Alsace just might be the most visually Disney-like place I have ever been to. Every town and village is candy-colored. Every half-timbered storefront beckons like the Witch’s house in ‘Hansel and Gretel’, with their candies and pretzels and storytelling signs. Roses and wisterias snake up facades and fountains. It’s almost too whimsical, almost fake.
But it is real, and it is magical. Maybe because I visited Alsace in the peak of summer, with glorious, sunny weather and blue skies, every town, village, castle, meadow, vineyard and hilltop simply radiated happiness.
Although Strasbourg is the largest and best-known city in Alsace, Colmar is the ideal base for exploring the region at its finest. It is a full-service town of 70 thousand, with a splendid Monoprix right in the old quarter; I love seeking out little grocers as much as the next France-traversing gal, but sometimes nothing beats a one-stop-supermarket with cases of 5-euro rose alongside a wide range of local tomatoes, fruit, cheeses, sausages and Prince chocolate cookies.
At the same time Colmar is picturesque at every turn, particularly around its adorable little canals. Oh, the canals of Colmar. They are the cherry on top of frothy Alsatian charm. Little boats chock-full of tourists glide along rainbow-colored reflections. Little bridges are trimmed with overflowing flower-boxes. Big, fat, fearless muskrats pop out on the water to be hand-fed by diners right off of the waterfront terraces.
Then there are the villages of the 170-km Alsace Wine Route. The landscape is gentle, all vineyard-covered rolling hills, but more exciting than that of, say, the flatter provinces of Burgundy or Champagne. Villages like Eguisheim, Ribeauville, Riquewihr, Kayserberg and Orschwiller sit cozily in the shadow of low mountains, with just their church steeples and brown rooftops peeking out from behind all that curly foliage. They are even more quaint and colorful than Colmar. Graceful storks stroll the streets leisurely, surveying their domain like old-timey barons. Thousand years-old castle ruins hide in the nearby forests. Bumbling streams cut their way through blooming fields.
On one hike I am suddenly cut off by a rather large snake, easily two meters long. At this moment my main concern is that I have put away my camera into the backpack, and cannot capture this wild beauty, her dark gray body shimmering with subtle shades of turquoise and purple in the afternoon sun, like a slithering peacock. On my ride back to Colmar the taxi driver excitedly assures me that the species I describe is bien sur venomous, oh la la!
The food in Alsace is a little strange, a hybrid of French and German — like the province itself. Think juicy bratwurst wrapped in a crepe, served with either sauerkraut (cabbage slaw) or chevre (goat cheese) salad. Local wines are a little too vanilla-y for my liking, but served in clay carafes and poured into shallow, colorful high-stemmed glasses so pretty, I want to sip them all evening long.
Alsace is so cozy and warm that I don’t want to leave, and vow to return. There’s a shimmering, slithering beauty still waiting for her photo-op.