5 Can't-Miss Alsace Food and Wine Experiences

Posted by Erica Duecy on February 16, 2013 at 3:24:58 PM EST | Post a Comment

Alsace is a place of harmonious juxtaposition. Storybook villages host humble inns alongside cutting-edge restaurants, and classic timber-framed homes next to modern wineries. Separated from the rest of France by the Vosge mountains, Alsace borders Germany and has passed ownership between the two countries over the centuries. As a result, Alsatian flavors are a blend of French and German influences, from high-acid Rieslings to sausage-laden specialty dishes.

The region is a four-season destination, with snow sports and Christmas markets in the winter, and hiking, mushroom foraging, and orchard visits in summer. In the fall, wine harvest is a highlight, and springtime delivers wildflowers and a bounty of fresh flavors, including ramps, peas, and white asparagus. For food- and wine-focused travelers, Alsace makes for an immensely satisfying vacation any time (though you may gain a few kilos along the way). Here are a few can't-miss experiences to fuel your traveling appetite.

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1. Snacks at Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg

Strasbourg's massive cathedral is worth a visit for its fascinating history and stunning architecture. But for foodies, it's the surrounding square that yields regional treasures, from roasted chestnut vendors in the fall to sweets galore at the city's renowned Christmas market, which has been held here for centuries. In warmer months, restaurants set up outdoor café tables, giving locals and travelers an excuse to kick back and people-watch over a glass of wine and tarte flambée, a flatbread topped with bacon, onions, and crème fraiche.

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2. Cheese Galore at La Cloche à Fromage

There are not enough superlatives with which to rave about the cheese selection at La Cloche a Fromage, the restaurant side of a renowned cheese affinage business. For the uninitiated, affineurs are the people who shepherd cheeses from newly produced specimens into aged masterpieces; essentially, they're "cheese-agers." In addition to more than 80 varieties of unpasteurized cheeses lovingly presented with local accompaniment, you'll also find regional specialties like fondue and raclette (cheese melted tableside with a hot iron, served over hot potatoes). For any cheese lover, La Cloche is pilgrimage-worthy.

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3. Dinner at a Traditional Winstub

If there's one winstub (a tavern serving traditional Alsatian cuisine) not to miss in Strasbourg, it's Au Coin des Pucelles (12, rue des Pucelles, Strasbourg; +33 3 88 35 35 14). Hidden down a tight alley, this homey, casual restaurant serves incredible food. Start with house-made foie gras or pig's head terrine, then move on to gut-busting fare like choucroute garni (mixed meats with sauerkraut), baeckeoffe (meat-and-potato casserole), onion tart, and red wine-cooked veal shanks with spaetzle. If you have even one inch of room left, finish with a rustic fruit tart.

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4. Tasting with Winemaker Melanie Pfister

Located just outside of Strasbourg, any wine aficionado will appreciate a trip down the Route du Vin, a tasting room-dotted stretch of road that wends its way from Strasbourg about 100 miles south to Thann. One of the early highlights on the route is a small, forward-thinking winery called Domaine Pfister. Eighth-generation winemaker Melanie Pfister is part of the new school of cutting-edge young winemakers shaking up the industry with their cross-regional winemaking expertise. She runs a technologically advanced winery, making artisanal wine with impeccable technique learned in the vineyards of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Don't miss her Cuvée 8, a lovely blend of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat, which Melanie calls her "outlet for creativity." Located in Dahlenheim, visitors should call first for an appointment.

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5. Wine Tasting and Modern Winstub Lunch in Riquewihr

Further south toward the end of the Route du Vin, a deeply picturesque village is Riquewihr, where cobblestone streets are framed by half-timbered buildings, pastry shops, and wine stores. The entire village is surrounded by vineyards, giving it a magical, suspended-in-time feel. Along with its timeless charm, Riquewihr is also home to one of Alsace's most visible wine brands, Hugel & Fils. Stop in for a cellar visit and tasting, then meander up the street for lunch at La Brendelstub, a modern winstub with lovely rotisserie-cooked meats and wood-fired dishes. Finish with a stroll through the vineyard lanes to cap off a satisfying afternoon.

Planning Your Trip

Strasbourg is a 2 1/2-hour train ride from Paris aboard the TGV. Once in Alsace, stay for at least three nights to experience the activities recommended here. Ideally, stay one to two nights in Strasbourg, and a third night in Riquewihr. For recommendations on where to stay in Alsace, check out our Alsace-Lorraine hotel reviews.

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