The capital of the Alsace wine region, Colmar looks for all the world as though it has been plucked from the pages of a medieval folk tale. At times the Route des Vins d’Alsace fools you into thinking it’s 1454, and here, in the alley-woven heart of the old town, the illusion is complete.
Route des Vins d'Alsace
Green and soothingly beautiful, the Route des Vins d’Alsace (Alsace Wine Route) is one of France’s most evocative drives. Vines march up the hillsides to castle-topped crags and the mist-enshrouded Vosges, and every mile or so there's a roadside cave (wine cellar) or half-timbered village inviting you to stop, raise a glass and enjoy.
The dynamic industrial city of Mulhouse (pronounced ‘moo-looze’), 57km south of Colmar, was allied with nearby Switzerland before voting to join Revolutionary France in 1798. Largely rebuilt after the ravages of WWII, it has little of the quaint Alsatian charm that you find further north, but the city’s world-class industrial museums are well worth a stop.
Massif des Vosges
The Vosges range is a little-known region of softly rounded, forest-cloaked heights and pastures interspersed with lakes and dairy farms. The secluded, 3000-sq-km Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges is surmounted by 1424m Grand Ballon, the highest peak in the range.
Enclosed by a sturdy 14th-century ring wall, overflowing with geraniums and enlivened by half-timbered houses in vivid pastels, Bergheim is a joy to behold. But things have not always been so cheerful: overlords, stampeding invaders, women burnt at the stake for witchcraft – this tiny village has seen the lot.
Vallée de Munster
This river valley – its cow-nibbled pastures scattered with 16 quaint villages, its upper slopes thickly forested – is one of the loveliest in the Vosges. From the town of Metzeral, you can hike to Schnepfenried, Hohneck, the Petit Ballon and Vallée de la Wormsa, which has a section of the GR5 hiking trail and a trio of small lakes.