The Alsace wine route is a legendary trail in the historical wine region of Alsace in France. Learn everything you need to know to plan your visit!
I introduce you to the top places to see, the best vineyards to visit, and I share tips to get around.
If you love guided routes in Europe, take a look at the Romantic Road in Germany.
Table of Contents
🗺️ Where is Alsace?
Alsace is the old name for a French region located in the west of France. It borders Germany, with the Rhine forming a natural border all the way from the south to the north.
The region consists of 2 smaller departments, the Bas-Rhin in the north and the Haut-Rhin in the south.
The region, together with the neighboring Lorraine region, has a long and complicated history with Germany. Both were invaded and annexed many times by Germany and France.
This complicated story and relationship goes back to the Roman conquests.
The Romans were the first to recognize the richness of its soil for viticulture over 2000 years ago, making Alsace one of the oldest wine growing regions in France.
🛣️ What is the Alsace Wine Route?
The 105 miles (ca. 169 km) long Alsace wine route was established in 1953 after the war.
It is France’s oldest wine trail. Wine has a long-standing tradition in Alsace and the white wines are some of the best in Europe and the world, all that thanks to the regional weather conditions and rich diverse soil.
So, while Bordeaux in southern France is the capital of red wine, Alsace is the undisputed true master of French white wine.
51 Grand Crus are present in Alsace. Grand Crus follow the highest standard, and are tightly controlled vineyards within the AOC classification.
The trail, runs from the North, starting near Strasbourg the capital of the region, to the South, where it ends near Mulhouse.
Visitors can start the trail from either the north or the south, but of course, you can choose an area in the center to start from or to do only a section of the full trail.
The 5 main vineyard areas are the…
- Northern area around Wissembourg and Cleebourg
- Strasbourg vineyards
- Central wine route between Strasbourg and Colmar
- Colmar vineyards (the most popular place)
- Southern parts of the trail between Thann and Soultzmatt
Most wines produced in Alsace are AOC wines, the crème de la crème of the AOC Grand Crus is about 4% only and the rest is reserved to Crémant.
🧭 Route Course
The route passes over 119 villages and towns and a whooping 700 wine producers.
Here are some of the major towns along the way, starting in the North near Strasbourg and ending in the South near Mulhouse.
🔥 Top Highlights and Must See Places
The most beautiful villages and towns are located in the Colmar area. Incidentally, these are the most visited places and people come from near and far to see them.
Colmar is the capital of the Haut-Rhin department, and it’s one of the most beautiful towns in France.
You can expect to see colorful half-timbered houses and cobblestone roads a la Beauty and the Beast. The old town is breathtakingly beautiful, and it should be on your bucket list!
La Petit Venise (little Venice) is a quarter of the city known for its canals and Venice-like ambiance.
Riquewihr is another colorful town, the size of a village, surrounded by medieval walls and vineyards.
Here you will find plenty of food specialty shops, selling Fois Gras, Sauerkraut in a jar, homemade jams, Pretzel and spiced Lebkuchen cookies.
Look out and purchase from winemaker stores. They also sell typical Alsace wine glasses, which are unique with the green stem.
Discover the top things to do in Riquewihr and plan your visit properly.
Ribeauvillé looks like a village from a Disney movie with its typical regional homes and a ruined castle as a backdrop.
The elongated town makes for a perfect stroll with the family, and you will get plenty of moment to take perfect photos of your trip.
Another surreal town is Kaysersberg-Vignoble, with a castle towering above the fairytale architectures.
Here you will discover a rich heritage and friendly locals!
We loved to have dinner in this town and the atmosphere at night is truly magical.
A special little town, Eguisheim is circled by a medieval wall. The church, guarded by storks, is situated at the center and a small passage ring goes all around.
Therefore, Eguisheim is the most unique town in Alsace due to its charming local homes and infrastructure.
📜 Alsace Wine Route Itinerary
To make the most of your trip to Alsace, we recommend to spend 3 to 5 days in the area.
Here is what our itinerary looked like. We, my wife and SIL, visited in August 2022.
Day 1 – Colmar with the old town and the small Venice area.
Day 2 – Eguisheim and eventually neighboring villages such as Türkheim.
Day 3 – Riquewihr in the morning to avoid crowds and Kaysersberg-Vignoble in the afternoon evening because this place is beautifully lit in the dark.
Day 4 – Hunawihr village in the morning for a perfect shot of the church on the hill. A trip to a vineyard nearby and then spend your time in Ribeauville.
Day 5 – Visit Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg and/or Obernai town.
You can add another 2 days to your trip to spend time in Strasbourg. I recommend this, especially in December because Strasbourg is known for its Christmas market.
🍷 Famous Vineyards and Wine Cellars
The best wine tastings are done along the wine route in Alsace. The route itself is situated right in between vineyards or in the towns. The landscape is dotted with them!
All the major vineyards have wineries, stores, or offer tours of the wine cellars and vineyards. Here are some of the most prominent ones to experience:
Domaine Marcel Deiss – The wine of the Grand Crus Altenberg de Bergheim, where this domaine is located, is known to be superior. Altenberg de Bergheim the only Alsace Grand Cru vineyard permitted to use a red grape in its wines.
Domaine Albert Seltz – Located in Mittelbergheim, this domaine produces one of the finest Alsatian white wines, the Grand Cru Zotzenberg. Albert has a great passion for wine and as a visitor, you get to learn so much.
La Cave du Vieil Armand – one of the smallest swine cellars with excellent wines. Located at the entrance of the wine route near Mulhouse in the south.
Vin d’Alsace Horcher – A warm welcoming family run vineyard.
💡 Wine Terms to Know
- Terroir – A wine territory defined by soil, weather, and flora.
- Grand Crus – A tier 1 wine of superior quality
- Premier Crus – A tier 2 wine quality.
- AOC – Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée created in 1935 in France, is the controlled designation of origin certification. The label legally protects a local traditional product from a particular region in France and serves as a quality certification.
- Domaine – An area of land under the control of a winemaker.
- Lieu-dit – French people will associate with this term a small geographical area but in wine making it is also a specific part of a vineyard. A Lieu-dit is sometimes added with the AOC on a bottle. In the Alsace wine region, it is mandatory for AOC names to add the Lieu-dit on the label. Another wine region, burgundy, uses Lieu-dit interchangeably with climate.
- Cuvée – This term has many meanings but primarily means a wine of a particular batch or blend.
- Crémant– A bubbly sparkling wine, like the Champagne. Champagne is only allowed to be called Champagne if it was grown, stored and bottled in the Champagne region (as per AOC certificate). Everything else in France is a Crémant if it fulfills the strict quality standards.
- Cépage – Variety of Grapes
- AOC Alsace Grand Crus – The highest standard of vineyards in Alsace. They can only produce 4 grape varieties: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Muscat. Alsace has 51 AOC Grand Crus.
🚌 Starting Point and Getting Around
You can start your Alsatian wine trip in the North in Strasbourg or in the South in Mulhouse. Either, fly into Strasbourg or Mulhouse-Basel (A Swiss and French airport for the area).
The TGV from Paris to Strasbourg takes only 2 hours and the train connections from Zürich in Switzerland to Basel and neighboring Mulhouse in France are great too.
Once you have chosen your starting point and your trail area, you can organize a means of transport.
Traveling by car to Alsace? The highways are great near Strasbourg and also near Basel/Mulhouse. Just the passage over the Rhine to Karlsruhe Germany (near Strasbourg in the north) can be a pain point due to continuous road work projects.
If you come from Basel Switzerland, you can pick the German highway or the French highway (freeway/motorway) to start your Alsace wine trail in the south. The German highway is busier because it’s free of charge. The French highway has a Péage (toll) system to collect freeway fees.
Alsatian Wine Route by cycle, bus or train
If you have plenty of time and like to move about, then cycling from village to village is a great idea. My tip: Hire an e-bike, and you will have more from your trip.
You can take the train to further away places. Most regional trains have a cycle compartment.
You can also decide to get around by train or local bus. The Kutzig open air shuttle bus is another option, who takes you on a tour in the Colmar area.
Wine Route by Car
To discover every aspect of the Alsace wine route, you will need to come by car or hire a car. Nothing beats the independence of getting around by car!
It’s not only more convenient, but you will actually be able to get to places which are a bit away from public transport points.
Getting around by car will give you the freedom to choose the places that you want to visit on the wine route.
Note that parking space might be difficult to come by in summer months and in December peak tourist seasons. Parking can also be a bit expensive in popular areas such as Colmar and Riquewihr.
🌨️ Weather and When to visit?
Flanked by the Vosges mountains and the Rhine river, forming the border with Germany, the Alsatian wine valleys have a unique dry weather pattern.
The Foehn, a dry warm wind rolls over the mountains and creates a semi arid environment all year round.
Summers can get hot and winter can be cold. So, pack accordingly for your trip.
Spring and fall (autumn) are less busy times of the year to visit all these wonderful Alsatian villages.
Fall is THE prime wine lover’s period because of the grape harvest. Especially September is a good time to visit because the weather is not too cold yet.
November is the least busy time of the year, but some establishments might be closed for a seasonal break during that period.
Summer is a peak season, and it gets really hot, but also super sunny. Large tourist crowds are common in July and August.
Winters can be cold with temperatures ranging between 42 and 32 Fahrenheit (6 to 0 Celsius). It doesn’t snow in the Alsace region.
Decembers is another peak tourist period, with people from all over the world coming to experience Christmas markets in Alsace.
What are the top wines to try when in Alsace?
The four traditional AOC Grand Crus wines in Alsace are the Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Muscat and the Riesling. The area produces only one red wine, the Pinot Noir. Look out for the Klevener de Heiligenstein wine, which is an AOC wine, protected to a subregion in Alsace, the Obernai Heiligenstein area.
Which language do they speak in Alsace?
Due to its rich history, people in Alsace speak more than just French. The local language Alsatian is still used by mostly by older generations. Some people speak German as well, a leftover language from the past and also due to its proximity to Germany. People do speak in English in tourist hubs such as Colmar and Riquewihr.
Is it better to stay in Strasbourg or Colmar?
Personally, I prefer Colmar because it’s cute, and it has its own charms. Strasbourg is a large city. If you have to choose between the two, pick Colmar.
Is one day in Colmar enough?
Yes, one day is plenty to explore Colmar. You will need more days to see the other small towns and villages near Colmar!
How do you get around Colmar and the other towns?
You get around walking. They are not that large and walking the cobbled roads is the way to go. Unfortunately, the old cobblestone roads are inaccessible for wheelchair users.
Is October a good time to visit Alsace?
Yes, October is a great time to visit Alsace because these super touristy places won’t be that busy, and you will have the towns almost to yourself!
How do you make reservations for wine tastings at vineyards in Alsace?
Most vineyards welcome walk in visitors, so you mostly won’t need a reservation. If you have a particular vineyard in mind or if you are traveling as part of a large group, contact the vineyard.
Where to stay on the Alsace wine route?
In the South, I recommend to make Colmar your base and in the North, Obernai.