists in August. September is the month of the grape harvest, while this is a fun time to see the vineyards and visit village harvest festivals, it can be difficult to visit smaller wineries as they are often too busy to host wine tastings while they are harvesting. Christmas time is another excellent time to visit, many of the region’s villages and cities decorate and hold Christmas markets throughout the month of December.
What is the Wine History of Alsace?
Winemaking started in Alsace sometime around the second century BC after the Roman invasion, though it didn’t become famous as a wine region until around the 12th century. Since then its winemaking customs have evolved, frequently in response to invasions, wars, and changes in French and German control. The output and caliber of the wines from Alsace frequently reflected the harsh conditions the region experienced. But since World War II, Alsace’s standing as a significant wine-producing region has gained ground. With the return of Alsatian rule to France after the war, the focus shifted to the cultivation of dry, premium wines. Alsace’s reputation grew along with the quality of its wines. The Alsatian Wine Route was founded in 1953, and less than ten years later, in 1962, the designation of Appellation d’Origine Controlee (AOC) was given to Alsace, and since then the region’s fame has only increased.
What are the Subregions of Alsace?
The 15,600-hectare Alsace wine region is further subdivided into two sub-regions:
- The Haut-Rhin, runs between Sélestat in the north and Thann in the south and stretches along the Vosges.
- The Bas-Rhin, which runs from Sélestat to Strasbourg.
There are 33 grand cru classified vineyards in the Haut-Rhin and 18 in the Bas-Rhin, totaling 51 great cru vineyards in Alsace.
What Grapes Are Grown In Alsace?
The “Noble” cépages, or grape varieties Alsace is best known for are Muscat, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewurztraminer. These grapes receive the vast majority of the acreage and are planted on the best sites on the slopes flanking the eastern edge of the Vosges Mountains. In addition to these grapes, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Auxerrois, and Chasselas are also grown. While Alsace is mostly known for its white wine, there is also a fair amount of Pinot Noir produced in the region. And in recent years, the popularity of Alsatian Pinot Noir has grown.
What are Historical Sites in Alsace?
- La Petite France
Strasbourg’s old town is a tranquil cluster of streets with cobblestones, upscale eateries, and many half-timbered houses the region is known for. It’s a beautiful area that is often considered a must-see for visitors to the region.
- Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg
Strasbourg’s most recognizable structure, this enormous cathedral, is an imposing example of Gothic architecture from the 13th century.
- Petite Venise (aka Little Venice)
Little Venice, located in the historic center of Colmar, is a named for its picturesque canal that runs through this part of the city. There are beautiful bridges and classic half-timbered houses located along the canal, along with shops and restaurants throughout.
What are the Best Wineries in Alsace?
There is an overwhelming amount of wineries located in Alsace, and many of them welcome visitors for wine tastings. Depending on the size of the winery, some have dedicated tasting rooms that are open to visitors throughout the week and weekend and don’t require a reservation, while others require tastings to be booked ahead of time.
- Domaine Saint Remy
Since its founding in the little Alsatian village of Wettolsheim, five kilometers west of Colmar, the Ehrhart family has been cultivating the region’s several terroirs. With a diversity of soils, Philippe and Corinne Ehrhart cultivate their 25 hectares throughout 11 different villages. Since 2012, all wines have been biodynamically produced.
- Domaine Albert Seltz Winery
Visitors who enjoy wine are invited to enjoy themselves at Domaine Albert Seltz. In their welcoming tasting area with decor inspired by a 16th-century setting, you may hold private or business parties, weddings, seminars, birthdays, etc. Two enormous displays, each measuring 85 inches, are utilized to display their wines and other products.
Where Should I Stay on a Wine Tour in Alsace?
- Les Gîtes d’Adelspach Gîtes & Spa en Alsace
Les Gîtes d’Adelspach Gîtes & Spa en Alsace in Aubure provides lodging, free bicycles, a fitness center, a garden, BBQ grills, and a spa and wellness center. It also has garden views. The vacation rental has free private parking and WiFi. A balcony, a fully outfitted kitchen with a dishwasher, a seating space, a flat-screen TV, a washing machine, and a private bathroom with a hot tub and bathrobes are included in each unit. In addition, a kettle and a coffee maker are available, along with a fridge, microwave, and oven. The 4-star Les Gîtes d’Adelspach Gîtes & Spa in Alsace provides lodging with a hammam and a playground for kids.
- Hotel des Berges, Gourmet Restaurant & Spa
Hotel des Berges, Gourmet Restaurant & Spa
In Illhaeusern, the Hotel des Berges has a restaurant, an outdoor pool, a bar, and a garden. This hotel offers family rooms as well as a sun patio for visitors. An indoor pool, room service, and free WiFi are all provided by the hotel.
- Le Moon
Le Moon, located in Strasbourg on the banks of the Ill River, is a 5-minute stroll from the Rhine Palace, 350 meters from the Strasbourg Christmas Market, and 600 meters from the Cathedral. Each unit in the 19th-century building has a modern interior design. The Superior and Deluxe Apartments come with a dining room and a fully equipped kitchen, while the Studio Apartment only has a fridge, a microwave, and a Nespresso coffee maker.
How Can I Save Money on a Wine Tour of Alsace?
One of the biggest expenses when visiting Alsace is eating in the restaurants. One idea to save a little money is to make your own picnics. Grab a baguette at a local bakery, some cheese, charcuterie, and of course a bottle of wine and find a nice spot in a park or the vineyard for a relaxing and cheap lunch.
Alsace Self-Guided Tour Conclusion
Numerous discoveries are promised by the Alsace Wine Route. Follow your heart and appreciate the wide range of treats the Alsace Wine Route has to offer as you travel. You can try new experiences and activities to make your stay truly memorable, including biking through vineyards, strolling through picturesque villages, scaling castle walls, meeting winegrowers and learning about their craft, tasting Alsatian wines at a sensory workshop, and relaxing in a spa with views of the vines.
The Alsace Wine Route, which was formally established as a tourist route in 1953, meanders lovingly across 170 km of hills and vineyards from the region’s north to its south. It travels through over 119 wine-producing communities, where nearly 720 winemakers welcome you to share their enthusiasm for wine. The Alsace Wine Route is an authentic, joyous, and magnificent celebration of life that seems destined to last forever. The region is the finest for wine-tasting excursions because of its renowned wines and outstanding terroirs. The wine-producing region of Alsace, with its diverse mosaic of high-quality soils, finds its clearest expression in 51 Grands Crus, each the result of a tightly delineated territory that satisfies strictly regulated geological and climatic standards. These terroirs are a wonderful gift from nature, and those with the motivation and expertise to notice and utilize them will learn about many of their potential benefits. Outstanding wines are the result of an essential alchemy that expresses their history and character.
The Vibe: The charm of the Alsace Wine Route is found in its extraordinary topography and unparalleled beauty. It is completely picturesque and filled with medieval castles and characteristically vibrant Alsatian villages. You should go and discover this wonderful wine region for yourself.
- Alsace Wine Route website