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Help Finding Alsace Base for Casual Bikers

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Need a little help deciding where to stay in Alsace region, for four nights in September. Got some great help from Fodorites last year with Loire Valley and Tuscany (Amboise and Montepulciano)

Here is our wish list:

Small village - but big enough to have several choices for dining at night. Charm is a must. We liked Amboise, but that would be our top limit size-wise. Smaller is ok but no larger. Montepulciano in Tuscany was perfect size for us.

We'd like to rent a bike and strike out on our own one or two days - I understand there are three bike hire shops in Ribeauville, one in Eguisheim and none in Riquewihr (which we were originally considering). So that will be a factor. Last year we rented a tandem for three days in Amboise (warm memories of that negotiation with lovely shopowner with my high school French!) We will arrive by train from Murren in the Swiss Alps on our previous leg.

Last year we rented a cave cottage in Amboise, rode one day to Chenonceau, and another day in the other direction through the vineyards. This is the type of experience we like - we don't have to see EVERY single town, but it would be fun to amble on our bikes in a couple of directions, maximum two hours each way. We dine out for lunch, then return to our cozy apartment and cook a light supper or wander the village for a night cap. Spending a whole day just wandering around "our" village is also on the agenda.

If you tell me this is impossible, and we must rent a car as we did in Montepulciano, then I will go ahead and do that...but we'd prefer to bike and see fewer towns if possible.

Thanks in advance!

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    If there is a bike rental place in Ribeauville - stay there. It has all the other amenities that you are looking for.

    DO NOT bike the Route du Vin - there are too many trucks on the road. Instead, bike the well-market bike route just west of the Route du Vin that follows some small roads through vineyards and goes through most if the villages around Riquewihr, Kayserburg, and Ribeauville.

    Here is some info about Alsace that I wrote several years ago. It has some biking stuff in it.

    Alsace
    Alsace is one of the most beautiful places in France. In fact, the “Wine Spectator” ran a large expose on Alsace many years ago and called it the most beautiful wine growing region in the world. I would probably include the Mosel in this category, but Alsace has gobbled up more of my film per square mile than almost anywhere else in France (we spend 2 months every year in France). It’s kinda like Vermont with vineyards – dozens of picture postcard villages with church steeples sticking up above the houses, surrounded by vineyards, and backdropped by the Vosges mountains. There is also the very pretty town of Colmar, which I would have to rank in the top 5% of all the medium sized towns I’ve visited in France (perhaps #1 even), Strasbourg is one of my favorite large towns in France. We spent a week in a lovely Gite near Riquewihr last year and we’ve visited Alsace on 3 other occasions for a duration of 3-5 days on each visit. If I have any complaint about Alsace, it’s that there is not as much variety to the sites, villages, and countryside as I’ve seen in other areas of France. The villages in Alsace are almost too pretty to be real, but there are a lot of similarities to them. The Vosges are nice, but nothing like the Alps, Pyrenees, or the Cevannes. I would go there in early September, so that the geraniums that are everywhere will be in full bloom. One time we were there the last week of August, and we had no problems with crowds (I hate crowds).

    We’re lucky enough to dine in France at least 30 times per year. We found the restaurants in Alsace to be excellent, in most cases. It’s very easy to avoid the pork & kraut, if that’s not your style. If you look at the red Michelin guide, there are more starred restaurants in Alsace than anywhere else in France (except Paris).

    If you are starting your trip in Paris, I would recommend that you take the train from Paris Est to Nancy and visit this lovely city. It’s the center of “Beaux Arts”, and the city architecture & the Place Stanislas are spectacular – especially the golden gates around the square. Take the walking tour outlined in the Green Michelin guide for Alsace. Also visit the Musee des Beaux-Arts, if you’re interested in this style. We actually visited Nancy as a day trip by train from Colmar. We had lunch at the Excelsior Flo, which is truly a sight to behold (see the picture in the Green Michelin guide). There are about 6 direct trains from Paris to Nancy daily, and the trip is about 3 hrs or less. There are about 9 direct trains from Nancy to Strasbourg daily and I suspect that most go on to Colmar too (trip is less than 1 ½ hrs). You could stay overnight in Nancy, or even just make it a ½ day stopover, if you can find a way to stow your luggage.

    If you stop or stay in Nancy and then go on to Strasbourg and stay there, you perhaps might be getting “a little too much big city”. It would be more efficient that you start your “Alsace central” visit in Strasbourg, but it might be best to stay somewhere in a small village in the countryside and visit Strasbourg as day trips. There are several trains departing from both Colmar & Ribeauville to Strasbourg. If you decide not to start in Strasbourg, I would take the train to Colmar and pick up a rental car there. Colmar is an easy town to get in & out of (Strasbourg is a little more difficult).

    If you overnight in Strasbourg, we’ve stayed at the Gutenberg twice, and loved it. It’s small, centrally located, and not that expensive. It’s difficult to park nearby, however, since it’s on the fringe of the “pedestrian only” section. Take the walking tours described in the Michelin guide. I previously said I’m not a pork fan, but we dined at Chez Yvonne twice and enjoyed it. It’s a very popular brasserie serving traditional Alsace food in a rustic décor – reserve ahead. We’ve also dined at Maison Kammerzell, which is more upscale and located in one of the most beautiful buildings in Strasbourg. It was a Michelin 1 star, and the food was OK (we’ve had much better meals at other restaurants), but the main draw at this place is the décor.

    The charm of Alsace is the countryside & cute villages. We’ve stayed in Oberni, Kayserberg twice, and in a Gite near Riquewihr. I would recommend that you stay in the Kayserberg/Riquewihr/Ribbeauville area & take day trips from there. These villages are very close together & the area around the villages is stunning. The Route du Vin is a good road to use to visit all the villages, but it gets a lot of heavy truck traffic & there’s a little too much not-so-scenic commerce on it. There is a prettier and less traveled road that goes from village to village just west of the Route du Vin. It’s actually a very well marked bike route that is much more scenic than the Route du Vin. It probably doesn’t traverse the entire length of the Route du Vin, though. There are a lot of signposts along this route that indicate the direction to the next town, distances, etc. The best way to find this route is to go to Riquewihr & walk or drive around the perimeter of town until you find one of these signposts – it’s actually quite easy to find this route.

    Villages not to miss are Oberni, Ribeauville, Riquewihr, Kayserberg, and Eguisheim. There are ramparts around Bergheim and its fun to walk on the top of them & circle the village, looking down into everyone’s back yard. There is a very nice lookout in the town of Zellenberg. Go up into the village & try to find it. There is a viewing table there that’s a little hard to locate, but worth the effort. There is also a very scenic lookout in a cemetery just outside of Sigolsheim – it’s marked on the Michelin map. Hike up to the old Chateau above Kayserberg in the early AM or late PM to get some wonderful views. Visit Haut Koenigsbourg. We really enjoyed the Ecomusee d’Alsace, although I’m usually not a fan of this “Williamsburg” type of stuff. It’s a collection of old houses that gives an insight into housing in the different periods & rural areas of Alsace. There are a lot of storks nesting on the roofs of the buildings in this Ecomusee. The Beauville linens factory & 2nds store is just west of Ribeauville on the road to Ste Marie aux Mines, but expect no bargains.

    As I said earlier, Colmar is a gem. Follow the walking route indicated in the Michelin green guide & take plenty of film with you. My wife purchased some wonderful lace in this town. We enjoyed the Musee d’Unterlinden. Spend a ½ day at least in Colmar. It’s easy to drive in & out & parking is no hassle. Stores may be closed on Sunday and Monday.

    Here’s a pretty drive through some villages, and then into the Vosges. Head south of Colmar going through the villages of Eguisheim (spend several hours in this village – one of our favorites), Husseren, Hattstat, Gueberschwihr, Rouffach, Westhalten, Bergholtz, and then Guebwiller (visit). Then drive to Murbach to see a nice church in a pretty setting. Take the D430 west through Lautenbach and further until it hits the D27. Take the D27 north over the Col du Platzerwasel toward Munster. Continue on to Munster (D27 changes to D10). Stop & wander around in Munster (of cheese fame). Continue on the D10 to Turckheim (visit).

    A farther away trip:
    Visit Wissembourg and take the walking tour described in the Michelin Green guide. Then follow drive #3 described in the VOSGES DU NORD section of the Michelin guide. This will take you to Chateau de Fleckenstein, Lembach, Hunspach, & Seebach. In these latter two villages, the houses are half-timbered & painted white – it’s quite a contrast from other villages in Alsace. If you want to see how France attempted to defend itself from the Germans and Russsians after WWI, visit a section of the Maginot line at Four-a-Chaux just outside of Lembach. We enjoyed the tour of underground fortifications, hospitals, barracks, etc.

    An excellent way to get back to the CDG airport in Paris for your return home is to stay in Dijon the night before. You can take the early TGV to CDG, which leaves Dijon at 7:47 & gets you into the airport at 9:35 (Sunday schedules might be a little different). We drove from Alsace to Dijon (an easy all-freeway drive), and dropped our car off at the train station and walked across the street and checked into the Hotel Jura. Dijon is a beautiful city. We were there on a Saturday AM and we immediately went to the outdoor market next to the “Les Halles” permanent indoor market. Lots of foodstuff, brocante, etc. The “Les Halles” market is one of the largest I’ve seen. Dijon is a very lively town – especially on a Saturday. Take the walking tour described in the Green Michelin Guide (you’ll have to buy or borrow the green guide for Burgundy Jura). We dined at Pre aux Clercs which was a 1 star and also got raves from Patricia Wells. It was good, but about twice the price as places in Alsace. This year it lost its star.

    Restaurants.
    Maximilien at the base of Zellenberg was our favorite. The ambience was very relaxed (we had to talk in a whisper) and the setting was lovely. This is a Michelin 1 star restaurant and the food was supurb. Auberge du Schoenbourg in Riquewihr was also excellent. It is a Michlein 1 star. We did not like Table du Gourmet, also in Riquewihr (also a 1 star). I had a very sloppy presentation of overcooked Sandre on a bed of scalloped potatoes (very unimaginative). My wife’s dish also did not please her. We dined at Auberge de Norbert in Bergheim, which was excellent. In Colmar, we dined at the Maison des Tetes, which is one of the most photographed buildings in the City. Our dinner was only so-so and the service was painfully slow (we usually spend at least 2 ½ hrs at dinner).


    Stu Dudley

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    Thanks Stu Dudley, for the response and the attached synopsis. I will check out vacation rentals in Ribeauville. 16 kilometers from there to Colmar, sounds like a perfect distance for a day trip, covering several villages - just what I was looking for. And also thanks for the tip to avoid the Route du Vin - and sticking to the bike route.

    Coincidentally, you mention the Mosel, and we have the same plan there as our next leg - I am thinking Cochem for a good base - taking the bike one way and the river boat back. Good base do you think?

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    1) Alsace, actually the route du vin is so slow with coaches you can bike it with impunity, but Stu is right to point out that there is an incredibly safe alternative (either to left or right depending on where you are) which is effectivly the first wine road in each field, normally well marked, you will find that with a good map there are even better short cuts that take out the meanders. If you have too much cycling all the villages are joined by a network of walks made up of similar field roads and again well marked or at least TI will have a kiddy's map for pennies/free.
    2) Alsace also has a bike rental shop in Eguisheim
    3)Alsace; Colmar has a bike rental hidden away under a multi-story car park near the station. Getting in and out of Colmar to the wine route by bike is a little tricky, take care.

    This may help
    http://www.mybikeguide.co.uk/Alsace_Guide.php

    4) Mosel, is a great place for cyclists (bikers means those people with leather and chains) the wind blows West to East down the valley so, I'd suggest riding that way and coming back by boat or train. The taking of bikes on local trains is very normal in Germany and dirt cheap though you do need a ticket for them.
    5) Mosel, We've had some chat about Cochem on this site in May. My view is it has a hgh density of rooms and restaurants so tourists find it very easy to get by, I'm not impressed I would suggest you look at
    Traben, Bernkastel, Urzig, Trier. The last one is a small city and has some fantastic Roman stuff but is very much a city. Urzig is a village but built into a massive bow in the river which acts as a massive sun trap for wonderful wine, Bernkastel is a bit more like Cochem and has a wine-museum of excellence while Traben has some of the most excellent Art Deco buildings.

    6) Mosel bike rental is widely available http://www.mybikeguide.co.uk/Mosel_Guide.php of interest

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    We haven't visited the Mosel in perhaps 15 years. We stayed in Cocham twice and Beilstein once - and preferred Beilstein. Cochem was a little too "tourist infested" for our tastes.

    Stu Dudley

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    Thanks again! So funny that I used the term "bikers" because I wasn't thinking, as that means what you said, not what we are (old t-shirt and capri wearing beach bum bicyclists). I suppose that's why there aren't many replies to my post!

    Will check out the alternative towns in Mosel area, thanks for the heads up about Cochem.

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