The Alsace Wine Route is 170 kilometres long and was inaugurated in 1953. It criss-crosses through the Alsatian vineyards from north to south and is undoubtedly France’s most beautiful tourist route, featuring charming villages and countryside, which are characteristic of the foothills of the Vosges (Le Piémont des Vosges).
The Alsace Wine Route
Several cities and villages along the Alsace Wine Route have since become famous and attract a very large crowd of visitors during the summer months and Christmas. These gems of the wine country are often made up of old medieval ramparts, winding alleyways that bloom with magnificent geraniums, winstubs, vaults, half-timbered houses, and medieval churches. Many town names have become synonymous with rich traditions, friendliness, prosperity and great wines. These include Molsheim, Rosheim, Obernai, Barr, Dambach, Andlau, Saint-Hippolyte, Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Turckheim, Colmar, Eguisheim, Rouffach, Guebwiller, Cernay and Thann.
Benefiting from local microclimates, these areas are bordered to the West by the natural barrier of the Vosges, and to the East by the Rhine Plain which has its own large natural border: the Black Forest in Germany. The Romans who introduced wine in Alsace and in the Upper Rhine region recognised the privileged position of the foot of the Vosges, bathed in sunlight and protected from wind and rain by the mountains. The region around Colmar is recognised as one of the sunniest in France and its average levels of precipitation are the lowest of all of France’s vineyards.
Once the Romans had left, it was only under the influence of monastic orders during the Middle Ages that viticulture enjoyed a new boom and Alsace‘s reputable wines were exported to Nordic countries via the Rhine. In the 16th century, the Alsatian vineyard was twice as large as it is today.
The Alsace Wine Route winds through the Alsatian vineyards across a hundred cities and villages. We have chosen to go into detail for twenty-three of the most remarkable places, located along the tourist route, from Marlenheim to Thann, including Molsheim, Obernai, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Eguisheim, and Rouffach. In the middle of the Route, Colmar, the capital of the Alsace wines, also deserves a closer look.
Our pages on the ALSACE WINE ROUTE
From Marlenheim to Dambach-la-Ville
The northern gateway of the Alsace Wine Route is located in the little town of Marlenheim, 20 km West of Strasbourg which is overlooked by Marlenberg.
The vineyards have been famous since the 6th century and now stretch over 132 hectares, mostly planted with the Pinot Noir grape.
Marlenheim is built at the foot of the Marlenberg hill whose slopes take advantage of an exceptional sunny climate. Set in the beautiful Marlenberg vineyards, the Marlenberg Chapel with its imperial slate-tiled roof dates back to 1683 and 1772. The panoramic views from the top of the hill at 369 metres stretches over the Alsace Plain as far as the Black Forest range in Germany and the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral. It was from a medieval quarry located in Marlenberg that pink sandstone was taken to build the cathedral of Strasbourg.
In the Middle-Ages, the town of Molsheim belonged to the bishops of Strasbourg. This site at the entrance of the valley of the Bruche, gave the bishops a strategic position on route to the Duchy of Lorraine. In the 16th century, Molsheim was a major centre of the Counter-Reformation and dubbed with the nickname: religious capital of Alsace.
The old part of town is well-preserved and visitors will discover half-timbered houses bordering the narrow streets that are typical of Alsatian architecture. There are many interesting monuments included in the old town: the former monastery La Chartreuse (1598-1792) partly dismantled during the French Revolution, the 14th century Tour des Forgerons (the most impressive remnant of the city wall), the baroque church of the Jesuites, the classical Town-Hall, and the Metzig.
The Metzig is a Renaissance town-house built in the 16th century for the butchers’ corporation. While the vaulted ground floor was occupied by a butchers’ shop, the first floor with its graceful balustrade balcony housed the meetings of the guild. The double carved-stone staircase leading to the first level is reminiscent of Mulhouse’s old Town-Hall. Facing the Place de l’Hôtel de ville, it is topped by an onion-shaped turret. The Jacquemart Clock (1607) comprises two angels who strike the hours and the quarter hours.
Today, the town of Molsheim is a vibrant little city proud of being the historic place of manufacture of Bugatti cars. The vineyards around the town produce the renowned Bruderthal wine.
Molsheim Tourist Office: http://www.ot-molsheim-mutzig.com/
Believe it or not, the enchanting town of Obernai is the second most visited town of the Alsatian département of Bas-Rhin, after Strasbourg.
The prosperous past of Obernai is linked to the Decapole, an alliance of 10 free Alsatian cities, recognised in 1354 by Emperor Charles IV: Obernai, Kaysersberg, Haguenau, Colmar, Wissembourg, Turckheim, Rosheim, Munster, Sélestat, Mulhouse (replaced by Landau from 1515) and Seltz (from 1358 to 1414). The Decapole was defined by a military alliance and, something particularly rare at the time, a financial aid in case of bankruptcy. After Alsace was joined to France, Louis XIV ordered its dissolution in 1674.
The old town includes some beautiful examples of restored medieval and Renaissance houses, many of them half-timbered which are found in the streets around Place du Marché, ruelle des Juifs, Place de l’Etoile and rue des Pélerins. Obernai’s most famous monuments are the Renaissance well of the six buckets (1579), the Kappelturm Belfry (60 metres high), the Town Hall (from 1370) the Corn Exchange Market (Halle aux Blés), dating back to 1554, and the remains of the medieval ramparts.
Obernai is located at the foot of the Vosges Mountains and the popular Mount Sainte Odile (760 m) topped by the Hohenburg Abbey consecrated to Saint Odile.
Read more about Obernai.
The picturesque little town of Barr is located 8 km South of Obernai, between the Vosges and the hilly vineyards. With its old wine fair (more than 100 year old), Barr is one of Alsace wines capitals alongside Colmar. The wine growing town of Barr produces the famous Grand Cru du Kirchberg with Sylvaner, Riesling and Gewurztraminer and holds a traditional Wine Fair (Fête des vendanges ) on the first weekend of October in the Town-Hall.
The fine Town-Hall of Barr dates back to 1640 and was rebuilt on the foundations of an old 13th century castle. It is embellished with a beautiful loggia and a carved balcony.
Life spirals around the Town-Hall, set in the centre of the old town of Barr. Typically Alsatian with its cobbled narrow streets, most of it has been pedestrianised. During the summertime, it is worth a walk along the flower-decked streets bordered with ravishing half-timbered houses. Just outside town, pathways meander through the vineyards toward the ruined medieval castle of Landsberg in the Vosges.
Barr Tourist Office: http://www.pays-de-barr.com/
The site of Andlau is remarkable: between the slopes of the Vosges and the Alsace Plain, the flower-decked village is well known for its vineyards. This is the heart of the Riesling producing area with three famous vintages found nearby.
Andlau has a rich history linked to the presence of an abbey founded by Sainte Richarde in 880. The old part of the village features houses from the 15th to the 18th centuries that belonged to the wine-growers and the tradesmen (blacksmiths, carpenters, butchers…)
The village is surrounded by two ruined castles: the Spesbourg and the Haut-Andlau, easily recognisable by its two cylindrical keeps flanked on both ends of the building.
Andlau is also a gateway to the massif of Champ du Feu (1,100 metres) in the Vosges and to the holiday-resort village of Le Hohwald.
Andlau Tourist Office: http://www.pays-de-barr.com/
Probably not as touristy as the neighbouring villages, Dambach-la-Ville is worth a visit with its postcard-perfect vista made up of ramparts, church spire, gateways and colourful and flowered half-timbered houses.
The rampart built by the Bishops of Strasbourg dates back to 1325.
With some 60 wine cellars, Dambach-la-Ville has become today the largest wine-producing village in Alsace. Its vineyards produce one of the finest Alsatian wines: the renowned Frankstein Grand Cru.
Outside the village, marked pathways meanders among the vineyards towards the iconic chapel Saint Sébastien. The historic church features a Romanesque belltower, a Gothic nave and apse and a 17th century baroque altar. From there, the view extends to Sélestat, the Alsace Plain, the Kaiserstuhl and the Black Forest in Germany. In fine weather, it is possible to glimpse the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral.
Read more about Dambach-la-Ville.
Surrounded by vineyards, the village of Scherwiller is a gate to the valleys of Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and Villé. This strategic situation explains the presence of two medieval castles in ruins: the Ramstein and the Ortenbourg. Scherwiller is crossed by the scenic Alsatian Wine Route and is famous for the half-timbered guardhouse (18th c).
From Châtenois to Turckheim
From Châtenois to Eguisheim, the Alsace Wine Route enters its most popular stretch as it crosses some of Alsace’s reputed villages and cities such as Ribeauvillé, Hunawihr, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, and Colmar.
The village of Châtenois is located 4 km from the town centre of Sélestat, on the route to Saint-Dié-des-Vosges and Nancy in Lorraine. There are a few interesting monuments to discover in Châtenois: the singular Romanesque bell tower of the parish church with its spire based on four timber bartizans, the Witches’ Tower (Tour des Sorcières) crowned by a stork’s nest and a few fine half-timbered houses.
Find out more about Châtenois.
The village of Kintzheim is a popular halt on the Alsace Wine Route, particularly for the three main recreational sites that are located there: the Montagne des Singes, the Volerie des Aigles and Cigoland. In addition, the village is located close by the Haut-Kœnigsbourg Castle.
Find out more about Kintzheim.
This attractive and flowery village encircled by vines and sturdy ramparts is located at the foot of the majestic medieval castle of Haut-Kœnigsbourg. The little wine-producing town is surrounded by 13th century ramparts – but out of the four original defense towers, only one still stands today, the Stork’s Tower (Tour des Cigognes). A marked path follows the line of the fortified walls around the outside of town.
In the centre of Saint-Hippolyte, beautiful half-timbered houses dating back from the 16th century are completed with the 14th century parish church (whose bell tower added in 1822 is reminiscent of an Italian church) and flower-decked fountains.
Saint-Hippolyte Tourist Office: http://www.ribeauville-riquewihr.com/
Coming from Saint-Hippolyte, the fortified village of Bergheim suddenly appears at a curve of the Alsace Wine Route. Located in a beautiful landscape made up of undulating wine-growing hills, Bergheim is known as being one of the rare towns in Alsace to have kept its fortified walls intact which date back to 1311.
The history of Bergheim is quite turbulent. The village prospered rapidly during the Middle-Ages under the authority of the Ribeaupierre, Lords of Ribeauvillé before suffering from the consequences of stampeding invasions. Between 1582 and 1683, many witch trials occurred in Bergheim, which resulted into 40 women being burnt at the stake for witchcraft. The Witches’ House (Maison des Sorcières) recounts the events of the trials in an attempt to reflect on the question of exclusion and intolerance.
It is possible to walk outside the fortified walls along a 2km path which runs parallel to the ramparts of Bergheim.
The well-preserved centre of the village features some fine monuments and half-timbered houses. At the western entrance of the village, the imposing and turreted Porte Haute is Bergheim’s only remaining gate which dates back to the 14th century. With its winding streets bordered by wine-growers houses and wrought-iron signs, Bergheim has become an inevitable stop along the Alsace Wine Route.
Read more about Bergheim.
A major tourist hub along the Alsace Wine Route, the town of Ribeauvillé is framed by fantastic scenery of vineyards and rolling hills lying on the edge of the Vosges. The mountain flanking the town is crowned by three ruined feudal castles, giving this site an enchanting touch.
Renowned for its Riesling and Gewurztraminer white wines, the vineyards of Ribeauvillé produce local Grands Crus Kirchberg, Osterberg and Geisberg.
The semi-pedestrianised street of Grand’Rue acts as the spinal cord of the town. Most of Ribeauvillé’s finest houses and monuments are found along the narrow main street, including the 13th century Butchers’ Tower (Tour des Bouchers) which separates the lower to the higher parts of town. Other houses of interest are the Pfifferhüs (former house of the fife-playing minstrels), the Halle au Blé (covered corn exchange hall), the Elephant Inn from 1522, the 18th century Town-Hall and its small museum with a prestigious collection of silver and gold items.
Ribeauvillé and its vicinity were the possession of the powerful Lords of Ribeaupierre, a local dynasty who built the three castles which still dominate the town. The ruins are accessible by hiking footpaths from the town.
The Saint-Ulrich castle is by far the most impressive, although the smallest at 528 metres. Saint Ulrich is also the oldest: its construction started in the 11th century. The castle features three architectural styles: Romanesque, Gothic and Early Renaissance.
The Girsberg castle, built in the 13th century by the Ribeaupierre, was given to house the knights of Girsberg in 1304.
The Haut-Ribeaupierre castle is the highest of the three at 642 metres. Only the circular keep stands today, on top of which there is a commanding view over the Alsace Plain and the Black Forest (Germany) in the distance.
Read more about Ribeauvillé.
Hunawihr, listed as one of France’s most beautiful villages, is renowned for its iconic fortified church which overlooks the village, the vineyards and the Alsace Plain. Hunawihr was founded by Hunon (Lord of the Franks) in the 7th century to whom it owes its name.
The fortified church Saint Jacques le Majeur is surrounded by an old cemetery and 14th century walls. The square belltower of the church is as strong as a keep and dates back to the 14th century. Singularly, the church is used for combined Catholic and Protestant services.
The fountain and wash-house located at the entrance of the village provides a fine view of the fortified church above and the three castles of Ribeauvillé in the distance.
Read more about Hunawihr.
Classed among the most beautiful cities in France, Riquewihr is rightly the pearl of the Alsatian vineyards. The village, with countless half-timbered houses, attracts millions of visitors each year, especially in summer and at the approach of the festive season.
The shades of the half-timbered houses are typical of Alsace: in red, green or bright yellow, adding a very picturesque stamp to the site (some rumours say that it is a mini Disneyland!).
Read more about Riquewihr.
At the foot of the undulating hills covered by vineyards, the wine-growing village of Kientzheim is located between the very popular sites of Riquewihr and Kaysersberg. Founded in the 8th century, Kientzheim is still surrounded today by its ramparts.
Read more about Kientzheim.
Kaysersberg, the “Mountain of the Emperor”, certainly deserves its prestigious name. A tourist hotspot, the little city houses the most beautiful half-timbered houses of the Renaissance in Alsace in its entirely pedestrian centre.
The city of Kaysersberg and its viticulture are dominated by the castle ruins, which only consists now of a beautiful round tower. The view from its summit offers a panorama of the city, the valley of the Weiss, the vineyards and the Plain.
Read more about Kaysersberg.
Between Turckheim and Katzenthal and at 6 km from Colmar, the village of Niedermorschwihr (pop. 540) was first mentioned in 1148. During the fights in the Pocket of Colmar, 60% of the village’s houses were destroyed in December 1944.
The most iconic monument of Niedermorschwihr is the parish church, with its unique crooked spire. The narrow old streets of the village are bordered by a great number of beautiful stone and half-timbered houses from the Renaissance era and the 18th century.
Niedermorschwihr is surrounded by the vineyards of Grand Cru Sommerberg.
Find out more about the village of Niedermorschwihr.
When mentioning Turckheim to French people residing outside Alsace, they will probably think about actress Charlotte de Turckheim… without knowing that there is actually a fine medieval town of the same name in Alsace. In fact, the popular French actress’ ancestors come from the nobility of Turckheim.
Commanding the entrance to the valley of Munster and the route towards Lorraine beyond the pass of Col de la Schlucht, Turckheim enjoyed a strategic position during the Middle-Ages. It is therefore not surprising to find remnants of fortified structures.
The medieval ramparts that still surround Turckheim are accessed by three distinctive gateways: the Munster Gate (through that gate, the tortured witches were lead to the square to be burnt at the stake), the Brand Gate (opening onto the vineyards, it was carefully kept locked, except during the grape harvest season), and the France Gate (the gate for trading, mainly with Switzerland).
In the town centre, many buildings reflect the prosperous past of Turckheim, which was a member of the Décapole: the Guardhouse, the Town-Hall, the parish church, as well as several half-timbered houses.
Find out more about Turckheim.
At the heart of the Alsace Wine Route, Colmar is very well located and while it may not be the capital of Alsace, it remains one of its top tourist destinations. The city has a rich architectural and cultural heritage that is impressive for its size (80,000 inhabitants in its metropolitan area). Its numerous half-timbered houses neatly lining the cobblestone streets and walkways, its peaceful canals giving it its reputation of the “Little Venice of Alsace”, its museums rich in altarpieces and artistic masterpieces of Gothic and Renaissance art, and its delicious restaurants offering some of the best cuisine in the region, are all the assets the city needs to perfect and maintain its international reputation.
Read more about Colmar.
From Éguisheim to Rouffach
When looking at a photo of Eguisheim taken from above, it is easy to be amazed by the shape of this medieval city, which was built in three concentric circles around the octagonal Romanesque chateau. This birthplace of the Alsatian vineyards was classed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France in 2003, and has been awarded the National Grand Prize winner for Flowers since 1989. Located only 5km from Colmar, Eguisheim is surrounded by a 339 hectare vineyard, whose hills “Eichberg” and “Pfersigberg” are classed among the “Great Wines” of Alsace.
Read more about Eguisheim.
Husseren-les-Châteaux is situated above the village of Eguisheim. It is towered by the three ruined castles of the counts of Eguisheim strategically placed atop a mountain of the Vosges: the Wahlenburg, the Weckmund and the Dagsburg. At 390m high, Husseren is the highest point of the Alsace Wine Route.
Its name derives from old german ‘Husen’ (at the houses) and the village was first mentioned in 1247. Its history is linked with the local noble dynasty of the Hattstatts and then of the Schauenburgs, a noble family from Lower Saxony.
The village of Obermorschwihr was first mentioned in 913 under the name of Morsvilare in a charter made by the bishop of Strasbourg. In 1090 a priory was founded there which would later be known as the abbey of Marbach. The village was owned by the bishop of Strasbourg until the French Revolution.
The parish church devoted to St. Philip and St. James has a distinctive half-timbered bell-tower from 1720.
Hattstatt (pop. 800) is an old wine village whose name derives from Hatton (or Otto), the first owner of the site. In the 12th century, a noble family, the Hattstatts took over the control of the village. The dynasty was momentarily forced to leave the village to the bishop of Strasbourg from 1294 to 1460. After the Hattstatts died out in 1587, the village passed into the hands of a noble family from Switzerland, the Truchsess of Rheinfelden and later to the Schauenburgs from Lower Saxony. The village became part of the Kingdom of France in 1648 at the signature of the Treaty of Westphalia.
Hattstatt houses the Sainte Colombe Church (11th-18th centuries) and many wine-grower houses from the 16th to the 18th century.
Overlooking the Plain of Alsace, Gueberschwihr is a beautiful village ideally set between the foothills of the Vosges and the vineyards.
The village was first mentioned in 728 and its name is believed to derive from old German ‘Gebel‘ meaning gable. During the Middle-Ages the village was the possession of the bishop of Strasbourg.
More than 78 monuments or houses are listed by the State or local council, including the fine Romanesque church devoted to St. Pantaléon.
Fifteen kilometres to the South of Colmar, Rouffach is a little town of less than 5,000 inhabitants which was first mentioned in the 7th century. Today, the town is worth a stop along the Alsace Wine Route for a visit of its picturesque centre.
Rouffach’s principal monuments include the Church of Notre-Dame de l’Assomption, the old Corn Exchange and medieval Witches’ Tower (Tour des Sorcières).
Overlooking the little town on top of a small hill covered with vineyards, the castle of Isenbourg houses a luxury hotel and restaurant. The vineyards of Rouffach are renowned for producing the Vorbourg Grand Cru, one of Alsace’s finest wines.
Find out more about Rouffach.
From Guebwiller to Thann
Half-way between Mulhouse and Colmar, Guebwiller is a lively town at the entrance of the Florival Valley. Owned by the powerful Abbots of Murbach during the Middle-Ages, the town of Guebwiller often suffered from the conflicts between the churchmen and the Habsburg. From that troubled – but yet prosperous – history, Guebwiller retains some interesting monuments, particularly churches:
the Church Saint-Léger (12th-13th centuries), of late Rhenish Romanesque style, the Dominican Abbey and cloister, of Gothic style, the Church Notre-Dame de Guebwiller (1762-1785) of neo-Classical style.
Five kilometres deeper in the Florival Valley stands the remaining structures of the former Murbach Abbey. Only the transept remains with its two towers, and the east end with the quire.
Guebwiller Tourist Office: http://www.tourisme-guebwiller-soultz.com/
Merging into neighbouring Guebwiller, the town of Soultz comprises a well-preserved old town partly surrounded by medieval ramparts. There are several fine houses in the old town to admire, 15 of them dating back to the 16th century (1515-1590). The former seat of the episcopal bailiff from 1289 to the French Revolution was housed in the 11th century Buchenek fortress, now a local history museum.
The parish church, built between 1270 and 1489, features a bell tower above the crossing of the transept.
The town of Soultz takes its name from a salted water spring. “Haut-Rhin” was added later in order to avoid confusion with Soultz-sous-Forêts and Soultz-les-Bains in Northern Alsace.
Soultz-Haut-Rhin Tourist Office: http://www.tourisme-guebwiller-soultz.com/
Final stage of the scenic Route des Crêtes of the Vosges, Cernay is a small industrial town with a few interesting medieval buildings in its historic centre including the Thann Gate (Porte de Thann) which hosts the local history museum.
Cernay Tourist Office: http://www.cernay.net/
The Alsace Wine Route ends in Thann, a historic town renowned for its Gothic church and the vines growing on the slopes of the Rangen mountain.
Thann used to be an Austrian stronghold until 1648, commanding the access to the Duchy of Lorraine through the Col du Bussang. At the entrance of the historic part of town, the Saint-Thibault Collegiate is arguably Alsace’s most richly decorated church. A local saying tells us that:
“if the spire of Strasbourg Cathedral is the tallest, and if the spire of Freiburg cathedral is the broadest, then the spire of Thann collegiate is the prettiest!”
The church, built between the 14th and the 16th century, displayed indeed a remarkable example of Flamboyant Gothic style.
The old town of Thann is worth a visit with its stoned houses which differs greatly in style with the half-timbered ones seen from Rouffach and further north.
Above the town, highly perched on a mountain, lie the ruins of Thann’s feudal castle, the Engelbourg Castle, also locally nicknamed the Witch’s Eye (l’œil de la Sorcière). When Louis XIV ordered its dismantlement, one of the towers fell and overturned in such a way that it forms a large stone ring that was kept as such, standing oddly amidst the ruins.
When arriving in Thann, the Route des Crêtes offers a nice journey along the ridges of the Vosges’ highest summits northwards to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines from where you can easily reach Sélestat and then Strasbourg.
Find out more about Thann.
The Christmas Markets along the Alsace Wine Route
The Christmas Markets are a real institution and are deeply rooted in Alsatian tradition. When the time of the Advent arrives in Alsace, cities and villages are decorated for the occasion. The streets are adorned with sparkling decorations, animated facades, and illuminated monuments. Pretty little wooden chalets are erected in the centre of the towns of Riquewihr, Kaysersberg and Eguisheim, and are individually decorated and illuminated to spread the enchanting atmosphere of the Alsatian villages. The great Christmas markets begin at Advent and finish shortly before Christmas.
A true Alsatian Christmas market displays the Christmas nativity scene and has a majestic illuminated Christmas tree in its centre. The fine aromas of mulled wine (with scents of cinnamon, orange and spices) and roasted chestnuts perfume the atmosphere. The craftsmen in the chalets offer authentic goods especially for the Christmas season: decorations for the Christmas tree, pottery decorations, blown glass, toys and chiselled wooden Christmas figures for the nativity, linen, floral art, and hampers containing foie gras, Christmas biscuits and gingerbreads.
Hugely popular, the Christmas markets of the villages along the Alsace Wine Route can become congested with the flow of visitors on weekends in December – you had better come armed with patience!
Learn more about Christmas celebrations in Alsace in our page: Christmas in Alsace.
How to get to the Alsace Wine Route
The Route des Vins d’Alsace is easily accessible by car from Alsace’s main cities Strasbourg, Colmar, and Mulhouse, as well as from Lorraine (Nancy and Metz) and Franche-Comté (Besançon).
From Paris, take the N4 road (which is a dual carriageway from Vitry-le-François to Nancy), and then the express way from Nancy to Saint-Dié des Vosges.
If you travel from Australia you could take a flight to Paris Charles de Gaulle, Zurich or Frankfurt Airports and rent a car from there.
The TGV from Paris-Gare de l’Est takes just over 2 hours to Strasbourg, and also stops at Colmar and Mulhouse.