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Trip Report Strasbourg, Alsace, Freiburg, Paris and where not to be on July 14

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First a bit of background -

It's been a while since we've been on holiday but were looking for something that wasn't going to cost too much but also, as it was a special birthday, that wasn't going to be cheap. Most of our holidays don't involve too much relaxing and lying on a beach or by a pool but we wanted to keep the distances down. I love France and we'd had dinner with friends who had been to Alsace a while ago - we'd just driven through previously having stopped twice in Colmar, once on the way back from driving to Athens for the Olympic Games in 2004, and having visited the wonderful Unterlinden museum there - I had very fond memories of the excellent farmers market there and wanted to spend more time there.

DP was a city councillor here in Manchester and I'd read somewhere that Strasbourg, a home of the European Parliament, was a fairly underrated city. And so the germs of a trip started to form - my birthday is 6 July and on previous trips to Paris we'd been lucky enough to be there on Bastille Day and see the parade down the Champs Elysee in the morning and then the brilliant fireworks in the evening - it's one of my favourite days and I wanted to do it again.

So, we had Strasbourg, Alsace and Paris. The very first thing I do after getting the germ of a trip is to check distances on a map. From that I got that Freiburg wasn't that far away. I'm a town planner (zoning in US) and had long heard that Freiburg is one of Germany's greenest cities and we'd long had it on our list of places to get to.

At about this time I found a great deal on Hilton hotels via their website - we could get their hotel in Strasbourg for £50 a night ($75) - bargain!!

Then its a case of working out how many nights - at the moment this has more to do with our finances than how much annual leave we have left at work. We settled on more than a week but not a fortnight.

And then I buy books - in this case the three new ones I bought were (whispering here)Frommer's 'France Day by Day', Michelin's 'Alsace Lorraine Champagne' and Eyewitness 'Back Roads France'. Of these the Eyewitness book was the most useful but all were read extensively in planning the trip.

Given that we were going to Freiburg we decided early on that we wouldn't use air travel. I love train journeys and so it was going to be a combination of train and hire car.

It's only then after a good deal of planning that I turn to Fodor's
This time, having used this site for so long, I got good feedback on the following plan:
Strasbourg 4 nights
Then drive the Alsace wine route and stay in Thannenkirch 1 night
Continue the wine route and stay in Colmar 1 night
Illhaeusern (for my special birthday meal) 1 night
Freiburg 1 night
Paris 2 nights

Next - getting started.

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    Hi tjhome,

    just checking into your TR as it looks just like the sort of trip we like to take - a new area, nothing too strenuous, a nice mix of activities, and WINE thrown in for good measure.

    oh and we were in France for 14 July and had a great time, so I'm intrigued to see what went wrong for you!

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    Hi tjhome - yes checking also
    We loved our visit to Strasbourg and Alsace villages in 2011. In fact we are going back for to days to Alsace and also visiting Freiburg and the Black Forest area in September. And of course always love Paris!

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    I like to get the best out of my holidays and so detailed planning for certain aspects is a must - I'm not the kind of person to leave finding accommodation to chance and finding the right accommodation for me involves tripadvisor (TA). Making the most of a holiday also means starting early and getting things booked, particularly travel, where booking early usually means the cheapest prices.

    The first thing to book though was the restaurant for my special birthday meal - the Auberge de L'Ill, a 3 michelin star place in Alsace. I took a chance and emailed them before what I thought was a standard 3 month opening window for making reservations. Luckily they accepted my booking. Everything else was then booked round that so that we got to Paris for the Bastille Day celebrations on the 14th.

    Booking the train from Manchester to London was easy - 2 first class single's for a total of just£37 ($56). Much harder though, even after reading and rereading the advice on seat61.com was booking the Eurostar and the TGV from Paris to Strasbourg. I found it really difficult to choose between booking single tickets or getting returns and which would be the cheapest option. In the end I got return Eurostar tickets for £110 ($170)each, which I'm sure wasn't as cheap as they could have been.

    The TGV was slightly easier and I managed to get first class singles from Paris to Strasbourg for £50 ($75) each although I couldn't book seats on the upper deck of the train.

    And so the trip begins.

    Travelling first class is a great way to start a holiday - even if it was only on the train down to London. You get a sandwich and the drinks trolley came by twice, the guy sitting across the aisle from us managed to down 4 of those little bottles of vodka - £18.50 ($28) seemed like the best deal in the world! Luckily Euston is close to St Pancras and so we were able to walk to St Pancras and leave our luggage overnight to be collected the next day - I forget the cost but it certainly beat having to carry it across London twice. St Pancras really is an excellent station now - the shops and dining options there are superb and an ambition is to stay at the restored station hotel one day. We were staying with friends in Brixton though this first night and it was lovely to meet up at the Canton Arms in Stockwell for a meal - the food here in this typical large relaxed gastropub is great though I suspect that none of you will ever venture this far out to try it.

    We'd booked the 11.30 train from St Pancras which seemed in theory to allow a leisurely start to the day but time flew and we quickly found it was time to get going. In theory it was a quick bus to Brixton tube and then on the Victoria line straight to Kings Cross/St Pancras. At the bus stop though we were seduced by a bus that said it's destination was King's Cross - how great to be able to do some early sight seeing above ground rather than being stuck on the tube - fine in theory but it won't come as a surprise to those who have lived in London that this was a loooong journey. With time ticking away we exchanged anxious glances and eventually decided to bale out at Elephant and Castle and get on the tube. Needless to say we were now running late. It's been fun reading about Crazyfamilyof4's missed flight on here and all the (over)reaction to it - however we ran, not great in the unseasonable early July heatwave, and made it with just a few minutes to spare. Starting a holiday sweating like a dray horse is not a great way to begin a journey though.

    The journey to Paris flew by as a Canadian couple from Toronto quickly got chatting to us - we have relatives there and they loved good reastaurants too so we chatted non stop to Gare du Nord. They were very impressed with Eurostar and it certainly is a very quick and easy way to get from London to Paris - we'd definately do it again if we could get a better price. Here in Britain it's all too easy to forget how lucky we are to have such easy access to Europe.

    It was so lovely to be in Paris again - it's one of my favourite cities and as our train didn't leave Gare de L'Est until 17.00 we had a late leisurely lunch at Brasserie Flo at the Gare de l'Est - £75 ($115) for a shared starter of smoked salmon and blinis, turbot and beef carpacchio and a bottle of nice white wine. Definately worth it.

    The TGV was excellent - so much faster than trains here in Britain and there were plenty of vacant seats on the upper deck so we moved straight away. It's odd though how the first half of the journey is at top speed but the rest done at a much slower pace - but with the horrible train crash in Spain on the news I understand more how these high speed trains work.

    My first slip up though came at Strasbourg when I realised I'd not worked out which tram stop we needed for the hotel. I hate having to take taxis needlessly but it was the best choice in the circumstances.

    The Hilton is a little way out of the centre of Strasbourg and currently ranks 26th out of 128 hotels on TA but for the fantasic price it seemed worth it - and so it proved - the nearest tram stop was just a 3 or 4 minute walk from the hotel and we never waited more than a few minutes for a tram. I love experiencing new cities and so the first night was spent just wandering the streets. Given that we were eating well the next night and had had a good lunch I'd checked out L'Epicerie during the planning phase. We passed it by chance during our wanderings and it was packed so we carried on doing more exploring and came back later. No tables outside on a lovely warm night but we grabbed one inside and were glad we did. It's such a charming place. The food is very simple - tartines, French open-faced sandwiches and the interior is very well done, like an old grocery store with big communal tables as well as smaller ones. They play classic old French music and the atmosphere really was lovely. We had beers with our tartines - a cheap dinner for just £36 ($55). The hotel is close enough to the centre for it to be a nice 20 minute walk back too. Perfect start to the holiday.

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    We were staying with friends in Brixton though this first night and it was lovely to meet up at the Canton Arms in Stockwell for a meal - the food here in this typical large relaxed gastropub is great though I suspect that none of you will ever venture this far out to try it.>>

    I think you're pretty safe with that statement, tjhome. there was a recent thread where someone was asking for advice about booking a b&B at Elephant and Castle, and they got a LOT of advice [including from me] not to do it.

    I love the eurostar too and when we lived in Kent we went to Paris and Brussels on it several times but from Cornwall it's such a fag to get to London on the train [or by car for that matter] that it's just easier to fly straight from Exeter or even Bristol.

    i don't know Strasbourg at all but it's sounding as it might be a place that we would enjoy for a short break. We did tour Alsace as part of a bigger trip a very long time ago but all i remember is a very nice B&B in somewhere unpronounceable and a choucroute!

    i love all the detail in your report - do keep it coming.

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    Very enjoyable and easy read, lots of details which I love. Eurostar is a great way to go, very relaxing.

    I think I can feel a trip to Strasbourg coming on . . . . .looking foward to more.

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    Our first full day in Strasbourg, Saturday 6 July, was also my special birthday and we started it off with a full breakfast on the hotel terrace - I can't believe that breakfast was included in the price - if you pay separately its £20 ($30) per person so just breakfasts alone almost paid for the room itself - we didn't need lunch once during our 4 night stay. This has to count as one of the best hotel deals we've ever got. I think they are still running this summer discount.

    Then to the end of the tram line to see a Zaha Hadid designed bus station at Hoenheim. DP was definately underwhelmed but I loved it, great to see one of her buildings close up, so few of hers get built in Britain. To be fair it is just a few bits of angled concrete but it was very easy to get to, was free, and took about 15 minutes to fully appreciate.

    Next, into Strasbourg, pretty much repeating our exploring of the night before but checking out the farmers market and then climbing the Cathedral tower, disappointingly you can only get up to the roof level of the Cathedral but its still worth doing as the views are understandably excellent and it cost just a few euros. The Cathedral, completed in 1439, was the world's tallest building until 1874. The historic centre of the city, the Grand Ile is very pretty and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are so many pretty buildings and gorgeous views - it was lovely just wandering round. In doing so we discovered that we'd arrived in Strasbourg as some of the free summer entertainment was just beginning - there was a light show at the Cathedral starting that night and a light, fountain and music show starting Sunday night.

    I'd booked a nice little place for dinner, Umami, it has a michelin star and just 18 covers and is run by just the chef and his wife - we had a fantasic meal, expensive, but it was my birthday. On the way back we caught the light show on the Cathedral, set to classical music the building was illuminated inside and out in a variety of ways - it was very effective and impressive and I've not seen anything like it before. It's great that the city puts on these free shows.

    The weather the next day was even hotter, almost too hot to be walking round all day. We'd set the Sunday aside for museums and the Cathedral. First we did the modern art museum, which was good and had an excellent temporary exhibition on architecture and urbanism in France and Germany from 1800 to 2000. As a planner I found it fascinating and luckily we both really enjoyed it. For a museum break we visited the Cathedral next and then on to the Palais Rohan, which houses three different museums, fine arts, decorative arts and archaeology; we did the first two and the decorative arts was better as it contained the historical apartments of the king and the Rohan cardinals. The archaeology museum has the better reputation but archaeology doesn't really grab my interest. The museum is close to the Cathedral though and was definately worth doing.

    Dinner was at a nice little out of the way restaurant, Au Renard Prechant, that had a nice outdoor seating area that we found en route to the light, fountain and music show to the south of the city centre. There were crowds of people and we got great places to sit on steps down to the water with no one in front of us. Unfortunately these steps were also quite popular with the local ducks so we had to be very careful where we sat. The light show was excellent though, all projected onto the side of a big buildings with fountains set up in front. I guess it was a little like the fountains in Barcelona that are set to music and the Bellagio fountains in Las Vegas and the Versailles fountains - I'm sure there are more of these across the world. It was a fun thing to do though and there were thousands of people there.

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    tj - it was HOT that week in France wasn't it? even warmer than in the UK, or at least warmer than Cornwall, with the exception of the 20 miles or so around Roscoff. When we got off the boat on the friday morning it was distinctly chilly and stayed so until we got about 30 kms further south.

    coming back on the monday was the same - the temp dropped a good 5-6 degrees in about 30 mins as we got closer to the north coast. possibly it had stayed like that all weekend while the rest of us roasted.

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    lol..yes, we checked the weather each day and it was always at least 2 degrees hotter than the UK - I'm not a fan of too much heat but it was to be anticipated in July and it would be most ungracious to complain. We did suffer later in the trip though.

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    Monday was our last full day in Strasbourg so this was spent doing the last things that had been on my carefully planned list of things to see and do. One of the disappointments was not being able to attend a session of the European Parliament. As DP was a city councillor and is very interested in politics we've attended parliaments a few times in US and Australia. However, the few sittings in Strasbourg didn't fit with our schedule and would have meant hugely increased hotel costs, especially at the Hilton which is located fairly close. So we had to make do with just visiting the buildings.

    Again the temperatures were sky high so we thought a boat ride would be good - cooling water and a nice breeze hopefully. Sadly the boat didn't go fast enough to get any breeze so we slowly baked. It was nice enough but the commentary was a bit lame. It would have been better maybe to do the trip earlier. Still glad we did it though.
    Having excellent breakfasts each day had meant no need for any lunch or snacking but I wanted to try Patisserie Christian Meyer so we cut down the breakfast portions and after the boat trip had tea and cake there. It is a lovely little place in a very old building.

    The final thing on my list had been the Jardin des Deux Rives, a huge park straddling the Rhine between France and Germany. Unfortunately I hadn't checked out how best to get there so we just went to the closest tram stop and then walked, not particularly great in the heat but we got there eventually. The park is very good and it would have been nice to spend more time as there was a tall wooden tower on the German side that has excellent views and a good beer garden but we continued into Kehl town centre and then caught a bus back.

    The hot weather is taking a toll on clean clothes and so I made time to get a load of washing done in a nearby launderette that we'd spotted on our nightly walks back to the hotel. We made it to our second of our three planned good restaurants, Le Gavroche, just in time for our 8pm booking. Like the others this place had been booked months in advance and in the meantime had been awarded its first michelin star. It was small, just 25 covers, but had more staff and so the husband and wife team that run it had more time with customers. The chef's wife was particularly lovely and it did make an excellent evening even better. It also ranked 1st out of Strasbourg's 807 restaurants on TA. I know that TA should always been used carefully but ranking 1 out of 807 really is a good sign. And sure enough the food was excellent and we had a brilliant evening. Again it was expensive though - £280 ($430) but I considered it absolutely worth it and it was paid for thanks to a better than expected annual bonus.

    Strasbourg was even better than we thought it would be. Not too big but big enough with lots to do - there were plenty of things that didn't make the cut for the 3 full days we were there like the Alsace museum, which is meant to be very good and the botanic gardens. The city is very walkable and incredibly picturesque. There are very few cars, which is lovely and the public transport system is excellent. We were very glad with our choice of hotel - a huge bargain and so easy to get to - we would have seen much less of the city if we had simply stayed as close to the centre as possible. So little mention is made of Strasbourg on this forum - its absolutely to be recommended and I would definately return.

    Next picking up our hire car and the Alsace wine route.

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    Enjoying this. I loved Strasbourg too, and was blown away by the cathedral - one of the best I've seen. annhig - if you go, consider stopping off in Nancy on the way especially if you have any interest at all in Art Nouveau (click on my name for my French TR with Nancy).

    Re: Brixton and the bus. On one trip through London I stayed with my niece in Mortlake, and I was very concerned that the bus to Hammersmith the day I left for Heathrow was going to get delayed. I feel safer taking the tube, but then I've been stuck there sometimes too. I was looking at the web site for the station hotel at St. Pancras the other day and thinking it would make a great splurge...

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    Again the temperatures were sky high so we thought a boat ride would be good - cooling water and a nice breeze hopefully. Sadly the boat didn't go fast enough to get any breeze so we slowly baked. It was nice enough but the commentary was a bit lame. >>

    that happened to us in Toulouse. DH is a sucker for any boat trip and we too thought it would be cooling. not a bit of it - we roasted slowly like a Toulouse goose on a spit.

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    The reason that the TGV changes speed as it gets close to Strasbourg is because the high speed line has not yet been built for the entire distance. The last 106 kilometers won't be completed until 2016. The other part of the line is the fastest train line in the world.

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    A last full breakfast at the Hilton and goodbye to the lovely woman who managed the breakfast staff, she was super friendly and it really did make a nice start to the day to have someone be so cheerful first thing in the morning. Very impressed with Hilton and their fantastic deals.

    The hire car was booked through holidayautos.com and was to be picked up at Strasbourg-Entzheim airport south of the city. As it was so hot we decided to leave luggage at the hotel and come back for it. The airport is quite small and is very easy to get to via a train from Strasbourg. I've always found Holiday Autos to be the cheapest of the big firms and have never had any problems with them. We booked a cheap little car as we weren't going to be doing too many miles but it was still a little disappointing to be shown our tiny car. We had the car for 5 days and it cost £180 ($275) for two drivers. We didn't take a satnav as we had some rudimentary maps and sometimes half the fun is getting a little lost and discovering things by chance.

    First stop was Obernai, 17 miles south-west of Strasbourg - its the second most visited town in Alsace after Strasbourg. The Frommer's book describes it as a 'meticulously restored medieval town' and it certainly was exceedingly pretty and did indeed look to be very medieval - there are still defensive walls and ramparts. The way that so many people seem to take such care with the flower displays on their buildings is very impressive.

    Next we headed up into the Vosges mountains to Mont Sainte-Odile. I didn't want these two days doing the wine route to be an endless procession through one pretty village after another so this looked to be ideal. The views from the convent that is perched at the top were amazing. The place looks to attract a big crowd and part of the complex included a hotel. There were plenty of eating options but we were still doing well on our breakfast. One of the best things was evidence of occupation from the 7th century in the form of Merovingian graves carved into the rock overlooking the plains below. You can get very close to them and the sense of history at the place is powerful. It is claimed that the history of settlement goes back to Celtic times over 1000BC in the form of a 'Pagan Wall'. We had planned to walk to the wall but it was so hot and time was ticking by that we satisfied our ancient history cravings with the 7th century graves.

    The car was certainly much better going down hill that struggling up. Next town was Barr - again totally lovely, beautiful old(looking) buildings covered in flowers. By now we had noticed that there was hardly anyone else about - so few tourists and so few cars on the roads and also that many more shops than I'd expected were shut for a very long lunch. Not that we were shopping but sometimes it was hard to even get a bottle of water. The lack of tourists was an unexpected bonus - villages this pretty in the UK would be packed with hordes of tourists.

    Again no need for lunch so we headed next to Zotzenberg. There was en excellent looking 2 hour walk, just outside the village of Mittelbergheim, that takes you through the vineyards, past a castle and to two great lookouts. Again though it was so hot that we just couldn't face it so did a mini 20 minute version.

    We got to our overnight stop in Thannenkirch, a village up in the foothills of the Vosges, early and had time to walk round this lovely little place - it was nice that it was off the wine route so didn't look as pretty as all the other villages we had driven through and stopped at, which made it feel more like a proper village than a tourist destination. The setting is gorgeous though, so peaceful and quiet too with the Vosges mountains behind, the Alsace plain in front and beyond that the Black Forest. This is a link to more info about the village. It has many nature walks and is renowned for its wildlife - it would have been lovely to have spent more time here.

    http://www.ribeauville-riquewihr.com/en/discover/thannenkirch.htm

    Had we been staying somewhere dull though I doubt it would have been quite so attractive but the Hotel Haut Koenigsbourg was by far the nicest place we stayed. Its a small hotel, just 9 rooms I think, and is fairly newly renovated by the current owners. Rooms were smart and stylish and easily fell under my limit for this holiday of 100 Euros - £73 to be exact ($112). We had room 2 on the gable of the building, which has dual aspect windows - which did mean we got a nice breeze in the heat. The hotel has a garden where you can sit out and there is a little stream that has the perfect volume - not too loud to be intrusive but loud enough for you to know you're sitting, sleeping next to a babbling brook. Having grown up in a village south of Bath in the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty I generally find I've had enough of lovely villages but this was just perfect, it made a perfect contrast to our stay in the city.

    There are three dining options in the village, a cheap pizza place and two restaurants, both in hotels - we opted for the cheaper one, La Meuniere, which had a big terrace overlooking the village and a decent dinner cost £70 ($107).

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    Your trip report is taking me back to our enjoyable stay in the Alsace! It is a lovely region of France! Your descriptions of Strasbourg make me thing that it is a place well-worth more time than just a quick day trip as we did from Obernai.

    Thanks for sharing your trip with us!

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    What a wonderful trip report. We have been thinking of going to Alsace and your trip report has made us put this region back at the top of our list. We are looking forward to hearing more about Colmar and Freiburg!

    We are heading to Bavaria and Austria in Sept. We debated between going east to Austria or west to Black Forest and Alsace on this trip. We'll definitely put this back our plans for next trip.

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    Thanks for everyone's kind comments, they are encouraging - I've got so much value out of this site that putting something back is almost obligatory - especially coming from Manchester, a part of the country little mentioned on here and am writing about places that I also found very little about on these boards.

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    Bad start to the day - the village shop in Thannenkirch had run out of croissants by 9.30am!

    We'd chosen to stay in Thannenkirch as two days to drive the wine route seemed right, and so it proved, and the village was approximately half way between Strasbourg and Colmar, which are just 50 miles from each other, but also as its very close to the Chateau de Haut Koenigsbourg. Unlike most castles in the UK this is a reconstruction of a medieval castle undertaken by the German Emperor in 1899. The exhibition on architecture and the relationship between Germany and France that we'd seem in Strasbourg had mentioned it and one of the interesting aspects about Alsace is its history; having been part of the Holy Roman Empire it was gradually annexed by France in the mid 17th century but became part of Germany between 1871 and 1918. The rebuilding of the ruined chateau was in part a charm offensive in the region but it also sought to reinforce the power of the Emperor. The restoration of the castle came in for much understandable criticism at the time, but experts now believe that a pretty good job was done. So it all makes for a fascinating experience - one that we shared with lots of parties of school kids. The audioguides, which cost a few euros were very good and we thoroughly enjoyed exploring the castle. It was fascinating to get a very different perspective on an historic building. Again the views were stunning.

    http://www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr/en/the-castle/photo-galleries/id/1844/the-castle-in-its-entirety/

    Next pretty town was Bergheim, unusual in the region in that it managed to preserve its medieval town walls that date from the 14th century - more lovliness, pretty halftimbered buildings adorned with flowers at every window and more streets to ourselves.

    Our next stop was Hunawihr - officially one of France's most beautiful villages - there are about 160 in total and we visited 4 of them on our trip. This was one of my favourites though and yet again we had the place almost completely to ourselves. Hunawihr is tiny and set amidst rolling vineyards that you can see from every vantage point and with a backdrop of the Vosges. Its distinctive though for its fortified church and cemetery - one of the few examples of defensive religious architecture. By just taking a short walk out of the town you get even better views.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/35110249@N05/4176045763/

    We got to see our first stork here too, not soaring in the sky or on a nest but stolling around the car park - it was nice to get close though.

    At last we encountered tourists in the next town, Riquewihr, it was almost reassuring to be amongst them at long last. It's much bigger than Hunawihr, chocolate box pretty and caters more for visitors. Mindful that I wasn't coming all this way not to buy wine we finally made our first purchases from a wine shop. There were a couple of delicatessens on the main street and so we bought meat, cheese and quiche and drove to a little hilltop village we'd seen on our drive in - Zollenberg. We ate our picnic on a shaded bench outside the church with a view of undulating hills, vineyards, the Vosges and three distant castles with not a single tourist in sight - perfect.

    I still wanted to get wine from a proper winery so at our last stop of the day before Colmar, in Kientzheim, we stopped in two - in each we were the only visitors.

    We had asked the couple who ran the hotel in Thannenkirch way there were so few tourists - apparantly it has something to do with school holidays and the upcoming Bastille Day - these first two weeks of July are traditionally quiet. Whatever the reasons it was great to be on roads carrying such light volumes of traffic, unlike at home, and have all these pretty villages mostly to ourselves. The wine route was very impressive - even nicer than I thought it was going to be. Two days was definately sufficient for me though as I can see that it would be possible to overdose on the cuteness. I'd definately visit again though, maybe at a different time of year when it wasn't so debilitatingly hot.

    Taking a break here as this is a long entry already...it turns ugly next.

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    Ok maybe ugly was a little exageration but I keep reading latedaytraveler's very eloquent trip report on the UK board and feel like I have to keep interest levels up - here goes.

    From Keintzheim it was a short drive into Colmar. We have visited twice before but never stayed so I was looking forward to seeing more. Finding a decent hotel had been quite a challenge - the best under our 100 Euro limit was outside the city, which I didn't want to do. Eventually I settled on the Hotel Turenne. The hotel is named after a 17th century French soldier - our room looked as though there hadn't been too many refurbishments since then. Sadly I'd made the mistake of booking an older, larger room rather than a smaller, newer room - wrong choice. To make matters worse there was a sign on the desk saying that the air conditioning was out of order due to a storm. Very depressing as it was so hot and humid.

    To escape the heat of the room we ventured into the town. As is sometimes the case when you look forward to visiting somewhere that has charmed you on a previous short viewing Colmar left me a little flat. Undoubtedly this had much to do with the fact that Colmar's 'Little Venice' area is much like Strasbourg's 'Petite France' area - both full of charming lovely bloom-bedecked buildings and lovely waterways. On top of that the last two days had been a succession of beautiful villages and towns. Being a little down about the hotel didn't help either. My mood sank further when DP ran out of money - we'd been caught out by the car hire companies deposit. So paying for the rest of the holiday was up to me!

    Despite the above Colmar is of course a lovely small city but we'd obviously seen it previously in splendid isolation. None of the above is a reason not to visit though and the Unterlinden museum, which we'd been to previously is a delight. It did feel though like a smaller version of Strasbourg in many respects. If you are planning to be in Alsace bear this in mind and plan accordingly - also be prepared to pay a little more for accommodation here - I think it would be well worth it. Also Colmar's weekly open-air farmer's market, fondly remembered from our past visits, is on Thursdays.

    Given the ample late picnic lunch we just had a couple of beers and then tried to sleep - I even opened the minibar door in an effort to get some cool air and seriously thought of emptying it to see if I could get a pillow plus my head inside.

    More hotel gloom in Freiburg coming next.

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    oh no - I don't know what is worse - no air-con or no dosh! and being stranded in a drop-dead gorgeous place to boot.

    it turned out that out hotel room in Vannes was sans air-con too but fortunately we were able to open the windows in the room and in the bathroom at night and to get a flow of air that way. it was still pretty hot though. I half wished that we'd booked the posher hotel down by the port with air-con and a pool but that would have meant a 2 mile walk into town or having to wait for the bus all the time [albeit it was free, we'd prefer just to be able to walk].

    you poor things - keep it coming.

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    "Undoubtedly this had much to do with the fact that Colmar's 'Little Venice' area is much like Strasbourg's 'Petite France' area - both full of charming lovely bloom-bedecked buildings and lovely waterways."

    Maybe that's why I'm not a huge fan of Strasbourg -- I had already been to Colmar several times before my first visit to Strasbourg. It just doesn't do it for me. (And I like Nancy better than both of them.)

    Looking forward to the Freiburg part of your trip!

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    Asked for a discount in the morning but as expected didn't get one. Noted when we got home that the air conditioning had been broken for 15 days!! - such a shame as I'd been looking forward to our stay here and am sad to say that the heat and humidity really has been a bit of a dampener even though it does seem wrong to complain about it.

    Luck hadn't been on our side with our visits coinciding with any of the open-air farmers markets that are such a highlight of any trip to France. Eguisheim was our last opportunity. On top of that it had recently won a French tv programme vote to find France's most beautiful village.

    http://www.kuriositas.com/2013/06/eguisheim-frances-favorite-village.html

    You can certainly see why it won and it was nice to be able to see it in such good weather and with so few tourists about. The village is also birthplace of Leo IX who was Pope between 1049 and 1054. The only disappointment was that we didn't find a farmers' market.

    We had planned to spend time back in Colmar but didn't feel up to it so pressed on to Neuf-Brisach, another UNESCO World Heritage Site. This had looked to be another really off-beat and interesting place. It is one of the best preserved fortified towns that Louis XIV's military engineer Vauban created in the first years of the 18th century. The town is surrounded by huge walls and fortifications and is laid out on a perfect grid with a huge open square at its centre. Again, no tourists whatsoever and we had a lovely walk round the walls.

    It was then on to my highlight of the holiday, my birthday meal at Auberge de l'Ill, a 3star Michelin restaurant in a little village called Illhaeusern on the banks of the River Ill - this is what the bulk of my Christmas bonus had been set aside for.

    First though the hotel. The village has just two hotels - the very expensive hotel that is attached to the restaurant where rooms start at about £290 ($440) a night - and Les Hirondelles, just a short walk from the restaurant, where we paid just £68 ($103). The hotel was perfectly good enough and had the bonus of having a pool. Our room was on the first floor and had a nice little balcony where you could sit - no nice view though but it made a good place to right up my travel journal.

    One of the best things about the restaurant is it's setting on the banks of the river. The garden is lovely and the current chef's mother was feeds storks there when we arrived. There was a next of four of them on the roof of the church next to the restaurant. Everyone was having drinks in the garden before going in to eat and we lingered over ours just savouring the gorgeous surroundings. Having eaten in two one star restaurants earlier in the week it was intersting to note the differences between them and this 3 star - the luxuriousness of the surroundings, more space between tables, a deeper pile in the carpet, many more staff, more expensive ingredients - lobster and foie gras. One of the things I didn't particularly notice though was that the standard of cooking was that much higher. We did have more courses here - one little plate of snacks outside, another amuse at our table, a lobster dish, a fish course, the foie gras, the main meat course, cheese, a little pre-dessert plate of mouth-sized bites, two dessert courses, coffee and chocolates - that makes eleven in total, but of the three places my least favourite dish was here. Having said that it was a superb evening and I loved every minute and a more lovely setting is hard to imagine. It was a bit of a shame that I had to think about not being too extravagant with wine choices and we stuck to a bottle and a half.

    I'm very happy to forego many things in order to be able to dine extremely well very occassionally.

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    Agree with u Kerouac but the key word is sometimes - certainly amongst my most memorable are cheap meals - a little place in Bergamo in the old town on the hill with a most fantastic view - and harry café de Wheels in Sydney harbour - pie n mash n peas outdoors. But more cooked by great chefs who love what they do is hard to beat usually.

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    Popov - I'm meaning green in an environmental sense rather than lots of trees and parks - this is an extract from Wikipedia - "The city is known for its medieval university and minster, as well as for its high standard of living and advanced environmental practices." As a town planner this is what I was so looking forward to visiting Freiburg for.

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    To coincide with my upcoming Freiburg post the BBC is kindly showing a mini documentary series on Germany. It starts Sunday 4 August with a programme on the Germany auto industry, Monday there is a programme on food and Tuesday it's about German lifestyle where a family from Britain trying to live in Germany as Germans.

    Just read this in an article in the telegraph that reports that the number of British tourists in Germany is up 8% this year compared to 2012.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/travelnews/10213464/Rise-in-British-tourists-visiting-Germany.html

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    Thanks, we've seen the previews for it and plan to watch it -- but the dates slipped our mind. We'll make sure to book it on a TV's viewing guide.

    We live about an hour from Freiburg and like to go there to wander around -- and have a good sushi lunch. Japanese restaurants in Basel (and in most of Switzerland) are...underwhelming, but Freiburg has a couple of good ones.

    General note: although you can get to Freiburg quickly (about an hour) from Basel by ICE, it's more expensive. If you leave from the Basel Bad train station, you can get cheaper lander tickets but the trains take longer. However, from the Basel airport there's a bus service (it's a nice bus) that goes straight to Freiburg in about the same time as the ICE and the same cost as the cheaper, slower train. Most of the buses zip to Freiburg with no stops; at most there is one other stop along the way.

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    Still enjoying your trip report.
    I looked up Neuf-Brisach the overhead visual was very impressive.
    We will be travelling to Freiburg from Montreux in September, by train.
    Waiting to hear of what to do and see. We will also be picking up a car for further exploration in the Black Forest, Alsace and the Mosel area.

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    No need for breakfast again so straight off towards Germany. One of the things that made this trip right for us was that we would be so close to Freiburg, which has been on our list of places to visit after I read an article years ago on how environmentally advanced Freiburg was. One of the merits of good planning is that every day there was something new and different to look forward to based on the things that we know we like and think we might like. Its hard not to despair sometimes at some of the questions that get asked on this forum - "Can you recommend the must sees in whichever country or city". I was looking forward to Freiburg immensely.

    And one of the merits of not planning too closely arose pretty soon. While we were on the road in France still we saw a little museum about the Maginot Line just outside the village of Marckolsheim. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casemate_de_Marckolsheim_Sud

    Just as yesterday we'd seen a fortified town dating back 100s of years this museum related to more modern day defenses. It was very small and only cost a few euros but it was unexpected and lovely and sobering.

    At the Rhine we stopped and watched as two big boats used the lock, one a cruise boat and one a barge carrying cargo. Then on into the Black Forest with the poor little overladen car struggling up the hills. Luckily again traffic was light. The difference in the vineyards was striking - in Germany every last scrap of land seemed to be terraced and used for growing vines.

    Getting the car close to the hotel was a challenge though as it was right in the heart of the city, close to the Cathedral. Eventually we worked out that there was a car park very close by and all was well. Until that is we got to the hotel where we were informed that they had overbooked and that we were now in a hotel two doors away. We'd been bumped from a hotel ranked 4th out of 52 on TA to the one ranked 43rd!! At least it was a little cheaper. Not nearly cheap enough though. So another grim hotel room and another excuse to get out into the city. We'd checked in early so that we had time to explore the city and see an area called Vauban, which is at the end of one of the tram lines.

    One of the great little bonuses about Freiburg is that you get a travel card from your hotel for free travel on the trams and buses so after a good walk round the centre of the city and the cathedral we got the tram out to Vauban. Everywhere is landscaped so well here - the dedication both private and public to making public spaces and gardens as green as possible really is inspiring. It is very evident that cars rank very low in the transport hierarchy with pedestrians, cyclists and public transport being obviously prioritised. The city centre, like Strasbourg, is so very much nicer for having an absence of cars. We just wandered through the residential areas close to the tram lines thinking how very different it is to home - we live just a few minutes walk from Manchester's metrolink and I do use it occassionally to get to work but I doubt that it has made much impact on car ownership. On the way we pass a new eco-hotel hotel that had just opened three weeks before http://www.hotel-vauban.de/hotel.html - how lovely it would have been to stay here for virtually the same price as we paid for such poor accommodation in the centre.

    There is a vibrancy to Freiburg that Strasbourg didn't seem to have. The University is quite close to the centre and there were lots of young people around. The centre is very walkable and the little streams running in most streets were quite a feature. It may not be as picturesque as Strasbourg but coming from Manchester I appreciate cities that don't wear their charms so obviously.

    By now our remaining budget was quite limited and luckily this lead to an unexpected delight for that nights food. By chance we checked out the Markthalle where they have lots of little food stalls - all looked to be independents rather than chains - and bars and a live band playing old rock numbers. The place was packed and so we had beers and two small plates of bread, olives and cold meats. This was obviously a place of choice for locals and we considered ourselves hugely fortunate to have stumbled across it. We felt like we couldn't have found a more typically local way to spend an evening - fabulous.

    There was only so much of the music that we could take though so we stolled through the city centre again. We passed lots of people with ice cream and eventually came across a huge cafe that just seemed to serve ice cream desserts. After our very abstemious meal earlier it seemed an appropriate way to end the night. Freiburg is definately to be recommended.

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    What a shame to do all your research and then wind up at a different hotel. At least you made the best of it! Years and years ago we visited Freiburg and liked it very much... stayed at Hotel Colombi.

    Thanks for providing a trip down memory lane!

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    We had a last look round Freiburg on Saturday morning and I wanted to have black forest gateau before we left. There was an excellent farmers market in the square in front of the Cathedral that looked excellent, the quality and range of food is so good - I dont know why we can't do these better in UK.
    Our only stop before having to drop off the car and get the train to Paris was at Gengenbach, a town on the edge of the Black Forest that is one of the prettier ones in the area. It was lovely and felt comparable to Obernai and we found out later that the two towns are twinned.
    The journey to Paris went smoothly and uneventfully. Oddly I hadn't been able to get a direct train from Strasbourg to Paris for some reason and we had to change in Nancy, with our overladen bags. In the end though the Paris train was from the same platform so it was quite easy.
    The hotel in Paris had been deliberately picked to be convenient for the military parade down the Champs Elysee the next morning and as it was under 100 Euros it was just a 2 star place. It was just a couple of blocks down from the Arc de Triomphe on one of the many main roads that radiate out - one of my favourite things I've done in Paris is standing on the top of the Arc de Triomphe and watching the traffic navigate round. There are no lines marking lanes at all and yet it all seems to work well and smoothly. When we've had our car in the past I've also driven it as well - a much scarier experience than watching from above but almost as much fun.
    With funds limited, we were just down to 70 Euros by now, we decided to head to the centre of the city - one of my most best memories of Paris is walking up from the metro in front of the Hotel de Ville at night when it is floodlit - such an amazing view. So we relived a happy memory and then set off to find a branch of Quick - the European version of McDonalds and Burger King - one of our less happy Paris memories - they are cheap though. Sadly we couldn't find one so settled for a pizza in the Marais and blew half our budget. Have to say it's fairly dispiriting to have to be so careful about money in Paris.
    One of the bonuses though is that we walked back to the hotel through the Louvre and up the Champs Elysee - even being poor for a couple of days in Paris can be pretty lovely.

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    Paris is only as expensive as you want it to be, but to fully benefit from the economics, you have to decide to venture at least 5 metro stations from the Seine. Unfortunately, too many visitors never do that, hence the reputation of expensiveness continues.

    And Quick is far superior to McDonald's because they are more innovative, although I did not think that July's Homer Simpson Donut Burger was one of their best ideas. (Don't worry, it was just donut shaped -- not actually made with a donut or a cronut.)

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    There was an excellent farmers market in the square in front of the Cathedral that looked excellent, the quality and range of food is so good - I dont know why we can't do these better in UK.>>

    you should come to Cornwall, tjhome! we have regular twice weekly farmers' markets in Truro, and weekly ones in quite a few other places throughout the county. The quantity of stalls varies of course, but rarely the quality, and even some tiny places can have some excellent goods on offer.

    there, advert over.

    I'm sorry to read that you're down to your last €35 - this does not bode well for "tomorrow".

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    And so to our last full day, one that turned out to be both one of the best and the worst of days. First task was how to have a good day while spending just 32 euros (£27, $42). Tomorrow was pay day so it was just the one 24 hour period to deal with. First of all though one of my favourite days to be in Paris - July 14, Bastille Day. I love the military parade in the morning - its so much more inclusive than the parades we have in the UK such as the Trooping of the Colour - other countries are represented, its huge - 58 aircraft, 4,823 personnel, 241 horses, 265 vehicles and 35 helicopters, navy, army and airforce are there and the Paris Fire Brigade takes part too. I would so love to get a seat in the increasingly big seated area closer to the Place de la Concorde but instead getting there early and finding as good a vantage point as possible is the best I'm going to do.

    Having done my reasearch the roundabout half way down the Champs Elysee - the Rond Point - where the Franklin D Roosevelt metro stop is, is meant to afford the best views so there we headed and as our commitment to getting up extra early to get the best places isn't that strong we got an ok view but enjoyed it nevertheless. Back to the hotel for breakfast - the half bag of crisps (potato chips) saved from yesterday and a peach and then what to do with the rest of the day...

    As is often the case one of the nicest things about Paris is just being there and experiencing it and so thats what we decided to do. We did have metro tickets and so we went across the city to Deaumesnil metro to catch the start of the elevated section of the Jardin Plantee, the model for the High Line Park in New York. We'd walk short lengths of this elevated park on earlier trips but it was good to see more of it. Really annoyingly we'd left our bottle of water in the hotel minibar and it was yet another scorchingly hot day. Luckily though there were small water fountains dotted along the promenade - having to scoop the water up with our hands though felt a bit desperate.

    The park ends close to Bastille and so we walked down the last stretch of the Canal St Martin before it meets the River Seine - we'd walked some of the upper bits previously so again it was lovely do this little bit and on a hot day it was good to be alongside water. And then when you reach the river you have one of Paris's best views in front of you - the Ile St Louis and Notre Dame. Walking along the river banks is perfect and there are so many people sunbathing. Another favourite thing is exploring the narrow streets on the islands so we got off the river and walked along the street that runs along the middle of the Ile St Louis. It was so hard to have to pass the Berthillon ice cream shops that are dotted over the island, our euros are precious today though.

    Notre Dame is beautiful but there is a huge viewing platform in front that I'm not sure is a good idea. It does allow you to see a better view of the facade of the building but it is huge and pretty close - part of my job involves assessing how new buildings affect the setting of Listed Buildings. I think the disadvantages outweight the benefits.

    From Notre Dame we have a lovely walk through the Louvre and the Tuileries gardens, Place de la Concorde and up the Champs Elysee, passing the leftovers from the mornings parade that included thousands of half full bottles of water that we eye enviously! Walking uphill on the Champs Elysee after such a long hot day was hard - we even went into a couple of stores just to experience the air conditioning. Going back to yet more water was not going to cut it for me so we dived into a burger place on the Champs Elysee and had milkshakes for 2 whole euros each - THE best milkshakes ever.

    The highlight of the day though is the firework display. In the past we've seen it from the Champ de Mars in front of the Eiffel Tower. This time though we were closer to the opposite bank and the bridge is closed so Trocadero was the place to be. First though 28 Euros left for a meal. There was a buffet restaurant close to our hotel and for 13.50 Euros each we could get three courses plus a soft drink!! The food of course was pretty basic but we were very happy that we'd been able to fill up without restorting to a burger place.

    We followed the crowds walking down to the Trocadero and the place was packed - way too many people and far too claustrophobic for us - also we couldn't see the Eiffel Tower so we walked down the road some passing gaps in the buildings where crowds of people were filling the pavements and the road where there was a glimpse of the Tower. Eventually we chose our place by one of these gaps in the buildings that affored a view of the Eiffel Tower and waited... And when the fireworks started with a huge blast we saw absolutely nothing! Half the people ran back up towards the Trocadero but it had been so crowded that we stuck where we were and listened to a very loud firework display. Such a disappointing end to the day. So thats where not to stand on July 14.

    Our last day and final thoughts to finish.

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    oh no, tj - no fireworks.

    we had fireworks aplenty but it was incredibly hot where we were in Vannes - but at least we weren't dressed in medieval costume as well like the people who were dressed up in the procession which preceded the fireworks.

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    tj - Vannes was pretty busy for "catorze juillet" [we didn't twig until after we booked that it was THAT weekend] so I can't imagine what Carcassonne would be like.

    if there were a repeat of that weather, I'd want to be staying somewhere with a swimming pool.

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    Our train wasn't until 5pm so we decided to get our luggage stored at Gare du Nord and then get a decent late lunch. Getting a bus was easy with directions from the hotel and it was so much nicer to be able to see more of the city - we tend not to take buses much but one lesson learnt is definately to try them more. Using the metro tickets was easy and it is good that you can use tickets for both buses and the metro.

    The luggage facilities were less good though. They have lockers and almost all seemed to be either full or not working - we had to hover until people took luggage out and then had to pounce. I guess it was a busy weekend but even so it was Monday so unless you are prepared to wait then you may want to think twice about this option.

    For lunch we headed back into the Marais and just chose somewhere that looked nice - Jaja on Rue Sainte-Croix de la Bretonnerie, it has a cute little courtyard and it was so nice to be eating decent food again and drinking nice wine again. Last tasks were food shopping which was done very successfully at a little cheese shop and a month later we are still eating the gorgeous saucisson sec we bought (yes it is a few days over its best before date!).

    The Eurostar area at the station was crowded and super hot. Am glad we didnt get there too early. Journey back went smoothly and without event.

    So some thoughts:

    1. Everywhere except Colmar maybe, exceeded or met expectations. Strasbourg is particularly lovely and worth a weekend of anyone's lifetime. The route des vins was an excellent choice and it would have been nice to be able to spend more time there, do more walking and chill more - another trip definately. Freiburg is also somewhere I'd like to go again and explore more. This was our third time in Colmar so adding them all up again definately worth a weekend, just enjoyed it more on previous trips.

    2. France is so, so lovely and spending time there is a huge pleasure in itself.

    3. Ditto Paris.

    4. It is very easy to do Paris fairly cheaply, not so much fun, but definately doable.

    5. The first two weeks in France seemed to be very quiet and a great time to be there - I'd definately choose these two weeks again.

    6. I really, really, really don't want to stay in cheap rubbish hotels again. A mix of cheap and decent hotels is fine but there were too many poor choices although to be fair we were unlucky with the overbooking in Freiburg and the broken air conditioning in Colmar.

    7. The Hilton was a fantastic bargain - they are definitely on my list of places to stay again.

    8. The tried and tested method of deciding where we want to go, getting a big map, getting some guide books, thinking and then asking questions on this site worked very well - I feel I made the absolute most of my precious holiday - running out of money notwithstanding!

    9. Tripadvisor came though again - used carefully it's an excellent resource.

    10. Travelling by train was excellent and fun, so much less hassle than flying.

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