Christmas in Alsace
Posted on January 6, 2015
After nearly a month in the German Alpine regions with hardly more than a touch of fresh snow, we drove across the border to the small French region of Alsace. The busy capital city is Strasbourg, but we didn’t go there, centering our attention on Colmar and its nearby quaint wine villages. We learned right away that the folks here are very proud of their region and tend to think of themselves as Alsatian, not so much French. Their local Alemannic derived language seems to be a happy blend of French and German. Their foods and wine are just as distinctive, as is the architecture.
When we started planning this vacation in late July, many hotels and inns were already booked solid, so we had to look pretty hard to find accommodations. Through Booking.com, we found a really quiet place high up in the vineyards in the village of Husseren-les-Chateaux, overlooking the lovely walled town of Eguisheim, with Colmar in the distance a few miles away. Our village had only a single church and no stores or public buildings at all, except for a distant restaurant and 16 wineries. Wow! That’s a lot of wineries. But they were small places with hardly a noticeable sign of their existence, although apparently they were open for free tasting and wine purchase.
We had hardly arrived before we drove down the hill to Eguisheim to visit their Christmas market and enjoy the atmosphere.
Next morning we were eager to hike to the three castle ruins for which our town was named, and that we could see directly from our bed. Let’s go take a hike.
Many people seek out Colmar in order to see and experience the famous 1470 Isenheim altarpiece by Matthias Grunewald. We also reveled in its artistry, but lacked background knowledge and religious iconic understanding to appreciate it beyond its surface revelations.
We spent an entire day in Colmar looking at lots of leaning middle age buildings. What I liked most were the bakery, pastry and cheese shops. they were all delights to the eye and senses.
Here’s a hotel we could relate to. St. Martin is ever popular in these parts.
Oh, and not to overlook the decorative door knobs.
We found our way into a small cafe, very Frenchy and non-touristy, the kind of place we always hope to find. Eva ordered baked camembert and salad.I had a huge slice of local ham. Little did we know that the 300 gram wheel of cheese comprised the entire meal. What a challenge! As it turned out, not much of it went to waste.
Located in the valley on the other side of the mountain from us is the town of Munster. We took the almost deserted mountain road to get there. What a fine town this is. A Christmas market was set up by the town hall. Storks were perched and soaring all around, noisy with their beaks clacking.
We certainly knew of Munster cheese, that artificially colored orange rind semi-soft cheese with a mild flavor. We have always presumed it came from the German town of Munster. Wrong. The real Munster comes from Munster, France. And oh wow, what a difference. The orange rind comes from bacteria, lots of it.
This stuff is powerful and unforgettably good. We bough a wedge at one of the stalls. The lady not only wrapped it, she vacuum packed it on the spot. We came to understand why when we finally opened it back in Germany.
For whatever reason, and so unlike in Germany where one is inundated with hand made trinkets at the Christmas markets, here half the stalls were devoted to food, and not just sausages on a bun, but serious take-away items.
To keep warm, fires were built and stoked on tree trunks located all around the market, a real treat. The smoke smells good, too.
Just a few km away was the village of Turkheim, where I had wanted to stay. What a charmer. Will we ever have time to revisit all the places we hurried through so quickly?
We drove home just before dark on pretty much a curvy one lane road. Before us on the hillside, surrounded by vineyards, glowed our beautiful gothic church.
Next morning it was time to pack and head back to Germany for a few days near Ulm, before leaving for a month in the Balkans. As it turns out, our winter experience is just beginning.