France – the land of croissants, fine pastries, wine, chocolate, love and dreams. I have just been on a short trip for our wedding anniversary. But no, this time we did not go to Paris. As much as I love the city, my heart has found a new place to adore. Alsace. Tiny houses, storks, Colmar, and villages that were an inspiration to Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
As an avid fan of the animated movie, I have always dreamt of living in a tiny village with cute houses, enchanted cobbled streets, pretty little wells in the village square. Apparently, this is not just a fairy tale. These kinds of villages do exist, and I got to live that dream and walk in those streets, singing songs from the movie in my head while strolling around in awe and wonder.
Alsace is a region in the northeastern part of France, bordering Germany and Switzerland. It has been passed between France and Germany several times, and the influence of both cultures is still visible today, in their dialect, food and architecture. It is a small region, but renting a car is highly advisable as trains do not reach all the small villages. To get from one village to the other, you have to go through tiny country roads surrounded by vineyards. I cannot guarantee that you won’t stop on the side of the road just to take some pictures, because it is so breathtaking that you can’t resist not to! In fact, we did just that, several times!
Here are a few places that are worth visiting in Alsace.
This is one of the most famous towns in the region. You can walk around the historic city centre and it only takes like two hours to go all around it. Once there, make sure that you visit the food market, where you can have some light snacks on the terrace next to the canal. Petite Venise is also worth visiting, and there are also little gondolas taking tourists on boat rides on the canals. Just make sure that you watch your head as you go underneath the bridges though!
The nice thing about such villages is that you can spend hours simply strolling around, looking at the beautiful houses. In spring, the houses are decorated with flowers, bunnies and butterflies. Then stop at one of the winstubs for some home made food and a glass of Alsace wine. Walk a bit more and make another pit stop for an ice cream or some French pastries. That, right there is the definition of a perfect day!
This is the capital city of the region, and is definitely a very hectic city. However it still has the charm of Alsace in the heart of the city. Once you get past the modern buildings and head to Petite France, you will see the colourful typical houses, and all is well again! Having a nice meal and some wine here is highly suggested. There are a bunch of winstubs near the river, with outdoor seating during spring and summer. The majestic cathedral is also worth viewing, even just from outside. It is dominant in the big square and known for its asymmetric facade, due to an incomplete bell tower.
If, like me, you have never had a close encounter with a stork, then head over to the L’Orangerie park. Look up at the trees. There is a high probability that you will see big nests and storks protecting them. You’re welcome! If it’s a nice day, grab an ice cream from a kiosk at the entrance of the park, and wander around, enjoying the sun and the beauty of nature.
Riquewihr, Ribeauville and Kaysersberg
These three are all very small villages and we visited all of them in just one day. But, I cannot stress enough that they were all so worth viewing. A bit of fun facts about these three villages: Riquewihr and Ribeauville are said to have been a big influence in creating Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. And you can clearly see the resemblance. The colourful and vivid facades of the houses, the wells in the squares, bakeries and bell towers. It is all just like a dream.
In 2017, Kaysersberg has been named as the most preferred village from the French people themselves. And I have to agree that it is definitely one of the best places I have ever seen in France.
Enjoy these towns together with a French pastry from a local bakery and freshly brewed coffee.
Naturoparc and La Montagne des Singes
Although I consider myself to be a city girl, and would rather spend my day wandering in cities or small villages, sometimes it’s good to go out in nature, breathe the fresh air and disconnect from the busy and hectic lifestyle. These two parks are a really good option to do just that. They are both natural reserves, so no animals are being kept captive here.
Naturoparc is a reintroduction centre, which hosts an incredible number of storks, otters, ducks and other local animals. You are free to go around the park and there are live feeding shows with baby storks. This reintroduction centre has been very fruitful in their work, as back in the 1980s, only a few couples of storks were left in France. Now that the species is protected, storks are on the increase again, and we can enjoy seeing this beauty flying around.
La Montagne des Singes – I was more concerned about this one, as I’m not keen on having exotic animals being held in places where they do not belong. This conservation centre houses Barbary macaque monkeys which have been classified as endangered back in 2008. It is located on a 60 acre forest, and the environment resembles their natural habitat back in Morocco and Algeria. Almost 600 monkeys have been reintroduced back to the Middle Atlas Mountains in Morocco. It is a wonderful experience going round this park as the monkeys are roaming free and you can get pretty close to them. When entering the park, you are given a handful of popcorn and some safety instructions. Then you can just wander around and give popcorn to the ever so grateful monkeys, who enjoy munching and posing for photos.
Alsace is a very good place for a relaxing short holiday if you want to just unwind, eat divine food and drink heavenly wine. And just live the good life, if only for a little while!
“The French air cleans up the brain and does good – a world of good.” – Vincent Van Gogh
Have I missed something in Alsace? If so, let me know in the comments below!