On the Move with Betsy and Greg: Castles, fairytale villages, and wine in Alsace, France.
By Greg Ball
As “safer at home” restrictions start to slowly loosen across the country, some of you may be thinking about travel again. While easy globetrotting is still a ways off, things are bound to be different with travel in the future.
Until we can safely take vacations again, I thought I’d share some of our favorite trips from over the years so we can all travel vicariously together.
Those of you who have followed us know we have a deep love and affinity for Italy. I have some hereditary roots there and the immersive experiences we have shared have been very satisfying.
However, some of our favorite trips over the past several years have been in different countries in Europe. Again, if you know us, you know we love great food and wine, which is what took us to the Alsace region of France.
Alsace is located in the far northeast of the country. This strip of land between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the east has bounced back and forth between French and German rule many times over the centuries. Under German rule the mountains marked the borderline, with the French, it is the river.
Strasbourg is on the northern tip of the region and is often the jumping off point for many tourists who arrive there by train. And while the metropolitan area has a lot going for it, the colorfully painted villages such as Ribeauville, Riquewihr, and Eguisheim to the south are the real attractions here.
The cobblestone streets invite pedestrian wandering, and you’ll feel like you are on the set of Beauty and the Beast.
Colmar is a larger town that is equally beautiful, if not quite as quaint. It serves as a home base for many visitors. It is centrally located and has many dining and shopping opportunities that make it a popular location to settle in for a few days.
We love to stay in places that are a little more off-the-beaten-path, so when the whole Euro Travel Coach team – Chelsea, Betsy, and myself – visited the area last March after one of our Small Group Tours of Tuscany, we stayed in the charming village of Kaysersberg.
We rented and airbnb that included two bedrooms and a kitchen, so we could cook when we weren’t eating out.
We also rented a car, which is essential here. There are buses that connect the little villages but trying to plan hikes, wine tastings, castle visits, and dinners using public transportation would be difficult indeed.
One of the things that brought us to Alsace is their famous wine. The renowned vineyards specialize in aromatic whites such as Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Gewurztraminer, and the star of the show, Riesling.
It seems odd to me that some people still turn up their noses at Riesling. It is probably my favorite white wine in the world.
If you are remembering the cloyingly sweet Blue Nun from the past, you owe it yourself to try an Alsatian Riesling. The style is bone dry with mouth-watering acidity that pairs well with the rich comfort food of the area.
I could go on and on about the virtues of these wines. Just trust me and try them!
But this region has so much more to offer than its wine. The area is covered in a web of scenic hiking paths.
We spent a lovely afternoon trekking from the charming village of Ribeauville into the hills and around the ruins of Chateau de St. Ulrich.
There are literally dozens of stunning castles scattered around the area with Fleckenstein, Lichtenberg, Bernstein, and the remarkable Koenigsbourg, being some of the more famous.
Even our little village of Kaysersberg had its own castle visible from our apartment!
Like many regions full of natural and man-made beauty, there are epicurean delights to match.
For breakfast we would visit a local patisserie for a baguette, croissant, or Linzer tart. For lunch we might share a few tarte flambée (or flammenkeuche). These very thin crispy flat breads are topped with crème fraîche, cheese, veggies, and ham and are this region’s answer to pizza.
In the evening there are plenty of high-end restaurants to choose from, but we enjoyed dinners at winstubs, Alsace’s version of an English pub.
They can range in style from simple and homey to quite fancy, but they all feature regional dishes such as baeckeoffe, a casserole dish featuring potatoes, onion, and meats marinated in white wine.
Seasonal dishes we had while we were there included morel mushrooms, fresh asparagus, and escargot.
We only spent about four days in Alsace but we are anxious to return and explore more of the area.
If you’d like to read more about this region you can read Betsy’s blog A Wonderful 3 Day Itinerary in Alsace.
Until we can travel again, stay safe and keep your travel dreams alive!
Greg Ball is co-founder and partner of Euro Travel Coach (ETC), which crafts custom European vacations for independent travelers and leads small group tours to Europe. In his previous life he taught Woodwinds and Jazz at the university level for 30 years. As a professor he took his bands to England, Ireland, Czech Republic, Austria, Switzerland, and England. Since “retiring” he and his wife/ETC co-founder Betsy travel Europe nine months out of the year. Together they have visited over 40 countries and counting! He loves cooking, hiking, listening and playing music, and wine and holds a Level 3 certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.