One of my favourite parts of travelling with kids is the chance to take them to some of my favourite places in the world. When I see the wonder in their eyes in a new destination, it’s even better than discovering it myself for the first time. But I want to keep exploring new places myself and even when we go to places that are mostly familiar to me, I try to slip in at least one or two brand new destinations. So while our Epic European Christmas trip took in some of my all time favourites like Munich, Salzburg and Rothenburg, we also wandered a bit off the familiar path to spend a few days in a brand new country for three of us and a brand new region for all of us; the Alsace region of France.
Alsace is in the east of France, nestled up against Germany along the bank of the Rhine River. The area has actually changed hands between France and Germany several times over the past few centuries and it feels like a hybrid with the best of both countries. We spent two nights in a small town called Ingersheim which is on the outskirts of a lovely and well preserved medieval town called Colmar.
The drive from Rothenburg to Colmar on Boxing Day was easy and uneventful and only took about three hours. The compactness of Europe was driven home to us when we turned south off the main route running west. The last sign we saw said “Paris 490km”. It seemed crazy to me that if we had kept up our pace we could have been in Paris for supper! We got off the main autobahn at Strasbourg, and opted instead to follow the smaller back roads for the last 50 km or so of the trip. We were rewarded with a string of fairy tale villages along the Alsatian wine route with a few crumbling castles looking down from the hills above.
Our home for two nights was a condo style property in a fairly bland modern village along the Fecht River. Our unit was compact but comfortable and modern and it was nice to have a bit more room after sharing hotel rooms all trip. One mistake I did make, though, was to assume that there would be somewhere to get food on Boxing Day. Absolutely nothing was open, not even the gas stations or the kebab stands. The front desk had a list of local restaurants that were open for dinner and we decided to head into a nearby town called Kayserburg since it seemed to have quite a few options.
Now, one of the reasons that I chose to visit Alsace after Christmas was that the Christmas markets in this area seemed to continue running between Christmas and New Year while the German markets all wrapped up on the 24th. When we arrived at Kayserburg we discovered that they had a Christmas market and festivities in full swing which was a lovely surprise, even though it made finding parking and getting around a bit of a challenge. Fortunately, the town was tiny and we were soon out with the locals enjoying the lights and decorations and sampling freshly made waffles and crepes. The area is famous for it’s white wines and we were able to find some for sale to bring home to our little apartment that night.
The next day was Sunday and we had heard that the Colmar market could get busy so we left early and managed to get totally lost and went in several complete circles around the old town centre before stumbling onto a perfect parking spot right next to the bridge leading into the town centre. The entire old town seems to be made up of a series of interconnected markets and pretty much everywhere you go there’s something Christmas-y to see or do. The town itself was simply gorgeous, with ancient half timbered buildings and cobbled streets. The decorations were lovely and tasteful with lots of evergreen boughs and holly. The city is criss crossed with canals and bridges and every turn brought another postcard-worthy scene.
The markets themselves had quite a few ornaments from the region, with carved wood and embroidered cloth featured in many places. There were also a lot of stalls selling local delicacies as well as artisan markets and a children’s area featuring toy sellers. There was also a bit more of a carnival atmosphere to Colmar’s markets with small rides for children scattered around and even nativity scenes featuring live animals, which my children loved. We finished our time in Colmar with a stop at Place Rapp, the large, modern square just outside the old town where they had a large skating rink set up for the Christmas season. While my son declined a chance to skate this time in favour of checking some of the little rides nearby, my husband and daughter laced up and enjoyed some time out on the ice.
On the way home we stopped in at the one gas station that seemed to be open and I went in to try to stock up on food. The small shop turned out to be surprisingly well stocked and I was able to buy pasta, sauce, cheese, vegetables and bread as well as fruit and yogurt for breakfast. When we got back to our condo I was able to make a very nice meal for us and we enjoyed the chance to stay in and enjoy a quiet night and a chance to swim in the hotel pool. We agreed that it was the best gas station convenience store meal we’d ever had.
And that was France. We could have easily spent another day or two in the area but the two days we had gave us a great taste of the region. From there we crossed back over the Rhine and into Germany for two more days before beginning our journey home. It was a beautiful introduction to a beautiful country and we hope to return some time soon.