February 11, 2016

This winter, discover Alsace and its many hidden gems © Megan Cole

In the north east of France, adjacent to Switzerland and Germany, is Alsace. Known for its delicious wines and picturesque villages, this region is a wonderful place to visit all year round, but is particularly beautiful during winter. While a trip to Strasbourg and Colmar may be the more obvious choice, the rest of Alsace has plenty to offer. We’ve chosen a few of our favourite hidden gems in Alsace, which you can enjoy over the coming months.

Get back to nature in La Petite-Pierre

Alsace is home to two of France’s Parc Naturels (national parks), one in the north – Parc Naturel Régional des Vosges du Nord – and one in the south – Parc Naturel Régional des Ballons des Vosges. La Petite-Pierre is a small town located in the southern part of the Vosges du Nord park, and it’s a truly magical place to visit during the winter months. Situated as it is, in the heart of beautiful woodland, La Petite-Pierre is a hiker’s paradise, but is equally enticing to those who like an afternoon amble. Eight marked trails can be accessed from the town, ranging from two-hour walks to two-day hikes, allowing you to discover the diverse flora and fauna in your own time. Guided walking tours are also on offer; perfect for families and big groups.

As well as the wintery forest, in the town you’ll find a small handful of historic sites which are great to explore, including the Château de La Petite-Pierre. Over the coming months, La Petite-Pierre will host a range of a Christmas events, such as delicious food markets, Christmas lights displays and Christmas story telling – just remember to rug up warm in your best woollies and boots!

 Alsace is home to wonderful countryside and beautiful châteaux, including Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourga
Alsace is home to wonderful countryside and beautiful châteaux, including Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg © vincent desjardins

Step back in time at Neuf-Brisach

Nearly 130km south of La Petite-Pierre, near the ‘capital of Alsatian wine’, Colmar, is Neuf-Brisach, a fortified town which was built to defend the border between France and the Roman Empire. Like many fortified towns (or citadels, as they are also known) which remain today, Neuf-Brisach is characterised by precise architectural planning. 48 quarters form a perfect octagon, making the Citadel of the Sun King – a nod to its founder, Louis XIV, also known as the Sun King – a real feat of architectural prowess.

While the magnificent surroundings make this a must-visit all year round, its unique Christmas market makes this time of the year particularly special. The Neuf-Brisach Christmas market is unlike any other, as it takes visitors back to the 17th Century. Market holders wear period costumes while they produce typical winter fare using traditional methods, and storytellers entertain children with tales from the period. The market is held from the 9th December until the 11th, and is sure to be an experience you remember forever.

 In thse lead up to Christmas, towns and cities come alive with festive lights and markets
In the lead up to Christmas, towns and cities come alive with festive lights and markets © Annie and Andrew

Indulge in Hunawihr

Christmas is a time for indulgence, and where better to indulge than France, where wine of all varietals flows freely and delicious food is never too far away. Alsace in particular is recognised for its many wines (most of which are fresh, delicate whites), which can be explored by journeying along the Alsace Wine Route, from Marlenheim in the north to Thann in the south. The route passes through many towns and cities, including Hunawihr. Hunawihr is typical of a traditional Alsatian village, with its half-timbered houses and narrow courtyards, and has been classified as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.

During winter, the streets are lit up with festive lights and a blanket of frost covers the surrounding hills; it’s a truly magical setting to sample some of Alsace’s best wines. Although you can enjoy wine tasting throughout the winter months (and the rest of the year), there are several special events happening during December. From the 5th-6th and the 12th-13th December the Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr is opening its cellars for a Christmas market. Visitors can feast on gastronomic delights, shop for unique gifts and taste over 30 different wines. But that’s not all. On 7th December, the winemakers of Cave Vinicole de Hunawihr will be joined by Sébastien Doucet, Head Chef at Le Caveau du Vigneron, for an evening of wine tasting accompanied by homemade terrines. Delicious!

 Alsace is famous for its crisp, white wines
Alsace’s wines are famous all over the world © Sylvain Naudin

Explore Alsace’s hidden gems…

…with Eurotunnel Le Shuttle. Travel from Folkestone to Calais in just 35 minutes and you’ll be in Alsace before you know it.

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