Over Christmas and the New Year, Andy and I traveled around eastern France, southern Germany and Austria. We flew into Freiburg where we picked up a rental car and spent the next two weeks weaving in and out of rural villages, Alpine landscapes, deep forests and mid-size cities back and forth over the French, German and Austrian borders. I hope to capture the highlights of our trip in a short series of blog posts, starting today with the Alsace region in eastern France. We spent the first few days exploring the villages of Alsace and checking out the adorable Christmas markets.
After checking into our hotel in Illhaeusern on the first day (more on that later) we ventured to Riquewihr to wander around for the afternoon.
This was so much fun; we felt like we were in a fairy tale village (a theme of the trip) and there is something so giddy about the first day of vacation.
No stress, no work, nothing to do but enjoy ourselves. We had our first mug of hot mulled wine (vin chaud) and toasted to a fantastic holiday.
We stayed in the tiny village of Illhaeusern on our first night, at the Hotel des Berges on the banks of the River Ill.
This was absolutely beautiful and we had dinner that night at the Auberge d’Ill.
This was an unforgettable experience; it was so quintessentially French, so steeped in tradition and class, yet the cuisine was modern and fresh. We had a multi-course tasting menu with wine pairings and there is really no way to describe the level of service and quality.
Some of the standouts included maki amuse bouche, our first taste of gewurtztraminer wine (not normally white wine people, especially with dinner, but this was so amazing and appropriate with this food), lobster with champagne sauce, excellent breads and cheeses and desserts, and so much more. Absolutely amazing splurge for us.
The next morning, I awoke early for a short run through the quiet village and empty country lanes, before having a (wonderful) breakfast at the hotel and sadly departing Illhaeusern. So beautiful!
Egg vending machine: essential
We drove to Obernai and explored the town and market, and walked around the old city walls circumventing the village.
Next, we checked into our B&B for the next two days, La Haute Grange, high up on a mountainside outside Fréland. This is a large farmhouse with just four guest rooms, and we were given a huge room with a huge bathroom.
I loved it. The hosts, a Scottish/French couple, were extremely welcoming, showing us around the large, impeccably kept house and giving us loads of advice and tips on tourism in the area, including wine tasting and dining recommendations. They even booked us in for a meal that night since it was a busy Saturday night before Christmas and it would be impossible to get a table without a reservation. That afternoon we visited Turckheim, did a wine tasting and watched the traditional ceremony in the town center of the Advent calendar lighting.
We moved on to Kaysersberg, a popular, picturesque medieval village. We walked around the Christmas market stalls before our dinner at Winstub at Chambard that evening. The food was excellent but the restaurant was overcrowded so we were put into an overflow dining room that was lovely, but a bit formal and didn’t have the tavern-esque vibe of a traditional weinstube. After dinner we walked through the empty village, now void of tourists, and enjoyed the stillness.
The next morning I did a short run of hill sprints on the mountainside and saw an incredible sunrise peeking through the mountains, but sadly didn’t have my phone. Breakfast at La Haute Grange was unreal; the owners make the breakfast from scratch and it included the most amazing homemade Christmas jam, homemade yogurt and bircher muesli, breads and cheeses – fantastic.
We returned to Kaysersberg with the intention of doing a nice country walk through the vineyards to neighboring villages.
It was a beautiful clear day and quite warm.
It took us about 90 minutes to get to Riquewihr, which was quite crowded that day, being the Sunday before Christmas. We sampled wine and St. Alphonse Christmas beer (so good) and browsed the market stalls, taking a rest to read in a cafe.
We eventually returned to Kaysersberg via a shuttle bus, then moved on to Eguisheim, where we explored their Christmas market and watched their Advent calendar ceremony, seemingly a tradition in many of these villages.
We had dinner booked at Au Vieux Porche. Another excellent meal; the lobster lentil dish really stood out, and an excellent creme brûlée for dessert.
On Monday morning, we had breakfast at the hotel and then moved along for our next destination, over the German border. Sad to leave France! I love practicing my language skills and the food and villages were unreal. I would love to go back and explore more.
Up next, the Black Forest!