When we decided to come and live in the Alsace region of France, we knew pretty much nothing about this area. I saw a picture of Colmar on Pinterest and decided I liked its vibe. We found an Airbnb that we liked in a neighboring village, made our travel arrangements, and then showed up! Since being here we have learned so much about what makes Alsace special, and we have really fallen in love with this place, its people, and history. Here are just a few things that make Alsace unique and amazing.
It’s like a pizza, but it’s not a pizza. Tarte flambée is a speciality of the Alsace region. Literally translated it is “flamed pie”–apparently because it was traditionally baked in the baker’s oven before baking bread, when there were still flames. They feature a crisp flatbread and you can get them with all manner of toppings. Delicious!
Alsace is ALL ABOUT window boxes, and it’s glorious. There are even contests between villages to see who has the best flowers. In summer the window boxes are bursting with pink and red ivy geraniums. This is honestly one of my favorite things about this place.
The first weekend we were here we visited Colmar, and I filmed this video of a “huge, crazy bird” in this nest on top of the cathedral. Little did I know that it was a stork and storks are the bird of the region! They are black and white with red legs and beaks. If you have a nest on your house it is considered lucky. Also, you can get all kinds of stork merch here. Stork hats, socks, stuffed animals, magnets, sweatshirts, pottery, snowglobes–you name it, there’s a stork on it.
Alsace is famous for its pottery–which is handmade using ancestral techniques. You can get all kinds of beautiful pottery here–baking dishes, serving dishes, pitchers, and of course, kougelhopf molds like the ones pictured below. (Kougelhopf is a leavened brioche that is also a regional specialty.) I am still trying to figure out how I’m going to pack an entire kitchen full of this pottery in my carry-on when we come home.
If you enjoy wine, Alsace is renowned for it. Even if you don’t drink wine, the beauty of the Alsace Wine Route offers something for everyone. I don’t drink alcohol, but I was able to enjoy the fresh grape juice during the grape harvest–they sold it by the liter out of plastic jugs like the ones pictured below, and it was Ah.May.Zing. If wine is your thing, you’ll adore Alsace!
Cool Wrought-Iron Signs
Many of the houses in the villages still have decorative wrought-iron signs from back in the day that showcase what kinds of goods or services are/were on offer. I took these photos in the village this afternoon. In several cases the same businesses are still in operation today! Can you tell what these signs are for?
So stinky. So good. Munster cheese is world famous and you’ve probably never had it. I know what you’re thinking–you buy it all the time. Nope–that’s muenster cheese, no relation. Munster cheese comes exclusively from the Alsace region. Fun fact, it is actually illegal in the U.S. because it is made from raw, unpasteurized milk.
Alsatians love their Bretzels, which is basically a pretzel, but with a specific shape in the form of interlaced arms. It has been a symbol of the region for a long time, and you see them everywhere. The Alsatian logo, pictured below, is that of a Bretzel with an “A” in the middle for Alsace. You can get salty bretzels, sweet bretzels, donut bretzels–there’s no shortage of bretzels.
Traditional dress isn’t really worn today (although I did see it at the Christmas markets), but it is nonetheless a visible part of the culture. The costume would vary slightly depending on the religion of the wearer, but the black knot-cap for the ladies is a key feature, along with the black apron. Then men have white shirts and red vests.
Alsatians love hearts. They are everywhere–carved into shutters, painted on buildings, hanging in doorways. I think it says a lot about the culture of love that exists here.
The Unterlinden Museum in Colmar (a wonderful museum) features an altarpiece by Matthais Grünewald that is considered to be a masterpiece of Western art. It was originally painted for a nearby monastery in the village of Issenheim that cared for people suffering from the plague and other skin diseases. The image of the suffering Christ, whose body is covered in sores, is meant to demonstrate that Jesus understood and shared their afflictions. The altarpiece has several panels that were opened at different times. They have been separated and are all on display at the museum.
Alsace is full of utterly charming half-timbered houses. These colorful houses have inspired fairytales, Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, and many local artists. And they are what drew me to Alsace in the first place!
I hope you enjoyed learning a little bit about Alsace and why we have grown to love it so much! It is truly a very special little corner of the world and I’m deeply grateful for our time here. It has changed me forever.