Your Week in Alsace

A European Experiences week has an ideal balance of structure and flexibility, activities with the group and time on your own. Because our groups are small and we use two vehicles, we sometimes split into two groups or take a few group members on a spontaneous late afternoon excursion. Plans may also be adjusted based on weather, the interests of the group members, and unexpected opportunities. If there’s a special event in the area during your week, we’ll likely rearrange things to be there.

We’ll describe a “typical” week in Alsace, but every Alsace Experience week is somewhat unique. Your week might be organized differently, and for various reasons, experiences may be added or not included. This sample itinerary also doesn’t include some special stops we’d like to surprise you with when we’re together.

Our base village of Kientzheim has few tourists; we love that it’s authentic and peaceful. There are two restaurants (one at our hotel), at least six winemakers, many historic buildings, and the museum of Alsatian wine. Many days we’ll offer a late afternoon shuttle to the larger and busier village of Kaysersberg (just a mile away) for those who want to shop, visit a bar or cafe, or use services like a pharmacy or grocery store.

Day One (Saturday)

We meet the group at the train station in Strasbourg and travel south about an hour to our village of Kientzheim. (Beginning in 2018 we’ll meet the group at the train station in Colmar, about 20 minutes from Kientzheim.) You’ll get to know your fellow travelers and enjoy the lush scenery as we travel through the Alsatian countryside. Soon we’ll pass through the old stone gate of our medieval village and arrive at the family-owned hotel that will be our home for the week.

You’ll have time to settle into your room, and then we’ll introduce you to Kientzheim, a colorful and beautifully preserved village very much focused on the wine industry. Our hotel in the center of the village with an outdoor terrace where you can relax over a beverage during the week. This evening we’ll enjoy dinner together at the hotel’s excellent restaurant.

Day Two (Sunday)

On our first full day we’ll begin to experience the unique history and culture of Alsace and visit several of the nearby villages.

We’ll travel along the famous Route des Vins (wine road) that winds through villages and vineyards, eventually leaving the vineyards to climb to a rocky spur in the Vosges Mountains. Our day begins with a visit to the chateau of Haut-Koenigsbourg, the medieval castle that towers over the upper Rhine Valley. Restored in the early 20th century for the German emperor Wilhelm II, the castle includes beautifully decorated rooms, a collection of weaponry from the middle ages, and incredible views.

We’ll return to the valley and the nearby town of Ribeauvillé (population 5000), a colorful town filled with flowers, dominated by the ruins of three ancient castles on the hillside. After lunch, you’ll have time to explore the Grand-Rue (main street) and side streets with Kathy or Charley or on your own, discovering Ribeauvillé’s beautiful medieval architecture. There’s good shopping here too.

Later, we’ll explore Bergheim, a well-preserved village still enclosed by its 15th century walls with several towers.

Dinner tonight is at our hotel, a meal of Alsatian specialties and wine. Bring your appetite!!

Day Three (Monday)

Our explorations today focus on Kientzheim and the larger village of Kaysersberg, less than a mile away. You can choose to walk to Kaysersberg on an easy trail through the vineyards or ride in one of our vans. In Kaysersberg we’ll meet our guide for a walking tour of this charming village with its impressive church, fortified bridge, and ruined castle. We’ll learn about Albert Schweitzer, a noted theologian, organist, philosopher, and physician and winner of the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize; he was born in Kaysersberg in 1875. Our tour ends at the market square, where we can browse the weekly market.

We’ll stop for lunch at one of our favorite cafes in Kaysersberg. You might enjoy a tarte flambée, an Alsatian specialty. It’s kind of like pizza, with a very thin crust, topped with crème fraîche (a type of soured cream), onions and other toppings. After lunch, you can return to Kientzheim on foot or by van.

In the afternoon our group will be welcomed at the chateau of Kientzheim, headquarters of the Confrérie Saint-Etienne, the ancient brotherhood of Alsatian wine that dates back to the 14th century. Members of the Confrérie will introduce us to the wines of Alsace and also show us their extensive wine cellar. We’ll also visit the adjacent museum to learn more about the life and work of Alsatian winegrowers over the centuries.

Tonight’s dinner is in Kaysersberg, at a restaurant popular with local residents.

Day Four (Tuesday)

Our day begins with another optional walk, this one a longer walk (about an hour) through the vineyards and over the hill to the beautiful village of Riquewihr. You can also opt for a later start and ride to Riquewihr by van.

Riquewihr is designated one of the “most beautiful villages” in France, ablaze with the colorful half-timbered houses and decorated with flowers. We’ll have a few hours to explore this special place, enjoying the architecture and shops, perhaps stopping for coffee and some people-watching.

Then we’ll drive back roads through the vineyards to the next village of Hunawihr, also named one of the “most beautiful villages” in France. Hunawihr is known for its beautiful little church, the 15th/16th century Church of St Jacques le Majeur, set outside the village on a hillside surrounded by vines. The church and part of its cemetery are fortified and have been shared by Catholics and Protestants since the 17th century.

Our group will relax over a casual picnic lunch in a picturesque spot in Hunawihr. This is always a highlight of the week.

In the afternoon, we’ll visit the Écomusée d’Alsace, a open-air living history museum demonstrating life in rural Alsace. Our groups especially enjoy a close-up look at the storks at the Écomusée. These storks are migratory birds that make their home in Europe in spring and summer and have become a symbol of Alsace. There are about 40 nesting pairs at the Écomusée, raising their young in huge nests that weigh half a ton.

We’re back at our hotel tonight for a very special dinner.

Day Five (Wednesday)

You’ll love the delightful town of Colmar (population 68,000), the capital of Alsatian wine and the major town in this area. Colmar includes a flower-decked town center, colorful half-timbered houses, and canals that wind through an area called the Petit Venise. A local guide will introduce us to the highlights of the town. Then you’ll have several hours to explore, including lunch on your own. You can visit the covered market, wander the streets, or enjoy the many shops. You’ll even have time to visit one of the museums such as the highly-regarded Unterlinden art museum (especially known for its famous Isenheim altarpiece) or the Bartholdi museum (honoring the sculptor from Colmar best known for designing the Statue of Liberty).

Just before arriving back at Kientzheim, we’ll drive to the top of the Blutberg (Blood Hill) above neighboring village Sigolsheim. At the top of the hill is a French national military cemetery, a beautiful and peaceful final resting place for 1,589 French soldiers (many from North Africa) who died during the Battle of the Colmar Pocket in January/February 1945. Many of the villages in this area were destroyed or badly damaged.

We’ll enjoy a very special dinner tonight in Kientzheim.

Day Six (Thursday)

Today we’ll travel north to the crest of the Vosges Mountains. Our first stop is Mont St. Odile (at almost 2500 feet) and Hohenburg Abbey. The abbey was founded in the 7th century to honor Saint Odile, now the patron saint of Alsace, though it has been rebuilt several times. This pilgrimage site is considered the spiritual center of Alsace. We’ll visit the monastery/convent, including the tomb of Saint Odile and several ancient chapels. There are superb panoramic views from the terrace.

We’ll travel further along the mountain top for a more sobering visit to Le Struthof, a German concentration camp from 1941-1944. Now it’s a museum in memory of the 52,000 people who were held there, including 22,000 who died. Alsace is such a beautiful and happy place today; this visit is an important reminder of its often-tragic history, especially during World War II.

Lunch is at a special restaurant in the pretty wine village of Ottrott.

We’ll return to our own area for wine tasting in Mittelwihr, at the small cellar of our hotel owner René, who is also a winemaker. René has 3.5 hectares of vines (8.6 acres) and produces seven different types of wine as well as sparkling wine (crémant d’Alsace) and late-harvest wines. We will taste them them all! Although there are big corporate wineries in Alsace, René is a great example of the many small winemakers in the region. You’ll definitely enjoy the wine tasting experience with him!

Dinner tonight is on your own, in Kientzheim or Kaysersberg.

Day Seven (Friday)

How can be possibly be our last day already?

We’ll begin the morning traveling south on the Route des Vins, stopping in a colorful little wine village with a very long name: Niedermorschwihr.

Although it’s home to only 600 people, the village has a very special bakery and shop, Au Relais des Trois Epis, and the confiture (jam) business of Christine Ferber. A native of Niedermorschwihr, she’s an internationally known master jam-maker and pastry chef and her jams are sold around the world. We love wandering around this small village and of course the shop. Save room in your suitcase for at least one jar of jam!

From Niedermorschwihr, the road rises steeply up the side of the mountain, once again to the crest of the Vosges.

Finally, in the midst of the forest, we’ll reach the isolated museum and memorial of Le Linge, site of one of the bloodiest confrontations of the World War I, resulting the death of 17,000 French and German soldiers. You’ll have a first-hand look at the heartbreaking conditions the young men experienced, while operating in trenches sometimes only a few feet from their enemy. We’ll make a stop at a nearby French military cemetery.

Lunch is at a “ferme-auberge” in the mountains, a casual restaurant located on a farm, where most of the food is produced on the farm. We’ll enjoy a simple Alsatian meal in very unique surroundings.

After lunch, we’ll make a final stop in the wine village of Turckheim at the base of the mountain. You can stroll the cobbled streets; admire architecture, the three towers and old walls; or perhaps make a stop at one of the wine cellar to taste the famous Grand Cru Brand.

Our farewell dinner is at our hotel. We’ll make a toast to new friends and our experiences in Alsace!

Day Eight (Saturday)

We’ll have an early breakfast and then return to Strasbourg (or Colmar in 2018), one last journey together. We know you’ll take with you the memories of a wonderful week!