Wedged between the Rhine and the smooth peaks of the Vosges, Alsace is a heady mish-mash of German, Swiss and Flemish influences topped with a strikingly passionate French identity.

This narrow strip of land in north-east France has long been the de-facto front line between Gallic and Germanic culture; as such, the region’s language, architecture, cuisine and heritage are as rich as they are ambiguous. Needless to say, this beguiling mixture affords visitors plenty to see and do in just a weekend.

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Old Town Colmar. Photo by Flavio Ensiki.

Scintillating sights

While France isn’t short of well-preserved medieval towns, it’s fair to say that the 9th century Old Town Colmar takes some beating. A stroll along the narrow cobbled streets is like taking a walking tour through the Middle Ages, as many buildings appear virtually unchanged from how they looked centuries ago. Facades decorated with old forged iron shop signs complete the olde worlde’ fairy tale look.

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Route des Vins. Photo by L’amande.

Take a drive along the famed Route Des Vins, a glorious 170km strip of winding road from Marlenheim to Thann – an absolute must on a trip to Alsace. While the myriad rows of vines that characterise the wine growing region are an eye-catching highlight, they’re by no means the only draw. The lush woodlands and sweeping valleys are perfect for capturing on camera, while the timeless villages and evocative hilltop castles look like something you’d conjure up in a daydream. It’s easily one of the most enjoyable journeys to make in the entire country.

There’s good reason why the area just to the south of Colmar city centre is often referred to as La Petite Venise’ (or Little Venice) in Alsace tourism guides – it’s every bit as evocative as its namesake . Once nothing more than marsh land used by garden farmers to deliver vegetable crops to market by boat, this picturesque area straddling the River Lauch is now made up of quaint half-timbered houses, pretty flower-covered bridges and coloured walls on the Poissonnerie quayside. Hopping on a boat tour is the best way to appreciate this postcard-worthy place.

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From the kitchen at JY. Photo: JY.

Exquisite eateries

If you’re in the market for an old-style French bistro dining experience, then Le Theatre on Rue des Bains in Colmar will tick the box. In many ways, this restaurant is the culinary equivalent of a Gallic shrug: effortlessly cool with its stripped brick walls, retro furnishings and theatre-inspired décor. The food is magical too; the menu offers up a strong selection of familiar French bistro favourites and inventive reimaginings of some very old traditional dishes.

Looking for something slightly more elegant and upmarket? If so, then be sure to keep JY’s Rue de la Poissonnerie address close at hand. This premium Alsace restaurant in the heart of Colmar’s Little Venice’ boasts not one but two Michelin stars. Its inspired contemporary fusion cuisine is famed for making everyone from professional restaurant critics to long-time locals go weak at the knees. The stunning 1750s building, replete with a trompe-l’œil façade and ultra-contemporary décor, tops things off perfectly. Some in-the-know foodies believe this to be the finest restaurant Alsace has to offer. Dine here just once and you’ll find it hard to disagree.

Cover Photo: JY

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