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Monday, October 6, 2008

Wine, Great Food and Castles - Who Could Resist This?

Since we moved to Europe, I've had opportunity to visit many romantic places that would be a fabulous honeymoon destination: Paris, Rome, London, Bute in Scotland, Geneva, the Alpine resorts...

And Alsace.

Where's that? In eastern France. If you've studied WWI history at all, you'll know it as the area fought over by Germany and France for centuries. After WWI it was given to France by the Allies. And when I visited, as I have a few times now, I can see why they fought so hard over it.

Alsace is a truly beautiful area. Sloping hills and mountains, castles and romantic ruins on so many hilltops, grapes growing beneath them; colourful, beautifull-decorated villages over a thousand years old (such as St. Hippolyte, where we stayed - stunning), medieval villages that have remained in pristine condition; food that dates back to that time, still served the traditional way and totally delicious; wines that have been made by hand for hundreds of years, and the delicious Eau de Vie, a kind of flavoured brandy...

What's not to like???

While there, we walked through hillsides with vines a thousand years old. We visited the magnificent castle of Haut-Koenigsburg (first built in the year 784, apparently), renovated by the last German Emperor before the war (it burned down during one of many fights). It's amazing. The Germans restored the castle to all its medieval glory. There's a full armoury, weapons room, cannons dating back hundreds of years, and views across the entire region. They also have audio guides in English, which is a great way to learn the history of the castle.

The local wineries and restaurants, many in those medieval villages, date back hundreds of years. You walk down uneven, hand-hewn steps to underground cellars, with hand-made bricks, to taste wines made the same way since medieval times. While there, the tarts and macaroons in the local patisseries are excellent, and you taste for free! The meals - such as Alsace pizza (you haven't lived till you try one!) and garlic pizzas, are magnificent, and they have wonderful menus, both with meat and vegetarian.

There's so much to do and see. There are sanctuaries for endangered animal such as South American monkeys and eagles, where they have thousands of acres to roam free safely. There are still villages with walls and the remains of moats surrounding them, and cobbled streets dating back to the 13th century such as Riqwihr. There are the remains of WWI and WWI defences both in small villages and places such as Nancy and St Die, for war history enthusiasts. Nearby is beautiful Strasbourg, with its stunning cathedral (and fabulous handmade chocolate stores!). And there are beautiful hotels, mini gondola rides in the town of Colmar, which has a few canals of its own. Selestat is a very old city, with many buildings and churches dating back hundreds of years...including for any conspiracy theorists, churches built with the secret sign of the masons in the stained glass windows. ;-))) The entire area is lush and green, filled with fruit trees and grapes, and tiny places to explore at leisure.

In short, I'd recommend Alsace as a beautiful honeymoon destination, especially in late spring or early fall, when visitors have dropped off a bit, but the days are warm and long, all the better for exploring.



Blogger Eleni Konstantine said...

What an absolutely stunning pace Melissa. Hey you have me adding another destination on the 'places would like go to' list. *g*

October 8, 2008 at 12:25 AM  
Blogger Melissa James said...

Yes, Eleni, it's a place we keep going back to. It's quiet and beautiful and just amazing.

I do love living here. So much to discover!


October 10, 2008 at 12:10 AM  

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