The Best of Alsace

A Wine Country Driving Tour Through France

For years, we recommended only two hotels in Alsace, both of which were in Strasbourg. I’m pleased to say that on my recent trip to this region in France’s northeast, I discovered two other charming inns, one in a village at the northern end of Alsace’s line of grand cru vineyards, and the other in Colmar, a delightful small city farther south. With these properties, it’s possible to put together a lovely driving tour. 

This region draws mostly French and German tourists, but few Americans. It is a shame, because Alsace ranks among the world’s prettiest wine regions, with vineyards terraced into the foothills of the Vosges Mountains, well-preserved half-timbered villages and the romantic ruins of castles that once protected them. And the wines themselves will delight any connoisseur. Riesling and Gewürztraminer reach great heights, and red-wine lovers will find much to praise in Alsace’s Pinot Noirs.

I recommend starting in Colmar and working your way up to Strasbourg, Alsace’s capital, which still has my two favorite hotels in the region. Note that when the European Parliament is in session, accommodations in Strasbourg fill up, making it important to secure reservations there far in advance if you’re traveling during that period. 

The busiest season in Alsace is not summer, or even the fall harvest season, as one might expect. It’s December, when cities and villages glow with festive Christmas markets. January to March is the slowest period, before spring arrives and the vineyards are still dormant.

Read our editor’s full account from Alsace, which includes restaurant and wine bar recommendations.

Itinerary Highlights

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  • Stroll past pastel-colored half-timbered houses in Colmar
  • Visit the Unterlinden Museum
  • Take a day trip to the wine town of Kaysersberg
  • Enjoy biodynamic wines at family-run wineries
  • Hike to ruined castles and scenic views
  • Relax at 5 Terres Hôtel & Spa
  • Eat at Michelin-starred restaurants
  • Explore the walled city of Obernai

Trip Overview

Day 1 : Arrive in Colmar
Day 2 : Colmar
Day 3 : Kaysersberg
Day 4 : Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr and Riquewihr
Day 5 : Colmar – Barr
Day 6 : Natzweiler-Struthof
Day 7 : Barr – Strasbourg
Day 8 : Strasbourg
Day 9 : Depart

Day 1 : Arrive in Colmar

The pretty little city of Colmar is about three hours from Paris by train, or you can fly into the EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg and rent a car. Colmar is about 45 minutes north of the airport. 

A canal cruise in the Petite Venice quarter in Colmar
A canal cruise in the Petite Venice quarter in Colmar - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Check into La Maison des Têtes, in a landmark historic building in the heart of the old center. This is not a true luxury hotel, but a comfortable family-run inn with a superlative gourmet restaurant. Official check-in time, alas, is not until 4 p.m.

Our Caractère Room at La Maison des Têtes
The dining room at Restaurant Girardin
La Maison des Têtes

Set behind an early-17th-century façade embellished with some 106 carved stone heads, this hotel is ideally located in Colmar’s city center.

Take a stroll in the city, walking from the hotel to Petite Venise, where a canal runs past pastel-colored half-timbered houses. It’s possible to take a 30-minute canal cruise; I recommend asking the hotel to reserve you a private cruise in advance, as the small boats can become crowded. 

If time permits, have lunch at one of my recommended restaurants in Colmar and/or introduce yourself to Alsatian wines at one of my recommended wine bars.

Have a grand dinner tonight in the hotel’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Girardin. (For a full list of recommended restaurants in the region, read Eating Well Along Alsace’s Route des Vins.”)

Day 2 : Colmar

Take a full day to enjoy Colmar. Start with a visit of the wonderful Unterlinden Museum, which recently added a new set of exhibition spaces designed by Herzog & de Meuron. In the 13th-century convent that forms the original part of the museum is the monumental and harrowingly expressive Isenheim Altarpiece, as well as a small but excellent collection of mostly French artworks. 

The “Isenheim Altarpiece” at the Unterlinden Museum
The “Isenheim Altarpiece” at the Unterlinden Museum - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Take the rest of the day to explore Colmar on foot. Walk along the Rue des Clefs, a major shopping street, and turn right down the Grand Rue. It leads to the picturesque Place de l’Ancienne Douane. Follow some of the smaller streets back toward your hotel. All along the route are restaurants and wine bars with sidewalk patios and shops with tempting local gourmet treats.

Place de l’Ancienne Douane
A major shopping street, Rue des Clefs, in Colmar

Day 3 : Kaysersberg

Colmar is a small enough city that driving in and out of it isn’t too much of a chore. Make a day trip by car to the wine town of Kaysersberg, about 20 minutes from La Maison des Têtes. First, ascend the hill to the Château de Kaysersberg, a ruined castle that affords sensational views of the town, the grand cru Schlossberg vineyard and the countryside beyond. 

View of the Schlossberg vineyard from Château de Kaysersberg in Kaysersberg
Château de Kaysersberg

Have a stroll through the touristy but very attractive town, and then enjoy lunch at The Winstub at Le Chambard, an upscale wine tavern on the far side of town from the castle. 

Do a wine tasting this afternoon, either at Domaine Weinbach, in a converted 17th-century Capuchin monastery just outside town, or at Jean-Baptiste Adam, in the neighboring town of Ammerschwihr. Both wineries are family-owned, and both farm their vineyards biodynamically. Making an appointment is recommended at either winery, but Jean-Baptiste Adam’s larger tasting room can better accommodate those who don’t book in advance.

Domaine Weinbach in Kaysersberg
The tasting room at Jean-Baptiste Adam in Ammerschwihr

Return to Colmar after the wine tasting.

Day 4 : Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr and Riquewihr

If you are up for some exercise and the day isn’t too hot, drive about 25 minutes to Ribeauvillé and hike up to the ruined Château de Saint-Ulrich and its neighbor, the Château du Girsberg. The shortest path is steep and only partially shaded but the views encompass vast swaths of exquisite countryside. 

Château du Girsberg in Ribeauvillé
Château du Girsberg in Ribeauvillé - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

If a hike up to a castle sounds unappealing, skip Ribeauvillé and head instead to Hunawihr, a little village just south of Ribeauvillé with a dramatic church on a vineyard-covered hillside. Walled Riquewihr is the next town to the south, and exploring it on foot is great fun. I had a good lunch there at Brendelstub. Or if you did the hike to the castle, you might prefer lunch in Ribeauvillé at Auberge du Parc Carola

Château de Saint-Ulrich in Ribeauvillé, France - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
View of the town from Château de Saint-Ulrich in Ribeauvillé, France - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
The Church of Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur in Hunawihr, France - Photo by Hideaway Report editor
Auberge du Parc Carola in Ribeauvillé, France - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Either way, after lunch, drive to nearby Beblenheim for a tasting at Maison Pierre Sparr, where an appointment isn’t really necessary. Alternatively, if you prefer to try one of the more famous names in Alsatian wine, Trimbach is just outside Ribeauvillé, and Dopff au Moulin is just outside Riquewihr. 

Return to Colmar in the late afternoon.

Day 5 : Colmar – Barr

Check out of La Maison des Têtes after breakfast and drive about 30 minutes north to the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, pausing en route, if you like, to wander in the attractive town of Bergheim. Haut-Kœnigsbourg underwent a major restoration in the early 20th century, with reconstructed banquet halls, sleeping chambers, a chapel and so forth. This castle, a short uphill walk from parking, is relatively easy to reach and popular. 

The Hall of Arms at Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg in Orschwiller
Château du Bernstein at Dambach-la-Ville

If you prefer to have a castle more to yourself, continue north to the Château du Bernstein, another ruin that requires a hike to reach (though the walk is much less strenuous than the walk to Château de Saint-Ulrich).

The views from either castle are panoramic and impressive. 

After your castle visit, continue north along the Route des Vins, stopping for a break to wander around the village of Dambach-la-Ville, which still retains some of its walls. 

The village of Dambach-la-Ville
The tasting room at Vins d’Alsace Rietsch in Mittelbergheim

The meandering country roads eventually lead up to the town of Mittelbergheim, where I tasted the fascinating and delicious experimental wines of Vins d’Alsace Rietsch. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to make an appointment there, so I recommend instead stopping for a tasting at the easier-to-visit Domaine Armand Gilg.

The next village north is quiet Barr, home to the 5 Terres Hôtel & Spa, located in the center of town on the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville. Like La Maison des Têtes, this property is not a true luxury hotel, but a stylish inn with a welcoming staff and a good restaurant. The 5 Terres also has a striking spa in its vaulted stone cellar, including a small swimming pool. 

The wine bar at 5 Terres Hôtel & Spa in Barr
The wine bar at 5 Terres Hôtel & Spa in Barr - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Have dinner in Barr, either at the hotel’s restaurant or at Au Potin, a gourmet restaurant a 10-minute walk away. 

5 Terres Hôtel & Spa

This stylish inn occupies a late-17th-century building in the heart of Barr, a quiet town near the northern end of Alsace’s main stretch of grand cru vineyards.

Day 6 : Natzweiler-Struthof

About 35 minutes west of Barr is the only Nazi concentration camp on French soil, Natzweiler-Struthof. This relatively small camp housed mostly political prisoners, but that did not mitigate the Nazis’ cruelty. Around 22,000 people were killed here. A visit is illuminating, very upsetting and, to my mind, important to do. We forget the horrors of the past at our peril. (Read my full account of my visit to Natzweiler-Struthof.)

The crematorium at Natzweiler-Struthof in the Vosges Mountains
The crematorium at Natzweiler-Struthof in the Vosges Mountains - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

It’s possible to return to Barr via the Pinot Noir town of Ottrott, or take a more southerly route, as we did, passing through Andlau. If you do the latter, stop at Domaine Wach, another family-owned winery that produces a number of superb bottlings (an appointment is recommended, but if you don’t have one, try anyway). 

Aging barrels at Domaine Wach in Andlau
La Fourchette des Ducs in Obernai

Park back at the hotel. Have a stroll in Barr, and/or enjoy a treatment in the hotel’s spa.  

Have dinner tonight in Barr, or if you feel like something a little more extravagant, drive about 15 minutes north to the beautiful walled town of Obernai to eat at La Fourchette des Ducs, which has two Michelin stars. 

Day 7 : Barr – Strasbourg

Check out of the 5 Terres Hôtel & Spa and continue north. Stop in Obernai if you didn’t have a chance to explore the town the evening before, and drive up to Strasbourg, a total journey of about 35 minutes. Check into your hotel, either the Hôtel Les Haras or the Cour du Corbeau, and return your rental car. 

Obernai - Photo by Hideaway Report editor

Have lunch at one of my favorite winstubs in town.

Visit Strasbourg’s soaring gothic cathedral, a pink-sandstone wonder that was the tallest building in the world for 227 years.

Hôtel Les Haras

Charming boutique hotel occupying an 18th-century former stable complex in the historic center of Strasbourg.

Cour du Corbeau

Lovely historic property in a renovated 16th-century coaching inn across the river from Strasbourg’s famous Gothic cathedral.

Day 8 : Strasbourg

Take a full day to explore delightful Strasbourg. Simply wandering its old quarter is a pleasure, but in particular, don’t miss the canal-laced Petite France neighborhood and the Musée Alsacien, which gives a fascinating introduction to the complex history of Alsace. I also recommend descending into the cellars of Hospices de Strasbourg, which date to the late 14th century and contain what is reputed to be the world’s oldest barrel of wine.

Musée Alsacien in Strasbourg
Canal through historic Strasbourg

Day 9 : Depart

If time permits, take another day to enjoy Strasbourg. If not, return to Paris by train, a journey of about two hours and 20 minutes, or fly out of Strasbourg’s airport and connect to your flight home.


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