When it comes to relaxing holidays, there’s no town like a wine town. One: you have the perfect weather that helps create the perfect grapes. Two: these grapes create amazing wine that inspires delicious food. And three: this makes everyone giddy happy and friendly!
But too much of a good thing can be oh-so-wonderful, so we add one more ingredient to this perfect holiday recipe: the open road. And that’s exactly how we spent our holiday in Alsace, France’s northeastern wine-growing region: a road trip through beautiful towns, lush vineyards, and breathtaking mountain roads, all while filling up on good food, great wine, and amazing sights.
Alsace road trip – 5-day itinerary and travel guide
- Day 1 – South of Colmar: Eguisheim, Lac du Ballon, Grand Ballon
- Day 2 – North of Colmar: Kaysersberg, Riquewihr
- Day 3 – Exploring Colmar; Haut-Koenigsbourg
- Day 4 – North of Strasbourg: La Petite Pierre
- Day 5 – Strasbourg
- Map – Alsace wine route and other points of interest
- Essential information – planning your trip to Alsace
- Quick tips for your road trip
- Further reading
- Download the PDF travel guide
You can tell how much I enjoyed our holiday in Alsace by the length of this monstrous post! If you’re looking for quick trip-planning tips, the PDF guide has a quick links page that will help you book everything you need in almost no time and the quick tips section gives you instant recommendations.
Our holiday in Alsace actually begins the day before, when we arrived in Strasbourg in the afternoon. We picked up our rental car from the Avis office near Gare Centrale and drove straight to our hotel in Colmar. This was about a 1-hour drive mostly through motorways.
On our first “official” day of exploring Alsace, we paid a visit to Eguisheim, the cradle of Alsatian wine. As we were driving to the south of Colmar, we decided to continue further and hike around the southern Vosges natural park.
Eguisheim – the cradle of Alsatian wine
Eguisheim is about 7 KM south of Colmar, a 15-minute drive through gorgeous vineyards. Most sites within the village are concentrated in the historical center, which you can explore within an hour.
The most convenient parking lot is the one near the Grand Rue. But if you’re like us who’d rather burn calories than euros, park at the street parking along Parc du Millenaire on Rue des Oiseaux. This is a public park that’s only about 300 meters from the main square. You’ll see signs as you enter the town, or you can check the Google map below.
Eguisheim is a medieval village which has been inhabited since the Paleolithic age. It’s believed to have been conquered by the Romans, who developed wine cultivation in the area. It’s also where Pope Leo IX was born in the 11th century and the chateau at the center of the village is kept as homage to him.
Eguisheim was our first brush with the storybook Alsatian village architecture. Narrow and winding cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses and flowers spilling from everywhere have rightfully earned this little town plenty of national and European awards. In 2013, it was voted as the “Favorite French village.”
Take in charming views from the Chateau Saint-Leon, a former castle built in the 13th century and now a chapel dedicated to Saint Leo. Walk along the Rue de Rempart Sud for the village’s most photogenic spots. Try to find the L’Authentique Pain d’Epices store here to get some pastries.
When we were there (late September), the village was quiet, with only a few fellow tourists walking around. As it was the first village that we explored, my experiences in Eguisheim influenced my impressions of Alsace as a whole – as a gorgeous region filled with friendly people everywhere. It seemed village locals and local tourists took great pride of the village’s charm – most people would greet you with a bright “Bonjour!” and offer to take your picture by the closest flower-decked window or door that you happen to be standing by. The beautiful houses and monuments served as gorgeous backdrops to a pleasant holiday.
Later on during our holiday, we returned to Eguisheim to buy wine. We got several bottles of Reisling (dry white wine), Muscat (fruity white wine), and Cremant d’Alsace rosé (the region’s sparkling wine) from Leon Beyer and Wolfberger. For brunch, we dropped by the La Galinette where we had delicious savory and dessert crepes, all paired with wine of course.
Hike from Eguisheim to Les Trois Chateaux
From the village center, we spotted a cluster of eerie-looking ruins on top of a hill, which we decided to see up close. These were Les Troix Chateaux (or: three castles of Husseren-les-Chateaux; three castles of Eguisheim).
From the village center, we followed the Rue de Trois Chateaux and walked for almost an hour along vineyards. The first 3 kilometers of the hike go through vineyards up a mild slope. We then passed the quiet village of Husseren-les-Chateaux, where we didn’t see a soul save for one man washing his car who looked up to greet us.
The final kilometer, though, proved to be quite challenging, but still doable for a hobby hiker like me. The slope became steeper until we finally reached Les Troix Chateaux.
After checking out the chateaux and taking pictures of the views from the top of the hill, we made our way back down to Eguisheim following the much gentler red circle trail. It passes through some creepy looking paths, though, so I hope you don’t make the hike close to sunset or by yourself.
Back at Eguisheim, we collected our car and drove on to the next stop: Lac du Ballon.
Views in Lac du Ballon and Grand Ballon
It’s a bit of a drive to Lac du Ballon (40 KM, 45 minutes) through winding mountain roads but it’s a great spot to enjoy the autumn colors and the mountain air.
From Lac du Ballon, you can hike to the Grand Ballon via signposted trails – plan for a 90-minute hike one way. However, since we weren’t sure we could go back to our car by the lake before sundown, we opted to drive to the Grand Ballon instead.
The Grand Ballon is the highest mountain of the Vosges, and also the highest point of the Grand Est region at 1424 meters, so expect breathtaking views from the summit. It derives its name from ballon, a French geographical term for a mountain with a rounded summit – and not from the air traffic control radar station on the summit which, well, looks like a grand balloon. You’ll also find the Diables Bleus monument erected as a tribute to the victims of the battalions of mountain infantry who fought in World War I.
If you’re up for a traditional Alsatian dinner, check out Ferme auberge du Haag just a short drive from the Grand Ballon parking lot.
After leisurely walks around the Grand Ballon, we made our way back to Colmar.
- We drove a total of 120 KM from Colmar to Eguisheim, Lac du Ballon, Grand Ballon, and back to Colmar. Note that if you’re driving from Lac du Ballon to Grand Ballon (instead of hiking), you’ll have to go around the long way and drive for more than 20 KM (may take up to 45 minutes).
- The hike from Eguisheim to Les Troix Chateaux and back was about 7 KM, with easy to moderate trails.
- There were free parking spots near the Lac du Ballon and the Grand Ballon. In Eguisheim, you can park for free on Parc du Millenaire along Rue des Oiseaux. Otherwise, you can use the pay parking lot near Grand Rue.
- Check the Google map below and view our hike and driving routes. Always follow road signs and have a back-up map with you.
On the second day, we explored the stars of the historic Alsace wine route: Kaysersberg and Riquewihr.
Kaysersberg is another well-preserved medieval town with more of the Alsatian half-timbered houses, plus several impressive structures like the Church Sainte Croix and the 16th century stone bridge crossing the Weiss River. In 2017, it was Kaysersberg’s turn to be chosen as the “Favorite French village.”
The ruins of Chateau de Kaysersberg on a hill above the town is a reminder of its strategic importance during times of war in the past. It’s about a 15-30-minute hike to the Chateau, where you can continue following the trails to Riquewihr.
Kaysersberg is also the birthplace of Albert Schweitzer, a winner of the Nobel Peace prize who worked to establish a hospital and leper colony in Africa, among many other achievements. You’ll find his encouraging words of wisdom peppering the trails to the chateau.
From the Kaysersberg chateau, we saw signposts of a trail that led to Riquewihr, so instead of going by car, we decided to continue on foot. The first few kilometers were well-signposted. Shortly after the trail to Riquewihr separated from the main trail, though, we got lost and spent some time going around the forest, desperately trying to make sense of map.me’s weird trails. Finally, we were able to get out of the forest and were welcomed by the pretty town of Riquewihr.
Along with Eguisheim and Hunawihr, Riquewihr belongs to the list of the most beautiful villages in France. Of all the towns I visited in Alsace, Riquewihr is obviously the tourist favorite – its main street is thick with crowds of tourists either taking pictures of the beautiful town, notably the pinkish, flower-decked Dolder (lookout tower), or spilling out of the cafes and restaurants lining the street.
It is indeed very pretty, but beware: it can be very touristy and congested. After a quick circuit of the town, we ducked into a wine cellar owned by Maison Zimmer, where we tasted some wines and got a bottle of the Cremant d’Alsace. We then went for a late lunch of flammkuchen (or tarte flambée) at the Au Vieux Riquewihr.
Afterwards, we trekked back to Kaysersberg. Because of our earlier experience getting lost in the forest, I insisted to take the slightly longer biking trail that went through vineyards running along the forest, which finally intersected with the Route des Vins. Half an hour later, we were back in our car in Kaysersberg, then driving back to Colmar.
- Kaysersberg is about 12 KM (40 minutes driving time) from Colmar. We parked on a lot across Le Petit Gourmand, near the public cemetery. You’ll also see several pay parking lots as you enter the town.
- Riquewihr is 6 KM north of Kaysersberg and a one-way hike would take about 90 minutes. If you go by car, you’ll be able to visit other beautiful towns like Hunawihr and Ribeauvillé.
Colmar is the center of the arondissement of Colmar-Ribeauvillé and considered the capital of Alsatian wine, and my recommended base for a road trip in southern Alsace.
Colmar is a well-preserved medieval town founded in the 9th century with numerous architectural landmarks and museums. Like the rest of Alsace, Colmar was passed from France to Germany and back several times during the last centuries. You will see this in the architecture, food, language, and culture.
The town also enjoys a sunny microclimate and is one of the driest cities in France, thanks to the Vosges mountains that shield it from precipitation. This makes for an ideal terroir to grow the world-class Alsatian wines, and of course, a setting for the perfect holiday.
Colmar was mostly spared from the destructions during the French Revolution, so you’ll be able to enjoy the old townscape in Colmar. The centerpiece of the town is la Petite Venise or “Little Venice,” a district filled with flower-decked canals lined by half-timbered houses and specialty shops. You’ll also find lots of great restaurants around this area.
Other architectural landmarks to visit are: St. Martin’s Church – made with Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque elements; and well-preserved medieval buildings like the Maison Adolph, Maison Pfister, and Maison des Têtes. If you want to learn more about the history of Colmar, the main museum is the Unterlinden Museum.
For chocolates and macarons, stop by the Jacques Bockel chocolaterie. For cheese, particularly the local munster cheese, and sausages, get them from Chez Thierry.
As for gastronomy, Colmar is certainly not lacking in great restaurants. But we did find out on our first night there that even during off-peak seasons, Colmar is lacking in tables. We went to 5 different restaurants on our first night and were turned away, even though there were only 2 of us. We ended up eating pitiful vending machine food that night. Lesson learned: reserve a table!
One of our favorite meals from our entire holiday in Alsace came from Wistub Brenner, one of the many traditional wine stubs or wine lounges serving hearty regional food in Colmar. Wistub Brenner is definitely one of the more established and popular ones, so make sure to book a table in advance. I loved the bibalaskas, a traditional Alsatian dish served with ham, cheese, and potato salad. It’s right by the canal in Little Venice, too, so our delicious dinner came with a view.
If you’re up for wines and artisanal Alsatian beers, check out the L’epicurien wine bistro. They also serve delicious French food.
If you’re looking for fine dining in Colmar, check out La Maison des Têtes. They serve both French and Alsatian dishes in a classical setting. And of course, it’s right in one of Colmar’s most beautiful buildings!
After exploring Colmar, it was time to say goodbye and move on to Strasbourg. Since the drive from Colmar to Strasbourg was quick (1 hour), we decided to visit Haut-Koenigsbourg, a medieval chateau that lies in the mountains between the two cities.
Strategically located on a rocky ridge overlooking a plain, the chateau was used by royal families, robber barons, and invading troops from the Middle Ages until it was abandoned in the 17th century. Now, it is a popular tourist attraction and classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
There are several trails to various landmarks from the chateau, like the Montagne des Singes (Monkey Mountain) and the Volerie des Aigles (Eagle Park). We mostly spent our time looking around the chateau grounds and checking out the medieval garden.
After a few hours around the chateau, we began our drive to Strasbourg.
- The drive from Colmar to Haut-Koenigsbourg is 30 KM (driving time is about 40 minutes) and from Haut-Koenigsbourg to Strasbourg is 60 KM (90 minutes).
- In Colmar, parking at the Parking Lacarre is free for 3 hours. Most other pay parking areas in the town are for free from 7 PM to 9 AM the next day.
- There are plenty of street parking spaces in Strasbourg, which are also free from 7 PM to 9 AM. If you can ask your hotel to save you a spot, though, that would be great since parking spaces are a bit tricky to find. Even better if your hotel offers free private parking (usually in areas outside the city center like the European Quarter).
La Petite Pierre
La Petite-Pierre is a commune 60 KM (60-90-minute drive) northwest of Strasbourg and the gateway to the northern Vosges natural park. Make your way to the Chateau de la Petite-Pierre, where a lot of trails around the natural park take off from.
From the Chateau de la Petite-Pierre, we followed the “Circuit des 3 rochers,” which goes to three impressive rock formations. It’s 10 KM long and took about 3-4 hours along easy to moderate trails. You can see the directions for this hike as well as more hiking trails in La Petite-Pierre here.
If you have more time, the nearby towns of Saverne and Bouxwiller are also nice places to visit. After our hike, we drove back to Strasbourg and returned our car to the Avis office.
Finally, we explored Strasbourg, the capital of the historic region of Alsace and the symbolic capital and formal seat of the European Parliament.
Now that I’m writing our experience down, I’m dreadfully becoming conscious of how many times I’ve typed “half-timbered houses,” “storybook town,” and “well-preserved medieval center.” But believe me, when you’re in Alsace, you never get tired of it! From Eguisheim to Colmar to Riquewihr, and now, to Strasbourg, the region’s fairytale-like ambience never gets old.
When we arrived in Strasbourg on Day 3, we had to endure the daunting task of navigating a strange, busy city and looking for parking. So it was with a great sense of relief that we returned our car on Day 4 and explored Strasbourg on foot and by buses and trams. Having said that, I highly recommend letting go of your rental car once in Strasbourg. The city is very walkable, the public transportation is most efficient and easy to figure out, and you can also choose to go around in bikes.
The most photogenic district in Strasbourg is Petite France (“Little France”), a historic quarter that used to be home for the city’s tanners, millers, and fishermen. You’ll get the best views of the district from the Barrage Vauban, as well as from the many bridges that cross the canals.
From Petite France, make your way to the Krutenau district, where you can visit the Musée alsacien and the Palais Rohan. You can learn more about Alsatian history in these museums, or simply admire the French Baroque architecture.
From there, make your way to the mother of all architectural gems in Strasbourg: the Cathedral of our Lady of Strasbourg. It’s one of the finest examples of late Gothic architecture and the highest existing structure built in the Middle Ages. Up close, it’s much more impressive with its detailed façade and its pinkish hue, thanks to sandstone from the Vosges mountains.
Afterwards, enjoy the rest of the day at Place Kleber. If you have more time or another day to spend in Strasbourg, you can visit the Jardin des Deux Rives (Two Shores Garden) and the Parc de l’Orangerie for maximum downtime.
Use this Google map to get around Alsace following this road trip itinerary.
Getting to Alsace
The gateway to Alsace is the region’s capital, Strasbourg. You can get to Strasbourg via several means:
By air – Strasbourg has its own international airport in Entzheim, just 16 KM from the Strasbourg city center – check for flights to Strasbourg here. From the airport, you can ride a shuttle train into the city. Other nearby international airports are in Stuttgart and Paris.
Where to stay while exploring Alsace
From Colmar, you will be able to drive quickly to the region’s prettiest towns, gorgeous hiking sights, and points of interest along the historic wine route. We chose Colmar as our base (over Eguisheim, Riquewihr, and Kaysersberg) as it’s the most convenient town with the most number of restaurants, shops, and accommodation options. Even if you don’t like touristy places, Colmar is a good choice as the town is a lot bigger than the neighboring towns, so the tourist spots are more spread out. You can find top hotel recommendations for Colmar here.
For exploring the northern parts of Alsace, Strasbourg is a great base. The city itself is filled with interesting sights, restaurants, and shops and worth a day or two of exploring. To the north, you’ll easily reach hiking spots around La Petite-Pierre and more typical Alsatian towns like Saverne and Bouxwiller. You’ll find a guide to Strasbourg’s districts and hotels here.
Driving in Alsace
Renting a car in Alsace
The most convenient place to get a car is in Strasbourg. There are two main pick-up points in the city: at the airport and near the Gare Centrale (Strasbourg’s main train station). You can choose and reserve a car from the major car rental companies in Strasbourg here.
We got our car from Avis via the RentalCars booking website. I like booking with them because generally, the rental fees are cheaper (since they’re able to negotiate a better price with major rental car companies). It’s also good to book a car online in advance to avoid having to wait for a long time, or worse, running out of cars. Avis’ downtown pick-up office is near the Gare Centrale – once you exit the station, turn right and walk all the way to the end of the station. The Avis office, along with Sixt and Budget, are across the flags, beside Burger King.
If you have a driving license from the European Union, you can use this to drive in France. You’ll have to present your license, identification card, and credit card when you pick up your car.
If your license is from outside the European Union, you will need an international driving permit (IDP) and your local driver’s license. You have to get your IDP from the same country that issued your driver’s license (look up your country’s automobile association + international driving permit to find out how to obtain one), so do this before leaving for your holiday. When picking up the rental car, make sure to have your IDP, local license, passport, and credit card.
Note that Europe mainly drives manual transmission cars, so if you require an automatic transmission car, make sure to reserve one well in advance (about three months) as these cars are limited.
Costs of driving a rental car
Rental car – We had our car for 4 days (we returned it when we got back to Strasbourg) and this costed EUR 240, including a comprehensive insurance. You can check for prices here.
Gas – We drove a total of 470 KM and paid EUR 46 for unleaded gasoline. (About EUR 1 for every 10 KM.)
Parking and tolls – Free! Amazingly, we managed to do this entire road trip without having to pay for parking and tolls. Throughout the article, I mention where to park for free, and you’ll also find them marked on the Google map. Just take note that they are usually outside the city center, although not more than 1 kilometer away. Besides, these destinations are all pretty and exciting, so the walk from the parking lot is an adventure in itself!
You’ll also be happy to know that parking spaces marked as payant (pay) in Colmar and Strasbourg are generally free from 7 PM to 9 AM (but do check when parking in a normally pay parking space before walking away!). They have other free parking schemes (like free for weekends and holidays), so ask your hotel receptionist about it.
As for tolls, we just set our Waze navigation app to avoid toll roads. Most of the motorways (autoroutes) in Alsace are free. The pay autoroutes are marked “Péage” so try to avoid those.
Most rental cars would come with a GPS navigation system for free. But for us, we preferred to use Waze. Note, however, that Waze requires an internet connection. If you want a back-up offline map, check out maps.me.
Good news! You can get around Alsace without going through tolls as majority of the motorways are free of charge. We set up our Waze app to avoid going through tolls. When you’re on the road, you’ll be able to distinguish the tolled roads as they’re labeled “Péage.”
If you don’t mind going through tolls, though, the normal procedure is to pick up a ticket from a booth as you enter the tolled motorway then pay by cash or credit card when you exit. Note that usually, the left lane is for vehicles with a drive-through remote payment transponder (télépéage; you’ll see a pictogram that looks like the letter ‘t’ in cursive), the middle lane is for télépéage and credit card (a pictogram of cards), while the right lane is for cash and card (depicted by an arrow pointing downwards).
Don’t drink and drive!
It may be tempting to try out the region’s amazing wines at every pit stop, but make sure to have a designated driver who won’t be drinking for the day. Revel on the cheese and pastries instead, and bring home a bottle of wine to enjoy in your hotel at the end of the day.
Also note that there are lots of speed traps along Alsace’s roads, so keep within the speed limits at all times.
What are the best sights and things to do in Alsace?
- For townscapes featuring the typical Alsatian architecture (storybook half-timbered houses, well-preserved medieval structures, and overall village charm), visit Eguisheim. It’s compact, less-touristy than nearby villages, and has great wine shops. A close second would be Kaysersberg.
- For hiking and spectacular views, go to the Grand Ballon. If you can make the hike to Lac du Ballon as well, you’ll have an exciting half-day in the forests.
- For gastronomy, Colmar has the best restaurants. Top tip: reserve a table in advance. Even in off-peak nights, the restaurants may not be able to accommodate you if you walk in without a reservation. Our favorite restaurant was Wistub Brenner, which serves traditional Alsatian cuisine (try the bibalaskas). Other regional specialties to try are: flammkuchen, chocroute, and spätzle.
- While in Alsace, try the region’s top wines – Riesling for a dry white, Muscat for a fruity white, Gewurztraminer if you want something sweet, and Cremant d’Alsace for sparkling. Also try the local cheese, munster, usually served in pasta or flammkuchen.
Where should you stay in Alsace?
Colmar is the best base for a road trip in southern Alsace. Most of the region’s best sights (beautiful towns, natural landscapes and viewpoints, hiking trails) are within a few minutes to an hour’s drive from Colmar, plus the town has plenty of restaurants and shops to make your stay enjoyable. If you want a luxurious holiday, stay at Le Colombier. If you’re traveling with a big group, stay in an apartment like L’ambassadeur. If you’re looking for a budget option, stay in Hotel Roi Soleil Colmar. You’ll find a more detailed guide to accommodations in Colmar here.
If you’re traveling for 5 days or more, break up your stay into two bases: stay in Colmar while exploring the southern regions, then move to Strasbourg to explore the northern areas. You’ll find a guide to Strasbourg’s districts here.
How convenient is it to drive around Alsace?
Driving is the best way to explore Alsace. There are a lot of places that you can only reach if you have your own rental car. If you have an EU driving license, that’s all you need to drive in Alsace. For others, you’ll need an international driving permit, which you can get from your local automobile association before leaving for your trip. Most motorways in Alsace are toll-free. Parking is also easy in the smaller towns and when going for hikes. Navigating is a breeze with Waze (internet connection required) or maps.me (offline map should be downloaded in advance). Cost of car rental plus gas can be as low as EUR 70 per day. You can check for prices and reserve a car in advance here. The only downside to driving is not everyone can drink wine while going around – someone has to be the designated driver.
If you have more questions or suggestions, let us know in the comments!
Learn more about Alsace with these editorials and guides:
A great overview of the qualities of Alsatian wine, and why more people should know about it.
A wine-centric tour of the region, this article offers suggestions on where to best pick up your wine and have a deeper understanding of the region’s produce.
The region’s capital is definitely not to be missed. Strasbourg blends the French finesse with German joviality in this deliciously multicultural city.
Use these guides to help you plan your stay:
- Where to stay: Strasbourg and Colmar
- PDF Travel Guides – Make travel-planning a breeze with these handy PDF guides.
- Road trips – If you love road trips as much as we do, here are a couple more ideas for your upcoming holidays.
* * *
I hope this guide helps you plan your road trip to Alsace! I really enjoyed our holiday and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s into wine regions, natural landscapes, and pretty storybook towns. You’ll also be treated to amazing gastronomy and seriously friendly folks everywhere.
Have a great holiday in France! If you enjoyed reading this, please share it with your friends or on social media so we can spread more good vibes around. Thanks so much for reading!