A picturesque region nestled between the Vosges Mountains and the Rhine River in northeastern France, Alsace boasts a variety of charming towns that seem to be taken straight from a fairy tale.
Having switched hands between French and Germany so many times over the last 2,000 years, it’s not pretentious to say Alsace has a unique character.
Nostalgia runs rampant throughout this region. Wine remains the way of life as it has for centuries. Old town halls are the perfect starting point to explore the Alsace villages. Town squares mark the center point for dozens of narrow cobbled streets. Most of which are swathed in bright colors, bedecked with flowers and half-wooden houses.
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Cuisine is a mix of French and Germany. So, too, is the architecture a delightful medieval blend. Identities and traditions remain strong. All provide travelers the chance to experience a culture that’s hard to describe but completely, 100% Alsatian.
The beginnings of Turckheim can be traced back to ancient Germanic tribes crossing the Rhine River. But it was under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire that it began to flourish and feature the quintessential beauty of an Alsace village.
In the 13th century, Ramparts flew up, later Gothic churches were constructed and remain standing to this day. Likewise, the town hall, a common connecting piece between all the region’s villages. Speaking of vestiges to the past, Turckheim is one of just a handful of French towns that continues to have a watchman.
Walking around Turckheim is a delight. Its ambience is enhanced thanks to the colorful homes, many pink, and the traditional cuisine that has found a home in the many small local restaurants. Beyond town gates, historic wine houses and spy storks provide a taste of yesteryear.
Another quaint village lying in the shadow of Obernai is Barr. Home to all the traditional Alsace experiences, from narrow cobbled streets lined with colombages (half-timbered homes) to central squares and town halls, there’s a lot to love.
To make your life easier, grab a map of Barr that features the tourist trail. Even if you’re trying your utmost to be a traveler, you’ll no doubt be helped by it. For the gems of Barr are more subtle to the eye than other Alsace destinations.
The Grand Rue, the main street, is surprisingly easy to miss. Once you’ve arrived, enjoy bouncing between modern shops situated behind old-time facades. Afterwards, wander down New Street which, interestingly, is the oldest in Barr.
West of Strasbourg, Molsheim is one of the bigger villages in Alsace. Despite this, you can expect lower amounts of fellow travelers as you explore its historic streets.
While large, the compact old town allows for relatively quick exploration. Your time here should begin in the central town square, home to the La Metzig, a 16th century Renaissance masterpiece that dominates proceedings.
A few steps away is one of Molsheim’s oldest medieval homes, now enveloped in bright pink. Original medieval gateways can be explored, while some of France’s best Jesuit architecture can be found here.
Car enthusiasts should also make time to learn about Molsheim’s place as the home of Bugatti.
A brief drive from Obernai, Rosheim feels comparatively empty. Maybe it’s the adventurers taking to the nearby Pays du Mont Saint-Odile to hike through blooming fields and over rolling hills. Most likely, it’s a village that gets left off itineraries with limited time.
Other people’s loss will be your gain as you explore Rosheim. Half-timbered houses once again appear in droves, a sight that never bores. Hints of life under the Holy Roman Empire remain through its encasing walls, towers and town gates.
In addition, Romanesque churches call your name, including the Eglise Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul whose intricate details will capture and hold your gaze.
The beautiful villages of Alsace come in varied shapes and sizes. Sélestat is one of the largest, providing the full breadth of Alsace brilliance while providing a handy base from which to explore.
The ancient village hails from the 8th century, where it began as a stronghold within the Carolingian dynasty. Later, under the hold of the Roman Empire, Sélestat began its journey towards becoming a Ville d’Art de d’Histoire. A City of Art and History.
Its rich cultural heritage remains today, with the town’s central library, from 1452, being its most vital vestige. Scripts and scrolls from as far back as the 7th century can be found here. In addition, its varied architecture from the Neoclassical town hall to the 13th century Eglise Saint-Georges highlight the town’s visual excellence.
Devoid of crowds, Kintzheim is the place to go to escape fellow travelers. As they say, do as the locals do, so join them as you explore the empty early morning streets of Kintzheim before an appropriate time is reached, from which you can sample wines of the surrounding vineyards.
The Alsace Wine Route crosses Kintzheim from north to south. Here travelers are seemingly unaware, or in a rush to get to Colmar. The patient adventurer, however, is rewarded with the gift of silence from which only the sounds, taste, and thrills of local culture can be heard.
Whether it’s vineyards or mountains littered with epic hiking trails, there’s much to do nearby. But beyond the traditional architecture, it’s the unique that will keep your attention. Within the 13th century Kintzheim Castle in the Volerie des Aigles. It’s here that some of the largest birds of prey on earth fly unencumbered.
Contained within medieval walls, Dambach-la-Ville is another of the more quiet villages in Alsace. As others explore Colmar and nearby Eguisheim, Dambach-la-Ville leaves plenty of room along its albeit slender, tapering streets.
Just beyond the village’s confines are flowing hills enveloped in vineyards. The vibrant environment is a perfect complement to the town’s colorful half-timbered houses decorated with spectacular wreaths of flowers.
Like the other mesmerizing villages in Alsace, you can expect to get easily lost venturing along the maze-like streets. But unknown delights lay in wait, from mom and pop restaurants, to bars as old as time, serving the famous Grand Cru Frankenstein.
The known highlights, however, include the Bernstein Castle, the pyramid-esque Town Hall and the soaring spire of Saint-Etienne church.
From the 10th to the early 14th century, Bergheim went through a turbulent period in which it changed hands more than any other village in Alsace. Unsurprisingly, village residents have been keen to maintain the town’s fortified walls ever since.
Now, the walls surrounding Bergheim are one of the few in Alsace that remain completely intact. For this reason, it’s nigh on impossible to get truly lost. In fact, it’s the perfect reason to get about without a map and simply try to lose yourself in the charming streets.
Along the way, you’ll find a village that’s well complemented by cozy green oaks. Brightly painted half-timbered houses mark the edges of each cobbled street, eventually leading you to the Place d’Arme. The central square is home to an eye-catching town hall, more beautiful homes, a historic parish church and cafes from which to enjoy the views.
In the First World War, the Vosges Mountains were home to key battles that transformed the history of Alsace. But long before this, Ribeauville was creating its own chapter in the range’s story.
The gorgeous village offers memorable views of the famed low-hanging mountains. But like all towns in Alsace, the true gems lie within. Ribeauville offers no flaws. The compact inner section guides you back in time as you bounce between the village’s three historic castles.
The center point of Ribeauville marks the trailhead of an insightful hike. Hike may be a strong word, but the trail takes you on a journey as you follow in the footsteps of lords. The same figures that created each of the 14th century chateaus.
Beyond its elegant architecture, you’ll quickly find yourself falling in love with the local culinary scene. This won’t surprise you. Seeing Ribeauville created the kougelhopf, a beloved and oddly-shaped brioche.
Like Kaysersberg below, Obernai was once a Free Imperial City under the Roman Empire. Obernai has grown significantly through that time, to now be one of the larger villages in the Alsace region. To find its captivating charm, you’ll then need to look in more concentrated areas.
Naturally, Obernai’s central Old Town is the place to soak up more of Alsace’s brilliance. Its time under Roman rule still permeates culture. While the architecture echoes the voices of the Medieval era. This is best seen in its large tower and town gates from the 13th century and the flurry of traditional burgher’s houses.
The Renaissance also influenced Obernai. Half-timbered homes, Gothic and Renaissance architecture can be found surrounding the fabulous Place du Marche. This large central square offers Obernai a difference from other Alsace gems, with the Hotel de Ville captivating all comers with its delightful Neo-Renaissance facade.
Frozen in time, Kaysersberg is embellished with the stories of its time as a Free Imperial City. The town grew during the 13th century after the creation of the Old Imperial Castle. A masterful creation that was built to defend the Upper Alsace.
The fortified castle protected the valley’s entrance and became an important strategic, economic, and cultural center in the following centuries. The ensuing constructions of walls, stone bridges and military fortifications stand before you today, providing not just a glimpse but a portal into the past.
The ambience of the Renaissance floats like the breeze through the old streets. They carry you towards the spellbinding Eglise Sainte-Croix, a Romanesque church, Renaissance mansions, chateaus and, by comparison, modern half-timbered homes.
The aura of Kaysersberg reaches its zenith during the holiday season. Snow falls down across the ancient town and the Christmas Market, the Marche de Noel, brings the townspeople together. You’ll find an artisanal market featuring craftsmanship, local cuisine and homegrown treats.
Northwest of Colmar, Riquewihr, is another eye-catching village along the Alsace Wine Route. Small and utterly adorable, Riquewihr maintains many of the charms from when the village was established during the 1500s.
Half-timbered houses adorn the local streets. While picturesque alleys whisper your name and tease you with the chance to get lost in the proverbial maze. A choice you’ll find easy to make and the rewards lie in local restaurants serving up choucroute, flammekueche and cordon bleu. Culinary delights that will linger long in your memory.
From the warm embrace of the tight, interior streets head towards Riquewihr’s outskirts, one embellished with old fortified walls. These tell the tales of the village’s beginnings in the Middle Ages. The wall, home to the iconic Thieves’ Tower and their dominant defense towers, harbor some of the oldest fortifications in the region.
Last up, the Rue du General de Gaulle, Riquewihr’s most famous stretch home to the 16th century winegrowers’ houses.
A brief trip from Colmar is its equally adorable sibling, Eguisheim. Affixed with the same half-timbered homes of our number one choice, you can also expect the home’s diminutive patios to display kaleidoscopic geraniums and storks. Like Colmar, Eguisheim could easily be the central advertisement for travel to Alsace.
The town never dips away from its postcard-worthy status. On the town’s edge vineyards flow out into the countryside, extending Eguisheim’s hold on your imagination. The medieval village harbors secrets around every corner, with stories of yesteryear sauntering out of historic monuments.
Many of these are, in fact, half-timbered houses. From the Dovecote, wander with your eyes wide open along the cobblestone alleys. Each passing home offers an inscription, taking you into the lives of original inhabitants as you discover their professions, heritage and interesting stories. Some may even include pruning knives, a nod to the town’s connecting passion, winemaking.
If locals were asked to describe Colmar, the first words out of their mouths would be the village’s famed half-timbered houses. These delightful, medieval and Renaissance-era creations provide Colmar with a splendid vibe. It’s an aura that attracts compatriots and international travelers alike.
By day, the village is unrelenting in its picturesque scenery. Its old neighborhoods have held down the fort since the 13th century while also playing major roles in the 16th century Protestant Reformation. History flows down the cobbled streets like the neighboring canals that sparkle under the northern French sun.
Exploring Colmar is akin to stepping into a bygone era. The half-timbered homes are encased in blooming geraniums come spring. But all roads point to Krutenau Quarter, aka Little Venice. Here, the flowers flow onto the canal banks, the town’s heralded food scene comes to the fore and the Old Customs House opens up yet another avenue into the past.