17 Top-Rated Alsace Villages and Medieval Towns
A delightful way to explore Alsace is by traveling through the foothills of the Vosges Mountains and along the Rhine plain. This beautiful natural area, part of the Regional Natural Park of the Northern Vosges, is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. To discover the area by car, a driving route leads through the countryside and runs parallel to the meandering Rhine River from Molsheim, past the historic cities of Obernai and Colmar, to Guebwiller. The route also includes trails for cycling, hiking, and walking tours. This picturesque itinerary leads to a discovery of the prettiest villages (some listed as France's "most beautiful"), exquisitely preserved medieval towns, and quaint storybook hamlets with little homes clustered around the church steeple. In the characteristic Alsatian style, pastel-painted half-timbered houses are adorned with cheerful flowering balconies. Cobblestone streets and narrow alleyways allow for pleasant strolls. To partake in an authentic local experience, tourists may attend some of the region's traditional events, such as the Blueberry Festival in Dambach-la-Ville, the famous "Pfiffertag" (Fiddlers' Fair) in Ribeauvillé, or the enticing "Route du Fromage" (Cheese Trail) that begins in Münster.
At the heart of Alsace, the picturesque city of Colmar boasts a wealth of monuments and an impressive cultural heritage. Colmar has been a center of culture since the 13th century and was an important city during the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century. With its historic neighborhoods, winding pedestrian streets, and atmospheric canals, Colmar has retained the charm of a bygone era. The Krutenau Quarter, also known as "Little Venice," is a wonderful area for walking along the tree-lined streets or to take a scenic boat tour around the canals. Typical of the region, the city's quaint half-timbered burghers' houses have balconies adorned with colorful geraniums in spring and summer. Colmar has earned the distinction of a "Ville Fleurie" (Flowering City) because of its vibrant floral displays.
In the historic Old Town of Colmar, the narrow cobblestone streets and pleasant canalside pathways lend themselves to delightful strolls. Highlights include the Maison des Têtes, a splendid Renaissance building featuring an ornate facade of little personages and small busts, and the Maison Pfister, another fantastic example of Alsatian architecture. Other top attractions are the Musée Unterlinden that houses Matthias Grunewald's magnificent Isenheim Altar and the Eglise des Dominicains, the former Dominican monastery dating back to 1283 which has a serene and mystical feel. To get a sense of Colmar's vital commercial heritage, tourists should visit the 15th-century Koïfhus (Old Customs House) that was once the economic and political center of Colmar.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Alsace - TripAdvisor.com
A gem of Alsace and a top tourist attraction in the region, the lovely village of Riquewihr is listed as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" (Most Beautiful Villages of France) as well as a "Village Fleuris" (Flowering Village). From far away, with the church steeple rising above the village, Riquewihr looks like a drawing in a children's storybook. There is a scenic view of the village from the pathway near the 14th-century Tour des Voleurs (Thieves' Tower). Although this tiny village is home to only about 1,200 inhabitants, there are plenty of shops, boutiques, and restaurants to interest the many tourists who visit throughout the year.
Riquewihr's historic buildings are exceptionally well preserved with the ancient town walls and towers still intact. The village delights visitors with its exquisite medieval and Renaissance houses from the 15th to the 18th century. Many of the village's charming houses feature beautiful courtyards and flowering balconies. Adding to the ambience, the village has pleasant public squares adorned with fountains. The main street of the village, the rue du Général-de-Gaulle only allows pedestrians during the summer. This attractive street of historic houses offers an enjoyable place to stroll and take in the scenery. The rue du Général-de-Gaulle ends at the Dolder gate tower, which was built in 1291 and now houses a museum. Another attraction is the 16th-century Castle of the Dukes of Wurtemberg, which is worth a look for those who are interested in medieval history.
About 25 kilometers south of Strasbourg and at the foot of Mont Sainte-Odile, the city of Obernai is another top tourist attraction in Alsace. The idyllic valley of the Ehn River surrounds Obernai, which used to be called "Ehenheim" when it was named after the river. This historic Free Imperial City has retained its medieval ambience, seen in the 13th-century tower, old town gates, ancient town walls, narrow pedestrian lanes, and characteristic burghers' houses. Many buildings are adorned with flowers, earning Obernai the title of a "Ville Fleurie" (Flowering City). The place du Marché (Market Square) features the 15th-century Corn Market and a Renaissance fountain of Sainte Odile, dedicated to the saint who was born in Obernai. The Gothic and Renaissance houses surrounding the market square add to the Old World air. In typical Alsatian style, the beautiful 15th-16th century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) features a decorated balcony. One of the most scenic spots in Obernai is the Puits des Six Seaux (Six-Bucket Well) in front of the Hôtel de la Cloche. Tourists also enjoy seeing the Place de l'Etoile, a square with angular half-timbered houses and storks' nests on the roofs.
Located only four kilometers from Riquewihr, the village Ribeauvillé is one of the prettiest villages in Alsace. A small community of under 5,000 inhabitants, Ribeauvillé has an atmospheric medieval setting. Standing on a hilltop, the majestic ruins of three castles from the 11th-14th centuries overlook the village. Surrounded by ancient town walls, this quaint village has many charming old half-timbered houses built in the 15th and 18th centuries. During the spring and summer, their balconies flourish with colorful blossoms. Ribeauvillé is proud of its award as a 4-star "Village Fleuris" for its exceptional floral displays. Tourists may begin exploring the village at the main street, the Grand-Rue, to see a few important tourist sites: the Pfefferhaus at the address of number 14 and the main square's Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and Gothic monastic church. Branching off the Grand-Rue are many picturesque streets, and scattered throughout the town are Renaissance squares adorned with fountains. Parts of the old town walls have been preserved, including the 13th-century Tour des Bouchers (Butchers' Tower).
The village's tourist office organizes free tours of the historic center and Hôtel de Ville(noteworthy for its collection of silver drinking cups) daily except on Mondays and Saturdays from May to October. Ribeauvillé is also well known for its vibrant cultural life. There are many annual events including the Spring Market, the Kougelhopf Festival in May, the Fiddlers' Fair in September, the Festival of Ancient Music in October, and the Medieval Christmas Market. The wealth of festivals stems from the village's rich heritage. In the Middle Ages, Ribeauvillé was ruled by the Count of Ribeaupierre, known as the "King" of the region's strolling musicians and singers, who paid dues to him for his protection and gathered annually at Ribeauvillé for "Pfiffertag" (Fiddlers' Fair), the same festival that is still celebrated every year on the first Sunday in September.
Designated as one of France's "Plus Beaux Villages," the picture-perfect village of Eguisheim is nestled in a sunny valley surrounded by the green rolling foothills of the Vosges Mountains. This enchanting medieval village was founded in 720 by the Count Eberhard. Just a short distance from Colmar, this typical Alsatian village has narrow cobblestone streets lined with brightly painted half-timbered houses that date from the 16th and 17th century. Ancient inscriptions can still be deciphered on the stone lintels of the houses. These historic houses feature balconies that are lovingly decorated with potted flowers. Because of its exquisite floral displays, the village has been rewarded with the "Grand Prix National du Fleurissement," France's most prestigious national floral award. Visitors will enjoy wandering through the village, admiring the beauty of the buildings, and the colorful geranium-bedecked window sills. Other delightful aspects of Eguisheim are the historic fountains, rustic tithe manor houses, and a 13th-century yellow sandstone church with a "Vierge Ouvrante" statue of the Virgin Mary. Since 2009, Eguisheim has also been listed as one of Alsace's Christmas villages because it has a festive market in the Alsatian tradition.
On the River Ill on the border between Upper and Lower Alsace, Sélestat is another beautiful old Alsatian town and has earned a three-star "Ville Fleurie" award. Sélestat was a Carolingian stronghold in the 8th century. Between 1217 and 1648, Sélestat was a Free Imperial City and a member of the League of 10 Alsatian Free Cities from 1354. Sélestat became an important center of early humanism in the 15th and 16th centuries with its "Latin School" and its Literary Society. In the center of Sélestat's old town is the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) and nearby is the three-towered Eglise Sainte-Foy, a Romanesque church from the 11th-12th century. The church is embellished with rich external ornamentation, a typical Alsatian porch and an octagonal tower. Notable features of the interior are the capitals and the crypt.
Visitors will also want to view the 13th-century Eglise Saint-Georges, one of the largest Gothic churches in Alsace. This church features an exquisitely carved pulpit, stunning stained glass windows and a modern work by Max Ingrand. Another noteworthy tourist sight, the Municipal Library, founded in 1452, recalls the town's days as a center of humanism; it possesses thousands of valuable manuscripts ranging in date between the 7th and the 16th century. In addition to these points of interest, Sélestat has two historic towers: the 14th-century Witches' Tower, a relic of the old fortifications restored by Vauban, and the 17th-century Clock Tower. The town also hosts an annual conference on medieval books.
Beautifully situated at the mouth of the Weiss Valley, the historic Free Imperial City of Kayersburg was acquired by the Hohenstaufen Emperor Frederick II in 1227. Ruins of the Old Imperial Castle stand proudly above the town. Today this charming town has a population of 2,700 inhabitants and many attractions, including the Chapelle Saint-Michel with its well-preserved frescoes from 1464. Another noteworthy site, the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) was begun in 1521 in early Renaissance style and enlarged in 1605 with richly carved decorations. The gifted musician, philosopher, and theologian Albert Schweitzer was born in Kayersburg in 1875, and the house where he was born now contains a small museum. Visitors can admire the town's historic ambience by visiting the well-preserved remains of its medieval fortifications and an old fortified bridge over the Weiss River. Tourists will also admire the many quaint Gothic and Renaissance burghers' houses that are decorated with potted flowers. Kayersburg is designated as one of France's "Villes et Villages Fleuris" (Flowering Cities and Villages).
This important town in the Münster Valley grew up round a Benedictine abbey founded in the 7th century. Münster became a Free Imperial City in the 13th century and in 1354 joined the Décapole (the League of 10 Free Imperial Cities). Reflecting the town's history during the Renaissance era, Münster's Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) dates from 1555 and the Laub (Market Hall) from 1503. Münster is now well known for its textile industry and is famous for its cheese. Another local culinary specialty is called "tourte," a type of meat "vol-au-vent." For those exploring the Alsace region, Münster is an ideal base for taking excursions to the villages around the Vosges Mountains. Münster also makes a great starting-point to explore the "Route du Fromage" (Cheese Trail). Visitors can begin this gourmet experience by sampling cheeses at the town's museum and farmhouse inns.
A pretty little town of approximately 2,000 inhabitants, Dambach-la-Ville has a quaint Old World ambience. Dambach-la-Ville still has parts of its medieval walls, 13th-century gate towers, and many charming half-timbered houses especially on the place du Marché. Typical of historic Alsatian towns, Dambach-la-Ville flourishes with colorful blossoms when they are in season and is designated on the list of "Villes et Villages Fleuris." Tourists will enjoy seeing the lovely 11th-century Chapelle Saint-Sébastien, with its lovely Romanesque tower. The interior of the church features a Gothic choir and a beautifully carved Baroque altar from the 17th century. Another must-see is the Château du Bernstein, which belonged to the Counts of Eguisheim. Those who appreciate French pastries should visit Dambach-la-Ville during the Fête de la Myrtille (Blueberry Festival). This traditional festival takes place on the third weekend in July. Locally made blueberry pies, tarts, and juices are available to sample.
Another important historic town, Rosheim was a member of the Décapole (the League of 10 Free Imperial Cities in Alsace). Rosheim is an interesting tourist attraction because its medieval walls, gated towers, and many half-timbered houses are so well preserved. As a "Ville Fleurie," the town's buildings feature beautiful floral adornment during spring and summer. One of the highlights of Rosheim is the Eglise Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, which is among the finest Romanesque churches in Alsace. The church was first mentioned in records from 1051, but the present building dates from 1150-1160. Particularly interesting are the friezes around the exterior and the unusual animal and human figures in the pediments. Visitors will also enjoy wandering through the town's quaint historic streets and visiting the place du Marché with its elegant Hôtel de Ville and a fountain created in 1775. In addition, Rosheim has an interesting cultural heritage. The town has been home to a Jewish community since the 12th century and in 1884 opened a new Jewish synagogue that features a Neo-Romanesque facade.
The medieval town of Molsheim boasts wonderfully preserved ancient walls, old houses, and fountains. The town's ambience has a typically Alsatian flavor with its maze of cobblestone streets and an abundance of flower-bedecked balconies; Molsheim is another "Ville Fleurie." Visitors should begin a tour at the town's place du Marché (the old market square) to see the 16th-century "Alte Metzig" (Guild House) and a fountain of the same period. The Alte Metzig now houses a museum that focuses on prehistoric and early historical periods. This museum also has more recent documents on the history of the town, including a section devoted to the Bugatti car works that was formerly located in Molsheim. A must-see in Molsheim is the Eglise des Jésuites built in 1617. This church is one of the finest examples of Jesuit architecture in Alsace.
Nestled in the verdant Münster Valley, the historic city of Turckheim is another one of the Free Imperial Cities. Turckheim became a member of the League of 10 Alsatian Imperial Cities in 1354. Still partly surrounded by its medieval walls, Turckheim has preserved its Old World charm and features gorgeous floral displays (the town is a 3-star "Ville Fleurie"). Visitors are delighted by the lovely stone and half-timbered houses from the 17th century. The town also has an elegant Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) built in the early 17th century. Turckheim hosts several events throughout the year including an Easter festival and the Trois Epis car race. The village is also famous for its festive Christmas market featuring traditional arts, crafts, and foods of Alsace.
Tucked away in a tranquil valley near the forests of the Vosges foothills, Andlau is a small village with a population of about 1,800 inhabitants. Another "Village Fleuris," this typical Alsatian village is filled with charming flower-adorned half-timbered houses. Tourists will enjoy visiting the village's historic abbey founded for Benedictine nuns in 887 by Richarde, the wife of the Emperor known as "Charles le Gros" ("Charles the Fat"). The abbey was since reconstructed in 1759. At the center of the village, the Eglise Abbatiale Saints-Pierre-et-Paul, dating from the 11th century, features interesting architectural elements. The crypt is guarded by a bear carved from stone, and the porch has a 30-meter high portal with ornately detailed bas-reliefs. In Andlau, the sense of history is ever present with the ruins of the 13th-century castle looming above the town. Andlau is also renowned as a center of gastronomy.
Standing on the slopes of the Crax Hill, the little village of Mittelbergheim is a charming tourist destination. Thanks to the village's remarkable location and unique architectural heritage, it has earned a designation as one of the "Plus Beaux Villages de France" (Most Beautiful Villages of France). Mittelbergheim is also a renowned gastronomic center because of its excellent cuisine. Many of the village's restaurants offer specialty dishes of the region, made in the traditional manner with ingredients from local markets. Mittelbergheim is also ideal for those who enjoy nature walks. The countryside surrounding the village offers several pathways with wonderful views of the diverse landscape. This inviting village is known as a place to appreciate beauty, savor delicious food, and enjoy life.
Surrounded by a spectacular natural environment, the historic town of Guebwiller stands at the foot of the "Grand Ballon," the highest summit of the Vosges Mountains. One of the prettiest Alsatian towns, Guebwiller has earned the distinction of a 4-star "Ville Fleurie" and is sure to delight tourists with its lovely historic buildings adorned with flowers. Guebwiller is also recognized as a "Ville et Pays d'Art et d'Histoire" (Town of Art and History) because of its architectural treasures. The city boasts three exquisite churches: the Eglise Saint-Léger parish church built for the Murbach abbot in a harmonious Romanesque style; the Eglise Saint-Michael collegiate church dating from the 11th century; and the remarkable 14th-century monastery of the Dominicains de Haute Alsace, which features richly decorated scenes from the bible. The Dominican church has been converted into a museum of music and culture. Other noteworthy sites near Guebwiller include the farms on the summit of the Vosges Mountains, the Renaissance houses in Soultz, and the Jewish cemetery in Jungholtz.
This tranquil little village offers a peaceful retreat in an idyllic landscape. Sheltered by the rolling foothills of the Vosges Mountains, Bergheim has a captivating medieval ambience. Bergheim is one of the few Alsatian towns with town walls from the Middle Ages (built in 1311) still completely intact. The village also boasts archaeological discoveries, including a fine Roman mosaic. Tourists will enjoy meandering through the village's winding lanes, walking along the ancient town walls, and visiting the Jardin d'Annette, a medieval garden where medicinal plants are grown. Designated as a 4-star "Village Fleuris," Bergheim is known for its lovely floral decorations. Other interesting attractions include the fountain featuring the village's coat of arms, the Eglise Notre-Dame de l'Assomption (the parish church), and the old synagogue.
The picturesque village of Hunawihr was founded in the 7th century by Hunon. The village owes its name to his wife Hune, who was the saint of washerwomen and was canonized in 1520. According to legend, she came to the fountain of at the foot of the village to wash the clothes of the poor. The village is also renowned for its unique fortified church, the Eglise Saint-Jacques le Majeur built in the 15th and 16th centuries. Besides being a place of worship, the church functioned as a fortress where villagers could take refuge in times of invasion. Hunawihr has many charming half-timbered houses with floral-decorated window frames. Because of its beauty and romantic ambience, the village is listed as one of "Les Plus Beaux Villages de France." Two other interesting attractions of Hunawihr include the Butterfly Garden, where visitors discover a fascinating collection of exotic butterflies, and the Stork Reintroduction Center that reintroduces native storks into the wild, to help this endangered species survive.
Other Places of Interest
Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Just North of Ribeauvillé, this breathtaking castle is an important symbol of the Alsatian heritage. Like many medieval fortresses, the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg is located at an impressive height. On a rocky promontory more than 700 meters high, the fortress was strategically situated for observing the landscape and providing defense in case of invaders. Since the castle was built in the 12th century by the Hohenstaufens, this amazing monument has witnessed the course of European history with constant rivalry between lords, kings, and emperors. Numerous different owners have left their mark on the castle.
From 1900 to 1908, the Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg was renovated and restored to its original splendor. The refurbished castle is a joy to explore. Architectural highlights include the spiral stairways that lead to the fully furnished Lord's apartments. The drawbridges, armory, and cannons remind visitors of the fortress' purpose. Visitors will be awed by the Grand Bastion artillery platform with its spectacular views. From this vantage point, the breathtaking panorama encompasses the plains of Alsace, the Vosges Mountains, and the Black Forest. On a clear day, it is even possible to see all the way to the Alps. The castle also has a medieval garden planted with flowers, plants, and medicinal herbs used during the Middle Ages.
Address: Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg 67600 Orschwiller
One of the highlights of a tour through the Vosges Mountains, the Mont Saint-Odile is an emblematic Catholic monument of Alsace. This pilgrimage site (on the location of an ancient fortress) attracts both religious pilgrims as well as visitors who simply come to experience the beauty and tranquility of the setting. Located on a wooded ridge at 753 meters above the surrounding countryside, Mont Sainte-Odile offers an inspiring and peaceful natural environment along with magnificent panoramic views. Despite its monastic purpose, the Mont Sainte-Odile is now a modernized tourist destination with a hotel, restaurant, and cafeteria on the property. There are also interesting temporary art and scientific exhibits.
The Mont Sainte-Odile convent is surrounded by ten kilometers of a prehistoric defensive wall known as the Mur Païen (Heathens' Wall). In places, the two-meter-thick wall still stands to a height of more than six meters high. On the summit of the hill, once occupied by a Roman fort, is the spiritually significant site of the original convent of Sainte-Odile. In 1546, the convent was destroyed by fire but was later rebuilt. In the mid 19th century, the bishop of Strasbourg revived the pilgrimage to the shrine of Sainte Odile, which is now visited by countless pilgrims. Inside the church that was rebuilt in the 17th century, is the tomb of the nun who founded the convent in 720. According to legend, she was born blind and gained her sight when she was baptized.
Address: Mont Sainte-Odile, 67530 Ottrott
This remarkable fortified citadel is situated in the Alsace plain on the Route Verte (Green Route) that leads to Germany's Black Forest. Because of its exceptional historical and cultural value, Neuf-Brisach is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Built in 1699 as a citadel for King Louis XIV (the Sun King), Neuf-Brisach features architecture never before seen in Europe and is considered a masterpiece of Vauban. The citadel's pure lines and 48 quarters form a perfect octagon, making it unique in its kind. To appreciate the brilliance of Vauban's architecture, follow the blue line tour for a lovely stroll back in time to the 17th century. Even though Neuf-Brisach was built as a military fortress, today the town has a charming feel and is listed as a "Ville Fleurie" because of its attractive floral displays.