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Alsace, the smallest region in France, lies some 295 miles east of Paris, bordering Germany and Switzerland. This long rectangular-shaped province, wedged between the Vosges Mountains to the west and the Rhine River to the east, is divided into two separate districts, which are named in accordance with the flow of the Rhine. Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine) is actually in the north, while Haut-Rhin (Upper Rhine) lies in the south. Famous for its smaller towns, Alsace does have three main cities: Mulhouse, Colmar (the wine capital), and Strasbourg, the region's de facto capital. And that's where you want to start your trip. From Strasbourg, head north to the pottery towns of Betschdorf and Soufflenheim and counterclockwise to Saverne before moving south and traveling down the winding Route du Vin, which takes you through picturesque landscapes and quaint villages.
Telephone Numbers: The country code for France is 33; the area code for Alsace is 3 from abroad, 03 within the country.
Local Time: Six hours ahead of EST.
Currency: French franc, abbreviated FF.
Current Exchange Rate: $1=FF6.8.
Best Time To Visit: All year, but the region is particularly stunning during the fall at the time of the grape harvest.
Airlines Served By: There are daily flights to Strasbourg from Paris, London, and Frankfurt.
Airport Car Rental: Avis, Hertz, Budget, and Europcar are available at the airport. (Be aware that a rental car is indispensable for seeing the best of Alsace.)
Trains: There is regular train service from Paris' Gare de l'Est to Strasbourg (4.5 hours).
Restaurant Tipping: Service is included.
Remember That: Many hotels and restaurants close intermittently from January (just after New Year's) to March.
Further Information: Contact the French Government Tourist Office at 410-286-8310, or visit www.alsace-info.com.
Besides the city's splendid 12th-century pink-sandstone Gothic cathedral in the heart of the old town and the famous La Petite France quarter, laced with canals and originally the site of the city's tanning industry and water-run mills, the sights you shouldn't miss in Strasbourg include:
First stop, the Alsatian history and folklore museum—to help you get your cultural bearings. This fascinating museum specializes in the daily life of the region from the 17th through 19th centuries, with a superb collection of objects, including birthing chairs, wrought-iron cemetery crosses, and wooden grain spouts in the form of monsters' mouths (to scare off evil spirits), as well as extensive exhibits devoted to ceramics, clothing, and furniture. Of particular interest are the rooms from Alsatian houses that recreate pre-industrial rural life in the region and one room devoted to Alsatian Jewry. 23 Quai Saint-Nicholas; 88-35-55-36.
Three excellent museums in one handsome 18th-century palace—the Musée des Arts Décoratifs (Decorative Arts Museum, with one of the most important collections of porcelain and faience in all of France, plus Les Grands Appartements, at one time the private residence of the city's bishop and considered to be among the most beautiful 18th-century interiors in France); the Musée des Beaux-Arts (paintings, essentially dating from the Middle Ages through the 19th century, including works by Botticelli, El Greco, and Goya); and the Musée Archéologique (Alsace from 600,000 b.c. through a.d. 800). 2 Place du Château; 88-52-50-00.
Musee De L'oeuvre De Notre Dame
The magnificent sculptures on the ground floor of this superb museum once belonged to Strasbourg Cathedral. They alone warrant a visit, especially The Synagogue, or The Old Law, a blindfolded figure, representing the Old Testament, which dates to 1230 and is a masterpiece of Gothic statuary in Europe. Its equally impressive companion piece, The Church, or The New Law, represents the New Testament. Don't miss the painting Ste.-Magdalena et Ste.-Cathérine by Conrad Witz, ca. 1444-1446, and the deeply moving statues of Nicholas van Leyden, whose supposed self-portrait, Bust of a Man Resting on his Elbow, is a realistic depiction of a man lost in contemplation. 2 Place du Château; 88-52-50-00.
In many ways this delightful little canal-laced town has a more purely Alsatian atmosphere than Strasbourg, which is almost three times larger and much more international. The pleasure of a visit here comes from wandering the town's immaculate streets lined with distinctive wood-frame-and-masonry (half-timbered) houses. The Grand-Rue and Rue Mercière—where you will find the Maison Pfister, built in 1537 and the prettiest of the many old structures in the heart of the town—are your best sightseeing bets. Hour-long boat trips that depart from the Place de l'Ancienne-Douane are the ideal way to visit Petite Venise (little Venice), the former tanners quarter, which has a superbly well-preserved concentration of 17th- and 18th-century houses.
Housed in a 13th-century convent with a handsome cloister of pink sandstone from the nearby Vosges Mountains is one of the great provincial museums of France, with a spectacular collection of medieval and Renaissance art. The Isenheim altapiece (ca. 1512) with painting by Matthias Grünewald is an ornately carved masterpiece of astonishing detail and delicacy. Place d'Unterlinden; 89-20-15-50.
Just 45 minutes north of Strasbourg is one of Alsace's prettiest towns. Sights to see: the ancient, timber-framed houses and the countryside of orchards and vines.
Musee Du Textile Et Des Costumes De Haute Alsace
Before its renovation as a museum in 1996, this former textile factory housed one of the most famous fabric producers in France. As was true in New England, Alsace developed a textile industry early in the 18th century due to its abundant water power. The exhibits document the evolution of 18th- and 19th-century fashion and offer a dramatic overview of life in a typical textile town where business was highly paternalistic—mill owners provided housing, education, healthcare, even entertainment for their workers. Parc de Wesserling; 89-38-28-08; fax 89-82-68-33.
The château overlooking the charming hometown of Doctor Albert Schweitzer was for centuries one of the most strategic locations in Alsace, towering as it does over the Weiss River valley, which during Roman times was an important route linking the Rhineland to the rest of France. Today the hill is worth the climb for a fine panoramic view. In the village center, don't miss the main church on the Rue du Général de Gaulle; the splendid wooden altarpiece was carved by Jean Bongartz de Colmar and dates from 1518.
Located northwest of Strasbourg, this little town is worth the trip for its beautiful Benedictine abbey, one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in Alsace. Founded ca. 600, it was built over the course of three centuries.
The second largest city in Alsace was a forerunner of large-scale industry in its incipient years and to this day is a busy commercial center. Its distinguished tradition of textile and automobile manufacturing has secured its spot on the map.
Musee National De L'automobile: Collection Schlumpf
The largest collection of rare autos in Europe (over 500) includes more than 120 Bugattis (the Italian-designed sports car was originally built in Alsace, and Volkswagen has announced plans to bring it back in 2002) and a gorgeous 1930s Rolls-Royce Phantom III limousine. 192 Avenue de Colmar; 89-33-23-23; fax 89-32-08-09. For more info (in French): www.collection-schlumpf.com
Musee FranÇAis Du Chemin De Fer
This museum, which houses the collections of the S.N.C.F. (Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer, or French State Railway Company), traces the evolution of the railroad. Rail fans consider this one of the best museums in the world. 2 Rue Alfred de Glehn; 89-42-25-67.
At the foot of Mont Ste.-Odile, the most famous peak in Alsace, sits one of the loveliest towns in all of France. The heart of town is the Place du Marché, dominated by the Hôtel de Ville (town hall).
French food critic and travel writer Gilles Pudlowski, a native of Alsace, calls this little town the "St.-Paul-de-Vence of Alsace," a reference to the alluring Côte d'Azur village. The village of Ottrott is renowned for producing some of the best Pinot Noirs in Alsace.
Home to Trimbach—one of the better-known vintners—and other Grands Crus wineries. See the Tour des Bouchers, a 13th-century belfry that separates the upper town from the lower one, and the Church of St.-Grégoire-le-Grand, dating from the 13th through 15th centuries.
Its touristy disposition notwithstanding, this town is lovely—and famous for its Riesling wine. Start your visit at the Dolder, a stone-and-beam 13th-century gate tower and house that today contain a museum of medieval tools, furniture, and engravings; then wander down the Rue du Général de Gaulle, where you'll find most of the town's oldest houses.
Le Musee Hansi
The artist Jean-Jacques Waltz (1873-1951), better known as Hansi, encouraged a revival of Alsatian patriotism during the difficult days of the German occupation following the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71). He codified distinguishing Alsatian traits through his drawings and caricatures, notably of cute children in local dress driving flocks of geese before grotesque-looking Prussian (German) soldiers, villages with half-timbered houses, and loads of storks, the unofficial emblem of Alsace. This small museum of original prints offers an interesting insight into the Alsatian mentality. 16 Rue du Général de Gaulle; 89-47-97-00. For more about Hansi ( in French) : www.alsace-route-des-vins.com
Located on the northern French-German border is a small fortified town that was founded during the seventh century. The Vieille Ville, or Old Town, is a beautiful medieval ensemble clustered around the Church of St.-Pierre-et-St.-Paul, one of the best Gothic churches in Alsace.
Alsace is compact enough so that it's not necessary to change hotels daily during a week-long visit. Bearing this in mind, here is a selection of excellent hotels in various locations around the region that you can choose from according to the type of trip you're planning.
Hotel Regent Petite France
Probably the best hotel in Strasbourg, which is surprisingly short on really wonderful hotels. A former ice factory and cold-storage warehouse, the hotel has an excellent location and beautiful views of the surrounding Petite France neighborhood (but be certain to request a room with a view). Unlike other high-end Alsatian hotels, the decor is aggressively contemporary. Extremely popular, so book well in advance. $175-$370. 5 Rue des Moulins; 88-76-43-43; fax 88-76-43-76. www.regent-hotels.com
The newness of this four-star, which opened in 1997 just outside of Ribeauvillé, is rather a shock amid the 16th-century local idiom, but what's on offer is deep-dish American-style comfort with impeccable Germanic housekeeping. Rooms are spacious and attractively furnished and fitted with a heady array of modern comforts, including heated bathroom floors, tiny lights scattered like stars across the bedroom ceilings, and, best of all, your own key to the hotel's impressive cave. Tipple to your heart's content from an excellent assortment of local vintages, since it's all included in the room rate. $155-$210. Chemin des Amandiers; 89-49-08-00; fax 89-47-99-10. www.alsanet.com
La Maison Des Tetes
Like many Alsatian hotels, this venerable address offers a version of luxury that runs more to well-tended domesticity than over-the-top extravagance. Still, it's quite comfortable and perfect for an overnight as long as you request a large, renovated double overlooking the interior courtyard (the street out front can be noisy). There's the excellent restaurant downstairs (see Restaurants). $90-$235. 19 Rue des Têtes; 89-24-43-43; fax 89-24-58-34. www.la-maison-des-tetes.com
Hostellerie La Chenaudiere
Tucked away in the pine forests of the Vosges is a recently built luxury hotel—a fine spot for a day off during a tour of Alsace. The style is German modern, which means large, comfortable and well-lit rooms with every conceivable amenity; gorgeous views of the surrounding forest; an indoor pool, sauna, and Jacuzzi. What makes this place particularly pleasant is its old-world hospitality and pair of superb restaurants—a grand dining room and a simpler, rustic one specializing in Alsatian dishes. $90-$385. Colroy-la-Roche village; 88-97-61-64; fax 88-47-21-73.
A La Cour D'alsace
Rooms in this luxury hotel are somber and a trifle minimalist but extremely comfortable and reliably quiet—a definite plus in the heart of town. For those traveling en famille, the duplex suite under the eaves comes with a fully equipped kitchen, allowing you to feed the little ones before heading downstairs for dinner in chef Gérard Eckert's excellent dining room. $120-$235. 3 Rue de Gail; 88-95-07-00; fax 88-95-19-21. www.cour-alsace.com
A hôtel du charme, as the French would call it—or a small luxury hotel (by Alsatian standards) with plenty of atmosphere. Ideal for couples, especially if you splurge on a wood-paneled suite. $115-$220. 169 Rue du Général Gouraud; 88-95-50-08; fax 88-95-37-29.
Hostellerie Des Chateaux
Plush modern luxury designed to appeal to a German clientele—who are, not surprisingly, the predominant visitors to Alsace. Rooms are spacious if blandly decorated, but there are amenities like an indoor pool and gym. $105-$155. 11 Rue des Châteaux; 88-48-14-14; fax 88-48-14-18. www.hostellerie-chateaux.fr
Though this elegant château hotel surrounded by vineyards may have recently left the Relais & Châteaux chain, it remains one of the most comfortable classic luxury hotels in Alsace. (N.B., the founding owners have also recently retired.) Rooms are decorated in a slightly prissy old-fashioned style but are spacious and have large modern baths. Traveling during the summer up to early fall, you'll appreciate the outdoor pool, though there's also an indoor one along with a sauna. $135-$370. Rouffach village; 89-78-58-50; fax 89-78-53-70. www.slh.com
Abbaye De La Pommeraie
One of the top two or three hotels in Alsace—and selected by Relais & Châteaux—is ably run by Mireille François, whose parents own the Hostellerie la Chenaudière hotel in Colroy-la-Roche. Looking for comfort in an historical setting? This is the place, since the hotel occupies a 17th-century abbey. Rooms are vast and have Pompeian-style bathrooms. A very good touring base for the wine route. $120-$265. 8 Avenue Maréchal Foch; 88-92-07-84; fax 88-92-08-71. www.relaischateaux.fr
Disclaimer: The information in this story was accurate at the time of publication in September 2000, but we suggest you confirm all details with the service establishments before making travel plans.
Cooking in a farmhouse on the edge of a city park is three-star chef Antoine Westermann. One of France's most innovative and influential chefs, he has brilliantly accomplished the seemingly improbable melding of traditional Alsatian dishes with various Mediterranean ingredients. Typical of Westermann is his sublime take on baeckenoffe (a classic preparation of meat and potatoes baked in white wine) in which he combines chicken, artichokes, potatoes, rosemary, and preserved lemon. He also does breathtakingly good desserts—beginning with his sautéed sour cherries with chocolate strudel and spiced ice cream. There's a brilliant wine list. Book up to two weeks in advance. $150-$180. 4 Parc de l'Orangerie; 88-45-56-65; fax 88-61-32-00. For more info (in French): www.buerehiesel.com
Three-star chef Emile Jung is the granddaddy of Alsatian cooking, known for the classics as well as innovations like his cannelloni stuffed with asparagus and morels or pastilla of lamb with spices. This elegant restaurant is considered one of the best in France; reserve up to one week ahead. $240. 10 Rue de l'Outre; 88-32-13-02; fax 88-75-72-01. www.au-crocodile.com
The best fish restaurant in Strasbourg has been decorated to resemble the interior of a yacht. Try the delicious mussels with pistou or fish soup to start, and then the scallops sautéed in lychee vinegar. Chef Babette Lefebvre's family is originally from Vietnam, and she gives an intriguing Asiatic spin to many of her preparations. $104-$120. 1 Rue des Dentelles; 88-22-10-22; fax 88-23-24-99.
Le Festin De Lucullus $
Forget the drab decor at this popular new place. Instead, concentrate on the cooking of chef Eric Thiercelin, who trained with Michel Guérard. Ideal for a relaxed night out, as prices are easy and the market menu runs from a casserole of salmon, red mullet, and monkfish in saffroned shellfish juice to a spicy beef stew with Alsatian cheese dumplings. $52-$60. 18 Rue Ste.-Hélène; phone/fax 88-22-40-78. For more info (in French): www.restaurateurs-cuisiniers-alsace.asso.fr
On the quai across from the Palais Rohan sits a comfortable eatery with lacquered plum-colored walls and Art Nouveau details. It's a tad self-conscious about its Michelin star, but the food is very good: an amuse-bouche of fresh brandade on a little canapé; a salad of langoustines on a bed of soy sprouts with mint chiffonade and croutons in which the bitterness and crunch of the sprouts pairs nicely with the soft, sweet langoustines. Then a scallop of veal sweetbreads served with excellent homemade spaetzle—tiny rolled noodles—and a medley of vegetables. For dessert: superb fondant du chocolat with orange sorbet, and a lovely mini clafoutis of cherries with caramelized almonds. Slightly cramped but convivial and with a lot of local feeling. Mediocre wine list. $84-$90. 22 Quai Bateliers; 88-36-01-54; fax 88-35-40-14.
La Vieille Enseigne
In spite of its winstub decor, this Michelin one-star serves intriguing and original contemporary cuisine by the father-and-son team Franz and Jean-Christophe Langs. Witness, for example, the success of their langoustines with potato waffles and sour-pickle cream sauce or the strawberry-rhubarb crumble with caramel sauce and licorice ice cream. $106-$135. 9 Rue des Tonneliers; 88-32-58-50; fax 88-75-63-80. For more info (in French): www.mixer.fr
Aux Armes De France
Just outside of Colmar, this renowned Michelin one-star with distinctive blue facade serves the well-esteemed classic cooking of the Gaertners. The two-brother team is continuing a family culinary legacy. One of the brothers, chef Philippe, trained with Bocuse and Boyer. Typical traditional dishes include lobster au gratin, chicken sautéed in vinegar, perch with almonds, and saddle of rabbit with pumpkin purée. This is exactly the type of cooking that would have sent Waverly Root, the famous American food critic, into ecstasies, especially when topped off with runny chocolate cake and cocoa ice cream. Note, too, that they offer a good children's menu value at $15, which is rare in the best Alsatian restaurants. $110-$120. 1 Grand Rue; 89-47-10-12; fax 89-47-38-12. For more info (in French): www.restaurateurs-cuisiniers-alsace.asso.fr
Le Fer Rouge
Patrick Fulgraff reigns, along with Antoine Westermann, as one of Alsace's culinary kings. Recommended dishes include white cabbage soup with smoked goose breast; gratin of oysters with grilled bacon and shallots preserved in red wine; heavenly lobster and scallops with asparagus. The wood-paneled interior has been modernized to reflect Fulgraff's own contemporary style. $120-$180. 52 Grand-Rue; 89-41-37-24, fax 89-23-82-24. For more info (in French): http://saveurs.sympatico.ca
La Maison Des Tetes
Located in a historic house is this gorgeous Renaissance vintage dining room. The cooking of young chef Marc Rohfritsch is excellent. Among his spectacular updates on traditional fare are oxtail and foie gras and breaded perch in Riesling sauce. $50-$100. 19 Rue des Têtes; 89-24-43-43; fax 89-24-58-34. www.la-maison-des-tetes.com
Au Cygne $
Husband-and-wife team François and Annie Paul run an elegant and delightful old-fashioned restaurant. They do brilliant renderings of cannelloni with foie gras and chanterelles, couscous with monkfish, and, for dessert, bergamot-scented peaches with pistachio ice cream and mint-flavored meringues. The wine list is top-flight too. $105-$120. 35 Grand Rue; 88-72-96-43; fax 88-72-86-47.
Auberge De L'ill
One of the great restaurants of any gastronomic pilgrimage to France is this charming inn on the banks of the Ill River. It is run by the Haeberlin family, and young Marc Haeberlin is always intelligently reinvigorating the classic menu that has made the restaurant's three-star reputation. Typical of the new dishes he's introduced are fried carp with a sauce Bordelaise that you eat with your fingers like some luxury version of fish and chips; borscht with duck terrine; and, in season, venison medallions with wild mushrooms and a compote of dried fruit. The auberge also serves what many consider to be the most elegant and satisfying dessert in Alsace—a sour-cherry- filled pastry with a blancmange of almonds and vanilla ice cream. A splendid wine list and superb service make a meal on their terrace a truly memorable experience, although the dining room's quite attractive and comfortable as well. For weekends, book up to two weeks ahead. $148-$210. Rue de Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or; 89-71-89-00; fax 89-71-82-83. For more info (in French): www.lhotellerie.fr
Want to catch a rising star? Then make your way to the quiet village of Landser in the southernmost reaches of Alsace on the Swiss border. Chef Hervé Paulus is a huge talent in the making and will doubtless take his place among the great chefs of the region should he decide to move to a more accessible location. In the meantime this restaurant with a modern Italian decor in a 1730 vintage house has great charm, and the food is superb. Typical of his style is foie gras chaud à l'unilatéral (roasted on one side) simply seasoned with Szechuan pepper and sea salt and served with a condiment of sweet-and-sour black radish and meat juice, and his red mullet with marrow and onions marinated in red wine. Finish up with some of the world's best vanilla ice cream in a "cone" made from baked cream. $270-$300. 4 Place de la Paix; 89-81-33-30; fax 89-26-81-85. http://www.chateauxhotels.com
Auberge Du Cheval Blanc
President of the Maîtres Cuisiniers de France, which includes the best chefs in France, Fernand Mischler has turned an 18th-century coach stop in the town of Lembach into one of the best restaurants in Alsace. His culinary obsession is the freshest local seasonal produce available, which he turns into such luscious dishes as snail soup with pearl barley and herbs and, in season, cèpes sautéed with foie gras. A fine wine list and excellent service complete the experience in the handsome wood-paneled dining room. $60-$140. 4 Route de Wissembourg; 88-94-41-86; fax 88-94-20-74. For more info (in French): www.au-cheval-blanc.fr
Four generations of the Husser family have run this celebrated and very attractive restaurant in Marlenheim on the Route du Vin—and it continues to evolve with the times. Michel Husser offers a classic terrine of herring and potatoes as a starter, a brilliant choucroute with lacquered suckling pig, and a fascinating salad of snails in sauerkraut juice. The wine list features many bottles from small and lesser-known vineyards. Again, book well in advance. $130-$150. 30 Rue du Général de Gaulle; 88-87-73-73; fax 88-87-68-08. www.lecerf.com
Auberge Alsacienne "Au Nid De Cigogne"$
Just across the street from the castellated brewery where Mutzig beer used to be brewed sits this superb winstub. Ignore its slightly hokey decor—the food is excellent. Start with the presskopf, served with grated carrots and beans, or savor chicken liver terrine studded with foie gras. The choucroute is sublime—sauerkraut, ever so mild, braised with juniper berries, bay leaves, peppercorns, and duck fat, topped with smoked Montbeliard sausages and bacon, frankfurters, and preserved pork shank. The coq au Riesling is an outstanding version: A chicken is braised in a sauce of Riesling wine and its own juices, then served with freshly made spaetzle, or egg noodles. Finish up with a slice of young Muenster cheese dressed with walnut oil. $50-$60. 25 Rue du 18 Novembre; 88-38-11-97.
La Stub Du Parc
One of the most charming winstubs on the wine route is located in the delightful Le Parc hotel, done up in warm oak and pine paneling with equally rustic but stylish cooking. Select choices: marinated herring tart, roast pork ribs, chicken baked in a casserole. And for dessert, pain perdu (French toast) of airy brioche served with vanilla ice cream. An excellent place for lunch during a day's touring, but closed in the evening. $50. 169 Rue du Général Gournaud; 88-95-50-08; fax 88-95-37-29. www.hotel-du-parc.com
Hansel and Gretel never had it so good! This delightful old gingerbread-style Renaissance house is great fun, particularly at the communal tables d'hôte (it's best if you can speak some French). The signature dish is the soupière de volaille en croûte feuilletée—tender chicken in wine-spiked cream sauce served in a tureen under a golden tent of puff pastry. But then, the braised ham with spaetzle is delicious too. Good wines by the carafe. Lunch for two: $50-$60. 80 Grand-Rue; 88-71-16-56; fax 88-71-85-85.
A La Barriere (see Departures March/April Black Book)
Eight miles north of Strasbourg, this Michelin one-star with a contemporary decor is worth tracking down for the excellent and innovative cooking of Claude Sutter, who trained with Emile Jung, Michel Guérard, and Gérard Boyer before going solo. Sutter's style imaginatively crisscrosses Alsace, Italy, and Provence in dishes like tuna steak with spaghetti garnished with preserved peppers and radish chips. Superb wine list. $132-$150. 3 Route de Strasbourg; 88-96-20-23.
Eighteen antiques dealers are clustered in what's locally known as the Village des Antiquaires—a tiny town off Route N83 between Strasbourg and Colmar. Fans flock for everything from armoires to old trunks and household items.
Betschdorf and Soufflenheim
These towns about 45 minutes north of Strasbourg are ancient and still functioning centers for the production of traditional Alsatian pottery. Betschdorf produces simple gray pieces decorated with blue, while Soufflenheim (six miles southeast) is known for its colorful and gaily painted ceramics. If you've visited the Musée Alsacien in Strasbourg, you'll already be familiar with these distinctive styles. Both towns abound with shops and galleries, so the best strategy is to wander from atelier to atelier. Quality and price are roughly the same from one shop to the next.
In this workshop you'll find Hubert Kempf, one of the most famous stained-glass artists in France, using ancient materials, including handblown glass and metal oxides. He works on a commission-only basis for churches and museums across the country, as well as for individuals seeking everything from a wisteria-design oval inset for a staircase to a family coat of arms. Prices vary depending upon the complexity of the design. 55 Rue des Potiers; tel/fax 89-78-22-46.
Feerie De Noel
Alsace is famous throughout France and Europe for the enthusiasm with which it celebrates Christmas. This Ali Baba cave of a boutique specializes in Christmas decorations and tabletop items from Alsace, as well as the rest of France and Germany. Especially exceptional are the magnificent, old-fashioned, handblown Christmas-tree ornaments. 1 Rue du Cerf; 89-47-94-02.
Marqueterie D'art Spindler
Spindler marquetry is displayed in museums all over Alsace, ever since an atelier was founded by Charles Spindler in 1893 and became synonymous with the region and Art Nouveau. Today the third-generation atelier is run by Jean-Charles, who has been awarded the prestigious Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. It's intriguing to visit his shop and see him working with the laser-fine wafers of rare woods from which he assembles his puzzlelike compositions. Open Fridays, Saturdays, and by appointment. 3 Cour du Chapitre; 88-95-80-17. fax: 88 95 98 31. www.spindler.tm.fr
Though Le Creuset may be better known in North America, Staub, the ceramic enameled cookware of the culinary stars (as in Alain Ducasse, Paul Bocuse, Emile Jung, and countless other French chefs) is made in this small Alsatian village near Colmar. Come to their factory outlet for remarkable buys (up to 50 percent off) on cookware, including casseroles and skillets. 2 Route Saint-Gilles; 89-27-77-77; fax 89-27-51-92.
Don't leave Strasbourg without having a meal at one of the city's many popular winstubs—those friendly, casual wine taverns specializing in traditional Alsatian dishes like presskopf (head cheese) or choucroute garnie (sauerkraut garnished with various cuts of pork and sausages). Three of the best are the locally famous Chez Yvonne (officially known as S'Burjerstuewel, 10 Rue du Sanglier; 88-32-84-15), Le Clou (3 Rue du Chaudron; 88-32-11-67), and Au Pont du Corbeau ($ 21 Quai Saint-Nicholas; 88-35-60-68). Steps from the Musée Alsacien, this last is a charming wood-paneled winstub just across the river from the heart of the city. They offer an excellent light—promise!—lunch of superb choucroute salad with cubes of bacon and then smoked sausage with potato salad, all washed down with a delicious house Edelzwicker (a zesty white wine made from a blend of noble grapes). Meals at this and other typical winstubs average $25 a head.
Route Du Vin
The Route du Vin, running from Marlenheim south to Thann, is one of the most famous and beautiful tours of any wine region in Europe. More than 100 miles long, the winding road starts at the foot of the Vosges Mountains and passes more then 80 towns and villages. It initially follows the D422, then leads into numerous smaller routes that are well-marked by signs bearing the Route du Vin symbol. Begin the wine route in Marlenheim in the north (to get there from Strasbourg, head west on N4). You should allow three or four days for a leisurely descent along the route, which also includes stops in Obernai, Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Colmar, and Rouffach. The best time to visit is during the grape harvest in September.
Ideal if you don't have much time to shop but want authentic regional pieces, Arts & Collections d'Alsace, run by knowledgeable and welcoming Marie Audhuy, specializes in artisanal reproductions of rare and worthy Alsatian table linens, glassware, toys, jewelry, baking molds, woolen shawls, and even cuckoo clocks. Since 1992, Audhuy has meticulously scoured the province's museums, flea markets, and even private homes in search of items that she deems worthy of re-editions, which are then done by local craftsmen. 18 Quai des Bateliers; 88-14-03-77. Colmar Branch: 1 Rue des Tanneurs; 89-24-09-78.
Alsace is famed for its foie gras, and La Boutique du Gourmet $ carries both duck and goose foie gras, fresh, preserved, and in terrines (and in jars so that you can take it home with you). 26 Rue des Orfèvres; 88-32-00-04.
One of the most unusual places to find a superb selection of Alsatian wines in Strasbourg: the vaulted cellars of La Cave Historique des Hospices de Strasbourg, which was founded in 1395 and is located beneath the ancient Strasbourg Hospital. Wine was originally purchased and stored in the cellars for use at Mass and also by the patients of the hospital, since it was rightly believed to relieve pain and lessen hardship among the ill. The cellars were rebuilt in 1716 following a fire, and the cellaring tradition was reborn in 1997, when Alsatian winemakers wanted to showcase their best products. The oldest wine still found in the cellars dates to 1472. It has only been served three times—in 1576, when Zurichers arrived in Strasbourg with a warm casserole of stew from their home ovens to show their reliability as allies, in 1718 when the new hospital buildings were completed, and in 1944 to General Leclerc when he liberated the city from the German occupation. Now wines from 37 different producers age in huge wooden casks, and the boutique carries their bottles. 1 Place de l'Hôpital; 88-11-64-27.
The elegant and very personal boutique, La Cour Renaissance, specializes in handsome, mostly Alsatian furniture and home furnishings selected according to the flawless standards and taste of owners Christine and Bernard Demay. They lovingly restore their pieces together—Bernard does the carpentry, Christine the repainting and refinishing. Worth a visit even if you're not buying furniture, since they also carry handsome faience, glassware, kelsch (Alsatian fabrics), and other decorative objects. 3 Rue de l'Ail; phone/fax 88-52-01-21.
Stop by the flagship boutique of Lalique, the famous Alsatian glass- and crystal-maker—their factory, not open to the public, is in Wingen-sur-Moder—to see the very latest designs as well as re-editions of the Art Nouveau pieces that brought the store its renown. 25 Rue du Dôme; 88-75-55-52.
Trained as a jeweler and possessed of a remarkable eye, Nicolas de Wael does stunning one-of-a-kind gold-plated vases, candlesticks, lamps, and other objects, as well as silverware and faience, using an ancient enameling process known only to craftsmen in Longwy in neighboring Lorraine. This attractive boutique displays his wares, as well as a selection of work from other French designers. 40 Quai des Bateliers; 88-25-76-40.
Bernard Pfirsch is the dean of Strasbourg antiques dealers, specializing in rare household objects from the 18th and 19th centuries, including baskets, bottles, baking molds, engravings, and myriad other objects that breathe the region's history. A quirky type, Pfirsch has neither a business card nor a public phone number. 20 Rue de la Nuée Bleue.
About This Guide
Hotel Prices High-season double occupancy, from the least expensive double room to the most expensive suite.
Restaurant Prices Three-course dinner for two without beverage, unless otherwise noted. Telephone Numbers Only the local number is given. See Alsace Basics for country code information.
Platinum Card Travel Service (PTS) or Centurion Travel Service (CTS) For assistance with your travel to Alsace or any destination, call 800-443-7672 (PTS) or 877-877-0987 (CTS). From abroad, call 623-492-5000 collect.
$ Establishment accepts no charge/credit cards or accepts cards other than American Express