Exploring the fairytale villages of Alsace

alsace villages colmar

Since moving to Basel, I’ve been dying to explore the nearby towns and villages across the border in the Alsatian region of France. There are dozens of charming villages in Alsace to choose from. But after hearing Colmar inspired Belle’s town in Beauty and the Beast, I knew I had to visit. Last weekend we decided to rent a car and do a day trip to two famous fairytale-like villages in Alsace: Riquewihr and ColmarThe best part is, both Riquewihr and Colmar are less than an hour away from Basel and it’s a beautiful drive through the French countryside.

Alsace: The Germanic Region of France

While in Alsace you’ll notice that this region has many Germanic elements, from the architecture to the food and even the local dialect. This is because Alsace was originally part of the German-speaking area of central Europe. In the past two centuries, Alsace has passed from France to Germany and back again with both cultures leaving their distinctive marks.

The fairytale villages of Alsace:

Medieval Village of Riquewihr

On our way to Colmar, Julian insisted we stop in a village he’d visited before and had fond memories of. He described it as “the cutest village ever” and he was right! Nestled between the Vosges mountains and the Plain of Alsace, Riquewihr is a magnificent medieval village in the heart of the Alsatian vineyards. It is full of brightly colored half-timbered houses dating back to the 15th century. From the flowers spilling out of windowsills to its winding alleys, lively cafes and chirping birds, Riquewihr looks almost too idyllic to be real.

riquewihr street alsace villages

riquewihr pâtisserie alsace villages

riquewihr alley alsace villages

riquewihr houses alsace villages

If you’re visiting Alsace, Riquewihr is not to be missed. Go for a traditional Alsatian lunch at one of the town’s many cafes and order a glass (or a pitcher) of Riesling, the wine for which Alsace is famous for. Afterwards, wander its cobblestone streets, peek into inner courtyards, and soak up the beauty of this historic town.

riquewihr street alsace villages

riquewihr street alsace villages

riquewihr alsace villages

riquewihr vineyards alsace villages

For hotels in Riquewihr, click here.

Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg

Next we headed to the nearby Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg. Located on top of a steep mountain, this medieval castle offers an unbeatable view of the Rhine valley below. Naturally, Julian couldn’t resist flying his drone here. He ended up with some great shots of the castle and its surrounding forest from a bird’s-eye view.

Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg alsace villages

Shot by Julian

Colorful Colmar

After descending the winding mountain, we set off for the town of Colmar. Due to its position between the Rhine and Vosges mountains, Colmar has been an important center of trade since the Middle Ages. Like Riquewihr, Colmar is famous for its colorful half-timbered houses. However, it’s much larger than Riquewhir and boasts impressive merchant homes, Michelin starred restaurants, and luxury boutique hotels.

For hotels in Colmar, click here.

colmar musicians alsace villages

colmar street alsace villages

Luckily, we arrived just in time to walk through the old town before the sun went down. Every part of Colmar is fairytale-esque but by far my favorite area was “Little Venice.  Named so because of the canal that runs through it and the punting boats that resemble Venetian gondolas, Little Venice has become a popular destination for photographer’s the world over. Unfortunately, it was a bit overcast when we visited but the clouds did little to diminish its beauty.

For more of Colmar’s main attractions click here.

little venice colmar alsace villages

colmar alsace villages

DwD Tips

During summer weekends Colmar hits capacity so make sure to book hotel and dinner reservations in advance. While Saturdays in Colmar are lively and full of people, Sunday’s are much quieter. Also, most shops are closed on Sundays so do your shopping in Colmar’s cute boutiques on Saturday.

While it is possible to see Riquewihr, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, and Colmar in one day, I would suggest making it a weekend trip instead of a day trip. We did not have nearly enough time to see everything Colmar had to offer and I could’ve easily spent another day here. If you have more time, there are countless other charming villages to visit in the Alsace region.

Pin for later:

Fairytale Villages of Alsace France riquewihr colmar

Is Alsace on your bucket list? Comment below!

Follow:

Shopping in Le Marais

shopping le marais

Le Marais: Old Paris

Often referred to as “Old Paris”, Le Marais is the closest you can get to the feel of medieval Paris. What’s more, its winding cobblestone alleys are full of chic boutiques. This picture-perfect neighborhood looks very different from other parts of Paris. Rather than being stately and grandiose, Le Marais exudes old-world charm. It’s also, in my opinion, the best neighborhood to shop in Paris.

Shopping in a new city

Whenever I’m in a new city, one of my favorite things to do is find speciality boutiques and discover new local brands. For me, this is more than just shopping, it’s a way to immerse yourself in the culture. And, if you’re lucky, you’ll leave with something that, whenever you wear it, brings back memories of the special place you bought it from. Shopping in Le Marais served both of these purposes as it was the perfect way to soak up Parisian culture while discovering some timeless pieces.

shopping le marais

Favorite Stores in Le Marais

During my afternoon in Le Marais, I visited many wonderful boutiques filled with one-of-a-kind items. But two shops stood out above the rest and I want to share them with you!

Elleme

Inspired by European minimalism and Asian sophistication, Elleme offers chic and high quality handbags and accessories to women at an accessible price. I loved talking to Elleme’s sweet and talented designer and left with a pair of tortoiseshell cat-eye sunglasses which I have a feeling are going to be my new go-to pair. The best news? Elleme offers free express shipping worldwide on their website!

Suncoo

My second favorite store in Le Marais was Suncoo. Like Elleme, Suncoo is the baby of a Chinese and French designer, clearly a winning combination! Suncoo is like a Sandro in that its clothes are classy and made with high-quality fabric, but it’s a bit younger and more trendy. I loved many of their pieces but finally narrowed it down to an embroidered flared sleeves blouse, a blue and white off-the-shoulder dress, and cutout slip-on sneakers.

Place des Vosges

In addition to the great shopping, Le Marais is home to what is often considered the most beautiful square in Paris. Place des Vosges, with its delicate brickwork buildings and perfectly tended park, is what Parisian dreams are made of. On this warm June day, dozens of people were lounging on the park’s manicured grass, sunbathing, reading, and chatting with friends. The scene was so idyllic that I wanted nothing more than to join them.Unfortunately, we had a train to catch but Julian and I agreed that one day we’ll come back for an extended period of time and live as the Parisians do. 

place des vosges shopping le marais

place des vosges paris shopping le marais

place des vosges paris shopping le marais

Au revoir Paris!

P.S. If you missed my weekend in Paris for the French Open, you can read it here!

Pin for later:

Where’s your favorite place to shop in Paris? Comment below!

 

Follow:

Weekend in Paris for the French Open

This past weekend Julian and I were lucky enough to get tickets to the French Open final in Paris. Of the four major Grand Slam tournaments (the Australian Open, Wimbledon, and the US Open), Roland-Garros, as the French Open is called, is the only one to be played on a clay court. Needless to say, Julian and I were thrilled to be attending the premier clay court tennis championship event in the world and to see two of the best players, Rafael Nadal and Stan Wawrinka, face off during the final. We decided to make a weekend out of it and left for Paris early Saturday morning.

Saturday

After a three and a half hour train ride from Basel, we were in Paris. Our first stop was our hotel, the Hyatt Paris Madeleine. Located in the 8th Arrondissement, our room had a spectacular view of the Eiffel Tour and of the beautiful Boulevard Malesherbes below.

Hyatt Paris Madeleine hotel

Shopping on Rue Saint Honore

We were last in Paris just over a month ago as the last stop on our road trip through Burgundy. But since we were there for only 24 hours, we didn’t have any time to shop (a tragedy, I know). This time, however, Julian promised to make up for it and agreed to spend the day shopping on Rue Saint Honoré. This street is famous for being the home of the original Hermes store. Today, it remains a favorite shopping destination because it offers a little bit of everything—hip boutiques, mid range designers, and über high end.

While we were there, we wanted to check out Colette, Paris’ it store for design, art, culture and fashion. Colette sells everything from men and women’s apparel to shoes and drones. It also features limited editions and pre-releases that you can’t get anywhere else. In a nutshell, the concept behind Colette is anything hip. While most of Colette’s fashion is too avant-garde for me, it was definitely worth a visit to see all of the latest designs.

colette paris colette paris

Place Vendôme

Afterwards, we walked through the Place Vendôme. This elegant plaza is home to the world’s most luxe jewelry brands and in its center is a staggering bronze column. Commissioned by Napoleon to commemorate the battle of Austerlitz, this column is made up of hundreds of enemy cannons. When we visited, a half dozen of the iconic Citroën deux Chevaux cars were parked in the plaza. We didn’t have time, but someday I’d love to ride one of these colorful little cars through the streets of Paris!

place vendome Citroen deux Chevaux

Galeries Lafayette

Our next stop was Paris’s famous department store, Galeries Lafayette. Saturday afternoon this massive fashion institution was packed with tourists. But even if you’re not interested in shopping, Galeries Lafayette is worth visiting for its magnificent stained glass dome and ornate Belle Epoque architecture.

Galeries Lafayette dome

Galeries Lafayette paris

Dinner at Le Laurent

Saturday evening we had dinner at Laurent. Originally a hunting lodge belonging to Louis XIV, today Laurent is a Michelin star restaurant in a wooded enclave. Although it’s only a stone’s throw from the Champs Élysées, Laurent is completely protected from the hustle and bustle of Paris. Laurent describes itself as “the perfect escape: a haven of peace where time stands still” and I couldn’t agree more.

laurent paris

It was a splendid night for dining outdoors on Laurent’s elegant shaded terrace. Laurent is known for its French cuisine with a contemporary twist, serving the best the season has to offer. Julian and I feasted on lobster (one of the best I’ve ever had), beef tataki, and foie gras. And that was only the beginning! For our main dishes, we both chose fish– glazed John-Dorey for him and roasted turbot for me. Both were superb. We ended our meal with a chocolate mousse inside a crunchy dark chocolate shell with raspberry sorbet. Everything was excellent and our dinner at Laurent is by far the best meal I’ve had in Paris.

Sunday

Roland-Garros Final

Sunday we woke up to a beautiful, albeit very hot, day for the Roland-Garros final. Since we were having lunch in the Village, the area reserved for the tournament’s main sponsors, we had to dress up. In the tennis spirit, I wore a white Joie fit and flare linen dress with cutout details and Tory Burch stacked heel sandals. Prior to the game, we had drinks and lunch in the JCDecaux tent of the Village. Lunch consisted of lobster salad (again!), filet mignon, and mango sorbet inside of a dark chocolate coconut-shaped shell. After lunch it was time for the game to begin.

the village roland garros

As a kid, I took tennis lessons and grew up with a great respect for the sport and its players. To be at Roland-Garros and see the best play was such an incredible experience. Though the temperatures reached 91 degrees (33 degrees Celsius), I never took my eyes off of the game. To be so close to the players was thrilling. The tension and excitement in the stadium, and on the court, was palpable. Tennis is a very civil sport so as Nadal and Wawrinka played the only sounds you could hear were their grunts of exertion, the whoosh of the rackets, and the whack of the balls.

roland garros french open 2017

roland garros french open 2017

Another thing that separates tennis from many other sports is that the fans care, above all, about the game. In other words, a Nadal fan does not boo when Wawrinka wins a hard earned point, he claps in recognition of a point well-played. I find this a refreshing change from many sports today and was impressed by the level of decorum at such a high-stakes match.

In solidarity with our temporary home, Julian and I were rooting for the underdog, Swiss-born Wawrinka. But watching Nadal play it was clear he really is “the king of clay.” There is no weakness to Nadal’s game on clay and during this extremely physically demanding game, he rarely faltered. Though Wawrinka put up a good fight, Nadal won his 10th Roland-Garros championship after three straight sets, making history as the first player to land the same Grand Slam more than nine times.

roland garros french open 2017 nadal wins

Stroll through the Jardins des Tuileries

After some celebratory drinks back at the Village, we headed back to the hotel to relax and cool off. Later, we decided to take advantage of the last light of the day with a walk through the Jardins des Tuileries. The dusk light made these lovely gardens all the more enchanting.

Jardins des Tuileries dusk Jardins des Tuileries dusk

Dinner in the Louvre

Eventually we ended up in front of the Louvre. The Louvre looked so stunning lit up that we decided to dine at Le Cafe Marly, a brasserie under the arches of the Louvre, to continue admiring its glow in the warm night air.

louvre paris night

Read about Day 3 of our trip to Paris, a day spent exploring and shopping in the charming neighborhood of Le Marais, here!

Follow:

Road Trip through Burgundy Part 2

Vezelay wisteria

If you didn’t catch the first leg of our road trip through Burgundy’s wine country, you can find it here!

Day 3: Vezelay to Paris

Vezelay

Monday morning we rose early in order to get a head start on our busy day. After a quick breakfast, we headed to the medieval town of Vezelay. Vezelay is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage site due to the revered Basilica of Saint Mary Magdalene and its well-preserved 15th, 16th and 17th century houses, gates and ramparts. In the 9th century, the relics of Mary Magdalene were brought to Vezelay. Since then it has been an important destination for pilgrims.

Perched on the top of a hill, it’s a lovely trek to the Basilica. As we climbed, we passed charming boutiques and galleries, cafes and restaurants with music spilling out of their doors, and alleyways and courtyards burgeoning with geraniums and wisteria. A masterpiece of Romanesque architecture, the Basilica was unlike any church I had seen before. Its walls emanated history and holiness. While we were there, morning rays of sun shone through the stained glass windows, casting the most beautiful light over the statues of saints and the altars before them.

View of the countryside in Vezelay, France

Although we would’ve liked to linger in this enchanting town, we were determined to reach Paris by late afternoon. The two and a half hour journey from Vezelay to Paris was so scenic that I snapped pictures out of the window the whole way. I especially loved the enormous wind turbines rising out of the golden mustard fields and the adorable cows dotting the countryside. We were so lucky to be there at this time of year because late spring is the best season to see the mustard fields in full bloom!

Cow in the French countryside

Wind turbines in mustard fields in the French countryside

Paris

We arrived in Paris right on schedule and headed to our hotel for the evening, the Plaza Athénée. One glance at this magnificent hotel and I was in love. From its location on renowned avenue Montaigne (the 5th Avenue of Paris), to its stunning facade, glittering lobby, lush courtyard, and exquisite Louis XVI inspired decor, every inch of the Plaza Athénée oozes Parisian glamour and charm. Needless to say, I never wanted to leave!

Plaza Atenee facade in Paris, France

After settling in, we took advantage of the last light of the day to walk around the city. Though I’d been to Paris before, it is a city that you never grow tired of. As I walked down Champs Elysees, alongside the Seine, and through Champ de Mars, I was mesmerized by my surroundings. It was like I was seeing Paris for the first time! Our first stop was, of course, the Eiffel Tower. If you’re planning a trip to Paris, go in the spring when the cherry trees surrounding the Eiffel Tower make it even more picturesque than usual.  

Eiffel Tower framed by cherry trees in the spring Bridge in Paris, France

On the recommendation of friends, we decided to have dinner at the trendy Monsieur Bleu. Since we only had one night in Paris, we wanted to go somewhere special. Located inside the Palais de Tokyo, Monsieur Bleu boasts a stellar view of the Eiffel Tower, delicious food, great service, and a cool ambiance. Go here for a romantic dinner date or to see and be seen, it won’t disappoint.

Eiffel Tower lit up

Day 4: Paris to Basel

For our last day in France, we wanted to squeeze in as much as possible before driving back to Basel. We started our day at the Petit Palais, Paris’ Museum of Fine Arts. If you haven’t been before, put it on your Paris to-do list. In addition to its incredible pieces and eclectic exhibitions, the museum houses a magnificent outdoor garden and cafe. When the weather is nice, the cafe’s terrace is the perfect spot to relax and grab a bite to eat.

Courtyard gardens of the Petit Palais in Paris, France

After touring the museum, I hopped in a cab to meet a friend for lunch. We met at a bistro on Rue Montorgueil, a charming cobbled street in the 2nd arrondissement lined by specialty shops, eateries and the like. It’s the perfect place to grab lunch and then head to the nearby shops on Place des Victoires. This trip I didn’t get nearly enough time to shop, but I hope to be back soon to rectify that!

Roundabout in Paris, France

Our last stop in Paris was the Jardin des Tuileries. Located between the Louvre and the Place de la Concorde, this enormous park is the ideal hang-out spot on beautiful days. Unfortunately, it was overcast when we went but we still enjoyed strolling around, people watching, and relaxing by the fountain.

Eiffel Tower during the day

Though there was still so much we wanted to do, we knew we had to get on the road before it was too late. So we bid au revoir to Paris and set off on the five hour drive from Paris to Basel. We spent the journey reminiscing about all the wonderful things we saw and did in the last four days. All in all, we agreed our last-minute road trip through Burgundy was certainly a success. Now we’re already thinking about where we should go next!

Follow:

Road Trip through Burgundy Part 1

One of the great things about Basel is that it’s located in the heart of Europe. A ten minute drive and you’re across the border in France or Germany. A few hours by train and you’re in Paris, Munich or Milan. A quick flight and you’re in London, Rome, Barcelona, or Berlin. Last Friday, Julian and I decided to take advantage of our location and do a road trip from Basel to Paris, exploring the beautiful wine region of Burgundy (or Bourgogne in French) on our way.

Like many of our trips, this road trip was a spontaneous adventure. After learning it was supposed to rain all weekend in Basel, we decided to get out of town and head somewhere sunnier. I had always wanted to visit the French countryside and I’d heard that if you’re looking for a taste of quintessential France, you’ll find it in Burgundy. Luckily for us, Burgundy is located right across the Swiss border, so it was the perfect place to escape for a long weekend.

Before leaving, we mapped out our journey (see route below). We knew we wanted to focus on the Cote d’Or department of Burgundy. This part of Burgundy is known as one of the best wine regions in the world and is home to countless historic towns and breathtaking landscapes. We planned to visit Beaune, Dijon and Vézelay, as well as the vineyards surrounding them, and figured one town per day seemed like a reasonable undertaking. After renting a car, we were on our way to our first destination–Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy.

Route from Basel to Paris, through Burgundy

Day 1: Beaune

Chateau de Melin

We spent Friday night at a 16th century chateau 20 minutes south of Beaune on the wine route. Built in 1551, the Chateau de Melin overlooks the hamlet of Melin and its productive vineyards. Saturday morning, we rose to a delicious spread of fresh out of the oven bread, jam, croissants, and fruit prepared by the mistress of the chateau. After exploring the grounds, we headed to Beaune for the famous Saturday market.

Aerial view of Melin in Burgundy, France

Aerial view of Chateau de Melin in Burgundy, France

Beaune’s Saturday Market

The second we arrived at Beaune’s bustling market, I fell in love with this picture-perfect town. Beaune looks just like Belle’s hometown in Beauty and the Beast and as I passed by the vendors selling their wares, I couldn’t help but hum “There goes the baker with his tray like always…” 😄. The market is filled with goodies and we purchased some local meat and cheese, nougat (a special request from my mother), homemade soap, and tablecloths. If you’re planning on visiting Burgundy, do not miss Beaune’s Saturday market. You’ll inevitably leave with a basketful of treasures and a real taste of French life in Burgundy.

Fresh produce at Beaune's Saturday market

The Hospices de Beaune

Around noon the market was winding down so we moved on to the town’s main attraction–the Hospices. Founded in 1443 as a hospital for the poor, it continued serving patients until 1971! Though the original building is now a museum, the foundation and wine estate set up by its founder still finance Beaune’s hospital today. With its flamboyant Gothic architecture, colorful tiled roof, and centuries of history, the Hospices de Beaune is one of Burgundy’s gems and should not be missed. Tip: Go during lunchtime to avoid the crowds.

Beaune and its Vineyards

After lunch at a brasserie on the center square, we spent the afternoon wandering around the town and visiting Beaune’s other attractions. I was especially struck by the town’s massive 12th century basilica, its medieval city gate, and vibrant wisteria. 

As the sun began to set, we hopped in the car and drove to the surrounding vineyards. We got there just in time to snap a few photos and revel in the beauty of Beaune’s vineyards at dusk.

Vineyards of Beaune, France

Aerial view of vineyards in Beaune, France

Dinner at Loiseau des Vignes

For dinner, we ate at Loiseau des Vignes, a Michelin starred restaurant adjacent to our hotel. I started my meal with Crémant de Bourgogne, the region’s delicious sparkling wine. I then ordered the tasting menu to try a few of the chef’s specialities. Venturing far outside of my comfort zone, I dined on quenelle, a creamed fish dish, pigeon prepared with raspberries, and époisses, a strong soft cheese characteristic of the region. On the recommendation of the sommelier, I enjoyed a Pinot Noir from a nearby vineyard and it paired perfectly with my meal. Needless to say, it was a night filled with new culinary experiences and was definitely a dinner to remember!

Hotel le Cep

After dinner, we retired to our room at the Hotel le Cep. Throughout our trip, we used the Château Hôtels Collection of boutique hotels to help us find accommodations and it never once disappointed. We felt right at home at the Hotel le Cep and enjoyed its French garden, 16th century courtyards, and centric location.

Hotel le Cap in Beaune, France

Day 2: Beaune, Dijon, and Avallon

Burgundy Wine

On Day 2 of our road trip, we had a quick breakfast of crepes and cappuccinos at a nearby boulangerie and then hit the road. Our first stop was the Chateau de Meursault winery to sample some of Beaune’s finest wines. Burgundy is one of France’s great wine regions and the best vineyards are concentrated in Cote d’Or, the valley that links Beaune to Dijon. Cote d’Or is famous for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines. These grapes are native to Burgundy and have been carefully cultivated by Catholic monks since the Middle Ages. Today, the finest Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays come from Burgundy and after our weekend there I would have to agree!

Tip: There are over 100 vineyards in Burgundy. So before you go, I would suggest first narrowing down which area you’d like to visit. Then research when the wineries are open and if they offer tours and tastings.

Chateau de Meursault

Vineyards of Chateau de Meursault

Aerial view of the vineyards of Chateau de Meursault

Dijon: Capital of Burgundy

After a wine tasting and stroll around the grounds, we said goodbye to Chateau de Meursault and headed for Dijon. Dijon is the capital of Burgundy and the birthplace of Dijon mustard. It is a magnificent city with elegant medieval and Renaissance buildings and massive cathedrals on every corner. Old meets new at every turn in this city and shops and fast food restaurants appear alongside, or inside, buildings from the Middle Ages. Dijon is a great city to simply walk around in and explore as there’s no shortage of things to see. Don’t miss the Palace of the Dukes and its numerous important churches. After exploring, relax at one of the many cafes on the Place de la Libération, the city’s beautiful square.

Dijon, France street

Burgundy’s Mustard Fields

Though we could’ve stayed longer in Dijon, we were anxious to get on the road before nightfall. We wanted to see the mustard fields on our way to our hotel in Avallon. Luckily, we left at the perfect time. Around 7 pm the light was absolutely stunning over the hills and valleys and we pulled over several times to take photos of the gorgeous green and gold countryside.

Burgundy, France countryside

Burgundy, France windy countryside

Mustard fields outside of Dijon, France

Avallon for the Night

About an hour and a half later, we had made it to the town of Avallon. The halfway point between France’s two major cities, Avallon was once an important stop for travelers. In Avallon, we stayed at Hostellerie de la Poste, a hotel frequented by the likes of Napoleon Bonaparte, Eisenhower and the Duke and Duchess of Windsor as they journeyed between Lyon and Paris. For us, it was the perfect stopover between Dijon and Vezelay and we loved being surrounded by history at this cozy hotel.

Hostellerie de la Poste in Avallon, France

Stay tuned for Day 3 and 4 of our road trip, the journey from Vezelay to Paris, in the next post!

Follow: