Wednesday, 28 December 2016

WEEKEND GETAWAYS FROM PARIS - Alsace region (Part 2 : Strasbourg, Colmar, Eguisheim, Kayserberg and Riquewihr)

Continuing on from our previous post - we finally reached the Alsace region to see France's most famous Christmas markets, the oldest in Europe too. The whole region is incredibly charming, it feels like you have travelled back in time to the Middle Ages or to another era with its characteristic timber framed architecture, to a classic French fairy tale. Here's the essential information:

DESTINATION : Alsace region 

EXACT LOCATIONS : Strasbourg, Colmar, Eguisheim, Kayserberg and Riquewihr

DURATION : 2.5 days - left Paris Friday afternoon, came back Sunday night (ready for work Monday morning)

DISTANCES AND TRAVEL TIMES : Paris - Nancy (385km, about 4 hours depending on traffic) 
Nancy - Strasbourg (160km, about 2 hours depending on traffic)
Strasbourg - Colmar (73km, about 1 hour depending on traffic)

The other little towns we visited were super close to each other 20-30 minutes max and very easy to reach (trust me you'll spend longer looking for a car park than actually getting there!)

So we started off with Strasbourg as it is the most famous and known as the Christmas capital of France. The old town is a must visit even though it has become a little touristy over the years. Just take a deep breath, be patient for the crowds to pass and imagine yourself there without everyone else around you. You'll be able to take some snaps without too many people in them and recreate memories from there. Each time I look at my photos taken in Strasbourg I don't remember the crowds, instead I remember what my photos reconstruct for me.

Apart from Strasbourg, what's really worth visiting are the little towns that are nearby. We had driven from Nancy to Strasbourg on Saturday morning and spent the day in Strasbourg (tucking into the typical Alsatian dish "flammkuchen", thinly rolled bread dough topped with fromage blanc, creme fraiche, thinly sliced onions and lardons) before heading to Colmar for the night. Colmar is a must see that I cannot recommend enough. After that, we chose three little nearby towns Eguisheim, Kayserberg and Riquewihr to try and visit. 

We spent Saturday night and Sunday morning in Colmar and surprisingly enough were able to squeeze in all three towns on Sunday before returning to Paris on Sunday night.

Some snaps of the Alsatian Christmas markets at night. Mulled wine, hot chocolate, Christmas lights, hand made arts and crafts as delicious local market food galore!

These are some magical snaps from Colmar - my favourite place in the Alsace region. I woke up to this ridiculously fairy tale like scene outside our window and went nuts. I couldn't believe my eyes. Of course Frenchie and his daughter didn't flinch too much. To them this was considered "normal". NORMAL??! Some people just don't know what magic they have on their doorstep!   

Oh and before I move from Colmar, I have to mention that when we arrived in Colmar on Saturday night, we realised that I had made a booking for the um, wrong YEAR haha. As Strasbourg and the whole Alsace region get booked up really fast during this season, if you're thinking of going make sure you get in fast. I think that's what happened with me when I accidentally booked the dates A YEAR IN ADVANCE haha. 

Luckily as fate had it, we were able to find accommodation last minute due to a family whose car had broken down and weren't going to be able to make it to their accommodation in Colmar. 

Thank goodness the universe had my back..!  

Now put the Alsace region on your list. Like all these posts from the "WEEKEND GETAWAYS FROM PARIS" series, I've shown how it's very doable leaving Friday evening after work and getting back in on Sunday night. Why waste a weekend catching up on the housework when you can visit another region of France, spend your Friday night in a random 13€ per person triple share motel, then the following night scrambling around for last minute accommodation because you'd booked the room for the wrong year haha :)

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

WEEKEND GETAWAYS FROM PARIS - Alsace region (Part 1 : Nancy stopover)

Carrying on from our previous weekend getaway post, here's a quick post about our visit to the Alsace region of France during the Christmas season, via NANCY. I needed to separate it from the others otherwise the Alsace region post would get too big! Here's the essential information:

DESTINATION : Alsace Region via Nancy


DURATION : 2.5 days - left Paris Friday afternoon, came back Sunday night (ready for work Monday morning)

DISTANCES AND TRAVEL TIMES : Paris - Nancy (385km, about 4 hours depending on traffic)

So I've always wanted to visit the Alsace region of France, notably for its famous Christmas markets in Strasbourg and surrounding little cities. We covered more or less everything we wanted in two days - here's how we planned it. Friday afternoon after work, we hopped into the car and drove to Nancy which was on the way to the Alsace region. I didn't expect much, it was just meant to be a quick stopover to break up the drive. I booked a cheap triple share motel for myself, Frenchie and his daughter for 39€ which was clean and more than sufficient for our pit stop. I've always believed that travelling doesn't always require loads of money and this was a prime example of my theory in action. 13€ per person for a night's accommodation was a pretty good deal if I say so myself. 

We arrived late on Friday night after driving for four hours from Paris, checked into our basic motel and headed to the city centre where we were very pleasantly surprised by the UNESCO World Heritage listed Place de Stanislas, decked out in its best Christmas attire. 

Radiating out from the central town square were lots of streets with restaurants and lively bars. We stumbled across a little cheese restaurant (I kid you not it was a restaurant purely devoted to cheese based cuisine) called "La Puce d'Oreille" (literally "The Thumb of the Ear") with several meanings from sensing something to suspecting something. On the windows it advertised "la cuisine de fromage" - cheese cuisine I told you right? And the menu did not lie, tartiflettes, raclettes, cheese fondues - everything cheese related was possible. At 10:30pm we were digging into our raclette and tartiflette dinner. Gooey, melty cheese, potatoes, charcuterie, tart cornichons - all those rich, heavy cold Winter flavours and textures piled up on a plate to keep us warm well after we'd finished our meals.  

Here's a picture of a dog on the counter I took. I remember thinking, you really know you're in France when you see something like this. OHS rules, take that haha! 

The next morning we woke up early to try and squeeze in a little Nancy by day before driving to our proper Alsatian Christmas destination, Strasbourg. Turns out the Place de Stanislas is just as stunning by day as it is by night. 

Free books anyone? A great Nancy initiative, drop off your books that you no longer need and pick up something else that might interest you!

We found a gorgeous little boulangerie to pick up our breakfast, a finalist for the Best Boulangerie of France. 

And how could I resist picking up some dessert at 9am in the morning when the mouth watering baked goods on offer looked like this..?!

Although breakfast was a fleur d'orange croissant, devoured while seated in front of the 18th century Middle Ages cathedral, as you do when you are in France. Next stop : the Alsace region of France - home to Europe's oldest Christmas markets, Strasbourg!