Alsace Cheese, cheer and beer

The mountainous terrain of Alsace in France, bordering Germany and Switzerland, has a lot more than just a simple vacation to offer.

Tejaswi Rathore | Print Edition: March 9, 2008

Mountainous terrain of Alsace in France
Mountainous terrain of Alsace in France
Abusiness meeting luring you to Paris this year? Get your family to join you after the conference and head to the beautiful mountains of Alsace. There’s so much to see and do once you are there.

A Foodie’s Paradise: Without doubt, the leading Alsatian gastronomical specialty is Kougelhopf. This brioche with almonds and raisins has an unusual shape (it looks like a hat) and is available in most bakeries throughout the year.

If you have a taste for unusual cheese, be sure to pay a visit to the Munster Valley and sample the area’s excellent farm-produced Munster cheese, which is mouth-watering, especially when had with a sprinkling of caraway seeds. Those with a sweet tooth won’t be able to resist Alsace's Bredele (or Bredela). These are biscuits or small cakes sold during Christmas.

Care for more exotic stuff? Take the opportunity to purchase genuine Alsatian foie gras, in Ribeauvillé, Strasbourg, Soultz-lesbains or Ichtratzheim. Alsace is the traditional home of this refined pâté dish made from goose or duck liver.

The Wine Trail: When it comes to wine, the Alsatian Wine Route is definitely not to be missed. The region’s 51 Grands Crus will leave you spoilt for choice. You should also take advantage of your stay in this region to top up on Alsatian brandies and liqueurs, including Schnapps. The Schnapps are distilled from plums, cherries, raspberries or prunes. There is something here to suit every taste. These delicious liqueurs are best enjoyed at the end of a meal or at coffee time.

Watch out for

Voix et Route Romane: The festival gets its name from the route through Strasbourg that was historically used for pilgrimages. Honouring the legacy of these pilgrims, the festival consists of a series of concerts, including traditional chants and hymns. Voix-Romane takes place every May through September— an astounding four months of festivities.

Jazz d’Or: Winter is a time when some of the best music festivals take place. Jazz d’Or takes place every November in Strasbourg, and attracts internationally renowned jazz musicians. The classical Festival Musica is in October—its programme includes traditional classics as well as modern experimental pieces.

Sugar Fair: Most festivals are also an excuse to sample good food, and Alsace does not disappoint. The village of Erstein holds a Sugar Fair every August, with plenty of sweets and other sugary treats. The town of Colmar holds wine festivals nearly every month of the year, offering wine samples accompanied by finger foods such as sticky Kugelhopf cake. In fact, there is a festival in Alsace devoted to the Kugelhopf—it’s held every June in Ribeauvillé. 

Beer Cheer: Alsace’s numerous breweries are guaranteed to delight beer lovers. The simplest option is to head for Schiltigheim, a town which boasts three breweries (Adelshoffen, Fischer and Heineken), and then travel on to Strasbourg to pay a visit to the world-famous Kronenbourg brewery. And if that’s not enough, don’t forget to make a detour to Hochfelden to see the Météor brewery or to Saverne, where Karlsberg is brewed.

Oops: Driving after a few drinks is a punishable offence in most European nations. The maximum tolerated blood alcohol concentration is 0.5 g of alcohol per litre of blood, which is equal to approximately 3 small glasses of beer or two glasses of wine.

When to Visit

Strasbourg Cathedral
Strasbourg Cathedral
The best time to visit Alsace is in autumn (September-October), when temperatures have cooled off slightly, or late spring (end-March to early May). If you visit during September and October, you can enjoy the fall season and the grape harvest—two memories to last you a lifetime.

Easy access: The easiest way to get to Alsace would be by air or by train from Paris CDG.

By air: Alsace has two major international airports: Basel-Mulhouse airport in the Upper-Alsace and Strasbourg airport in the Lower-Alsace. Numerous national and international airlines offer daily services to and from the Alsatian airports.

By train: With the new TGV Est Européen, it takes only 2 hours and 20 minutes from downtown Paris to downtown Strasbourg and makes it easy to connect from Germany as well.

By road: It takes 4 hours and 25 minutes from Paris to Strasbourg.

Suggested Tour

Experts suggest this one. Start at Strasbourg. Don't miss the Notre Dame Cathedral, the Kammerzell House, the Palais Rohan and the Musee de l’Oeuvre Notre-Dame. Other must-visits are the Ponts-Couverts (covered bridges) and the various canal crossing points, the fortifications designed by Vauban, and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art.

The next day, visit Haut-Koenigsbourg and Mont-Sainte Odile. At Mont-Sainte Odile, don’t miss the remains of the Pagan Wall, the unbeatable view over the Alsatian plains, the Mont-Sainte Odile monastery and the marked-out tourist trails.

For some adventure and fun you must spend one entire day discovering the wine route (Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr and Kaysersberg) on bicycle.

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