When tourists plan a vacation to France, they often plan to visit Paris, but you’ll rarely hear them mention Alsace, and it’s a shame. It’s most famous for its timber-framed architecture, vineyards, and potteries. It’s surrounded by the Vosges Mountains to the West and Germany’s Black Forest to the north. You will be sure to leave this region of France mesmerized and yearning for more.
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Where are the Vosges Mountains and how to get there?
The Vosges Mountains are located in Alsace, a dreamy region of France located in its far northeast corner and bordered by the Rhine River.
I highly recommend renting a car to get to the Vosges Mountains as there is little public transportation -apart from some busses- in the area. A train can easily get you to Strasbourg from Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), but only a handful of busses run to the Vosges Mountains from Strasbourg.
When to visit?
There is really no bad time to visit the Vosges Mountains, but here’s a breakdown of what to expect during each season.
Winter – Winter is a great time to visit the Vosges Mountains. The pine-lined mountainsides and frozen lakes turn this already gorgeous region into a winter wonderland. Though some of the hikes and locations may be inaccessible due to road and weather conditions, there will be plenty of other things to see and do. This region of France is also home to some of the best Christmas markets in Europe.
Spring – Spring is a great time to enjoy blooming trees and lower crowds. Waterfalls are flowing from recent snowmelt, and nature is awaking. Temperatures may still be low, so make sure to bring plenty of layers.
Summer – Summer is one of the best times to visit the Vosges Mountains. Vegetation is lush and green, and lakes are finally warm enough to enjoy dip. However, this is also one of the most popular times to visit, and crowds will be much higher.
Fall – Golden leaves and crisp autumn air await you in the Vosges Mountains from late September to November. Imagine a log cabin in the woods, a smoking chimney, and strolling around quaint villages for fresh baked cookies and pies. Sound like a dream, doesn’t it? No only is fall beautiful in the Vosges Mountains, it’s also one the least popular time to visit, and you’ll have many locations all to yourself.
Where to Stay?
I highly recommend the Hotel des Vosges.We visited Alsace in July 2018 and took advantage of a discount through Neckermann for 5 paid nights + 2 free, totaling 385 euros per person with half-board and insurance.
I enjoyed everything about our stay! Merely gazing upon the facade of the hotel will make you want to step inside, and you won’t be disappointed when you do! The rooms are clean, spacious, and comfortable, and the location is ideal with gorgeous views of the surrounding valley. Guests of the hotel can enjoy access to the indoor pool and to the wellness center as well for an additional fee. But my favorite part of the hotel was without a doubt the restaurant patio. Enjoying great food, fresh air, and the green hills was such a relaxing way to end the day.
What to Eat?
We booked a half-board stay, which included a breakfast buffet and dinner each day. The Hotel des Vosges is a three-star hotel with a starred chef. The breakfast buffet was amazing and stacked with all the delicious French bakery staples you would expect: breads, baguettes, croissants, but also eggs, ham, cheese, fresh fruits, cereal and a juice, coffee, tea, and cocoa dispenser.
Though you will be fed dinner at the hotel every night, you cannot visit Alsace without trying one of their authentic Flammekueche, also known as Tarte Flambée in French. I suggest visiting a local restaurant and trying this regional staple for lunch. A Flammekueche looks like a thin-crust pizza adorned with cream, bacon, and onion slices. There are variants to the traditional Flammekueche with mushroom and grated cheese. Another typical Alsatian dish is Sauerkraut as the local cuisine is strongly influenced by its German neighbor. If you book a week-long half-board stay at the Hotel des Vosges, you will enjoy traditional Sauerkraut or Choucroute as your welcome dinner. I highly recommend trying out local foods when visiting a new place. Though you may have already tried a dish before, it will never taste as good as it does where it originated.
What to do?
There are lots of things to do in the Vosges Mountains, but here are a few of the best places to visit for the most perfect week.
Day 1 – Obernai
Our days began late morning after breakfast and ended late afternoon/ early evening when we returned to the hotel for dinner. This made for a very restful, yet very interesting vacation.
On our first day, we decided to explore Obernai, a nearby village located just 10 minutes from Klingenthal. Obernai gained its name in 1240 and features all the local Alsace charm without the crowds you would find in more touristic towns like Colmar or Riquewhir. Walk the pedestrian streets, stop for a flammekueche, and shop for beautiful hand-turned pottery, a specialty of Alsace.
Read also: 5 Most Beautiful Villages in Alsace
Day 2 – Benfeld Lake
Summers can get quite warm, and what better way to cool off than by jumping off a deck into the azure waters of a lake? Benfeld Lake, located just 30 minutes away from the hotel is the perfect little swimming hole. Its clear, cool waters and sand banks make it the ideal spot for a picnic. We brought towels, snacks, and board games and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon on the water.
If you are looking
Day 3 – Natzweiler-Struthof Concentration Camp
With this region of France comes a heavy history but one that must not be forgotten. Natzweiler Struhofconcentration camp – nicknamed the hell of Alsace – is the only concentration camp established by the nazis in antebellum France.The camp, now turned into a museum, does an amazing job at educating the visitors without entertaining morbid curiosity. Visiting a concentration camp is not fun or entertaining by any means; it’s somber, quiet, and chilling, but I am a firm believer in the importance of learning from the mistakes of our past to prevent their repetition. The nazi camp of WWII witnessed acts of endless cruelty. By walking these halls and perpetuating their history, we honor the lives of the 22,000 men and women – mostly resistance fighters – who lost their lives at Struthof. May their story never be questioned or forgotten.
“Those who will admire the natural beauty of this summit won’t believe that this mountain is cursed because it housed the hell of free men.”LEON BOUtBIEN, resistant deported to natzweiler-struthof
After a heavy morning at Natzweiler-Struthof, we traveled down into the valley to the Serva Waterfall (Cascade de la Serva) a true gem of the Vosges Mountains range. I highly recommend visiting the camp in the morning to give yourself an opportunity to enjoy a break from the sorrow and a refreshing walk in nature in the afternoon. The hike to the Serva waterfall takes about an hour to an hour and a half and features moderate inclines. The path will take you through a luscious forest of ferns and mossy trees along the Serva creek. The Serva River cascades down the forest for hundreds of meters into this magnificent waterfall, standing 50ft/ 15m tall.
Day 4 – Monkey Mountain
The Monkey Mountain(Montagne des Singes) is a natural reserve where macaques evolve freely. The domain serves as a study center and genetic preservation for this endangered species.Visitors are each handed a few pieces of pop corn at the entrance to feed the monkeys that are roaming through the park. Feeding sessions occur every 45 minutes as visitors watch the park feeders distribute fruits and other snacks to the nibbling monkeys. When we visited, the star of the park was a new baby, which we observed playing in its mother’s arms.
The Monkey Mountain is located in Kintzheim, just 35 minutes away from Klingenthal. Tickets are 9.50 euros for adults and 5.50 euros for children 5-14 years old. Click here for more information.
Day 5 – Butterfly Gardens &Chocolate Workshop
The Exotic Butterfly Gardens of Hunawihr (Jardins des Papillons Exotiques Vivants) is a ludic conservatory featuring numerous species of plants, flowers, and animals. Children will enjoy smelling the wildflowers and learning about apiculture by observing the beehives. The main attraction of the gardens is the greenhouse which path is lined with beautiful orchids and terrariums and where wild butterflies of every color fly freely. One of my favorite exhibit was the hatching frame where butterflies come out of their cocoon before the visitors’ very eyes.
The Gardens are located along the wine route near the touristic villages of Hunawihr and Ribeauvillé. Tickets are 8 euros per adult and 5.50 euros per child aged 5-14 years old. Click here to learn more about the Exotic Butterfly Gardens of Hunawihr.
On your way back from the Gardens, make sure to stop atDaniel Stoffel’s Chocolaterie.You will find everything from barks, truffles, molds, candies, and many other chocolate creations. It’s a chocolate lover’s dreams! The store even featuresa museum-like exhibit on cocoa and the history of chocolate fabrication. But the real attraction was the chocolate workshop. I’m pretty sure the workshop is meant for children, butlet’s be honest, who doesn’t want to dip their hand in chocolate and bring home a hand-poured chocolate bark? Am I right?
So it is all wide and sparkled-eyed that we walked behind the scenes and into the factory to watch the maître chocolatier pour white chocolate into stork-shaped molds. The maître answered all our questions, then came the time for us to do our own pouring. We could choose between a white or dark chocolate bark marked with the characteristics of Alsace and all for only 5 euros! This activity is sure to be a favorite of children (and adults) alike!
Day 6 – Wine Route
Only spending one day on Alsace’s Wine Route would not do it justice. For this reason, consider spending a second day exploringthe villages ofHunawihr and Ribeauvillé for your fill of Alsatian charm and wine. You will be mesmerized by the never-ending rows of grape vines climbing along the hills. It is in Hunawihr near the Exotic Garden that we had the privilege to meet a majestic stork, Alsace’s emblematic bird. Unfortunately for us, the it was not carrying any baby when we caught sight of it.
Day 7 – Colmar
Colmar is a very popular tourist town in Alsace, especially during the summer months and Christmas season. Avoid visiting on a weekend if you are able. We made the mistake of visiting on July 14th (France’s Independence Day) which also happened to fall on a Saturday. Big mistake! As a golden rule, avoid visiting any major French city during the annual Independence Day festivities. We made that mistake again last year in Annecy, but I have finally learned my lesson!
Colmar is what your Alsatian dreams are made of. Quaint little streets lined with timber-framed homes of every color. I highly recommend taking a boat tour down the city’s canals to learn more about the history and meaning behind the shapes of the timber frames. Guided visits are available in many languages, including English.
Even in the summer months, Colmar’s gift shops give off a Christmasy vibe. Alsace isn’t only beautiful in the summer, it’s a great place to vacation in the winter for skiing and strolling through magical Christmas markets.
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