Alsatian Christmas Markets (and a visit to Basel)

We were so impressed with our trip to Colmar and the surrounding area back in March that we decided to give the region a try with my parents in the winter. And mais oui, quel hiver!

The Theater of Operations

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The Transportation

We rented a car. We would not have done that for just ourselves; we like our little car just fine for us. But with four adults, intercontinental luggage for half of them, and a week’s worth of winter clothing, we opted for something bigger and more comfortable than our little cold, weak, loud station wagon. I rented us something in the Passat class, but we were pleased to see an Audi A6 waiting for us. It felt more difficult to maneuver around parking lots and little European towns, but it was roomy and fancy. And, apparently thirsty for oil. Or at least it thought it was.


We pulled over in the dark about a third of the way to Frankfurt to see what we could learn from the owner’s manual about those warning messages. We considered buying some oil from a gas station and adding it, but in the end decided to press on. In the morning, practically on the FRA airport grounds, I called Buchbinder in Regensburg and they directed me to the EuropCar station at the airport. They saw the same warning and added a liter of oil and declared us good to go. ((Except that it was the day of the test of the nationwide Katastrophenalarm, and the blast doors in the parking gar where EuropCar FRA is closed with klaxons and flashing lights going off, trapping us and everyone behind us, for a few minutes until some brave soul got out of his car and simply pushed the blast door open for that long line of cars.)) An hour later, well on our way to the border with France, the warning lamp came on again and then finally stayed off for the rest of the trip.

The Lodging

We stayed in a little German town not far from the border to France called Rheinhausen (beware, there are dozens of German towns named that). Also beware that there are two restaurants nearby, both named “Schiff.” ((One of them is good. Guess how we know. We discovered that the Google review for one was attached to the location of the other. You want the one actually NOT in Rheinhausen.)) There are some parky, canal-adjacent walking paths around there, so if you get tired of the crowded Christmas market scene, you can go for a (long!) walk. Or maybe you like amusement parks; “Europa Park Rust” is less than 4 km away.

Rheinhausen   Rheinhausen

This town wasn’t our first choice, but we got moving on the lodging hunt a little late and La Mirabelle was all that was left in our price range near the target towns with two rooms available for the duration of stay in the area. But it was a good choice nevertheless: great breakfast selection, very friendly and helpful staff, and free parking on site were all much appreciated. Other perks of the town: its Thai restaurant was pretty good and the large, well-stocked Rewe opens daily ((But not Sundays and holidays of course. It’s still Germany.)) from 7am to 10pm.

The Target Towns


We parked kind of far away from the action, but that didn’t mean it cost less. There were several different markets areas happening here. I snagged some pain d’épice to take home. Warming up with hot chocolate at a café on the river bank was a good idea.



Ribeauvillé and Kaysersberg

Driving across the border near Marckholsheim was very frustrating. There was construction work on the locks over the river causing long lines of cars in both directions. What’s more, the drivable part was reduced to just a few meters of width, and we were in an unfamiliar rental car tank. But once we got close, we started following signs for the Navette parking, and that was a much better deal: cheaper price, easier parking, so much better on my nerves.
Ribeauvillé   Ribeauvillé   Ribeauvillé



This was the town that inspired us to come back for wintry visit. We were hoping for a sit-down lunch at place that would serve us choucroute and maybe some munster cheese over potatoes, but we couldn’t find anything halfway traditional, open and not already marked as COMPLET — so we opted for an Indian restaurant. ((Incidentally, right next door to the Lebanese restaurant Sarah and I enjoyed during our visit in March.)) It was pretty good, but I think we would have been happier with some SAUSAGE and SAUERKRAUT.

Colmar   Colmar   Colmar


Basel was a nice surprise, in more ways than one:

  1. parking was fairly convenient
  2. the city was very walkable, despite streets and hills
  3. the rental car had a CH vignette still valid for 2022 in it!

So we drove down, crossed the border (no one was interested in checking our car), had lunch, cruised some grocery stores and spent our last hour (“Happy Hour”) between 16:00 and 17:00 browsing the Historisches Museum Basel at the Barfüsserkirche on Barfüsserplatz ((The fact that that neighborhood in Basel is nicknamed “Barfy” is a little weird, especially for their eating establishments – “Barfy Pizza”, etc.)) for free.

  Basel   Basel

The next day was a big, long, slow, somewhat scary drive home. But the car behaved, and so did all the drivers in our vicinity. We were tired when we got home and very much appreciated the short walk to our favorite local Indian restaurant.

Take a look at the full set of our pictures from this trip if you like.

Oops, forgot we went to Alsace

Blame it on Covid-Stir-Craziness, maybe. But back in…uh, March 2022 we drove across Germany to scope out some wines (some famous, some recommendations) and landscapes and stuff. It was a short trip — just a four day weekend — but we covered a fair amount of ground: from Regensburg to Zurich (just a pitstop to visit a pal), from there to Colmar (our home base), and back to Regensburg with a stop in Heidelberg (another pal to visit). Continue reading Oops, forgot we went to Alsace

Southern Germany Sampler: Day Two — Strasbourg

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We got started pretty early after the Winzerfest in Neustadt/Weinstraße. We checked out of the Deutscher Kaiser after a nice breakfast spread and drove over to France. It’s really not that far to the border — it only took about 2 hours (there were a few traffic issues; it should have taken about ninety minutes). Our GPS was pretty reliable, but we still drove past the hotel at least one time — maybe twice — on our “final approach.” Strasbourg is historically contentious; sometimes it’s German, sometimes it’s French. Sure seems French to me with regard to the traffic patterns and street signs. We sort of did the “Look kids, it’s Big Ben” drive-by thing while zeroing in on our hotel.

PA111050We had great luck with the weather in Strasbourg, too &mdash, that part didn’t change with the border-crossing. We dropped off our bags into our rooms (nice of them to let us check in early) and hit the pavement on foot for the obligatory Croque-monsieur lunch, splitting a pitcher of blonde beer between me and Colin as well (all remaining travel for that day was to be done on foot). Strasbourg makes a very pretty impression, with its tree-lined canals and bridges, and sorta-German Fachwerk architecture. It also has the sleekest-looking trams I’ve ever seen.

Click a picture in the flashy thing below to embiggen it, or get your slideshow on with it too, if you like.

Cathedral - PA111067We made an obligatory Cathedral visit and I got some shots of the stained glass that weren’t too bad. But this wasn’t the only impressive church in town: St. Paul’s first caught our attention, because it was visible from our hotel’s street. We would have gone in, but it was under massive construction.

All this tromping around in German France (or was it French Germany?) made us work up an appétit, so we consulted our trusty Frommer’s France book (2005 edition, but this place obviously doesn’t change so fast), and came up with L’Ancienne Douane for dinner. It was a huge restaurant with plenty of capacity, which made me wary, since it was obviously geared toward groups of tourist, but it turned out to not suck completely. We tried to get all fancy on the appetizer and Colin really got more than he bargained for in trying to get something specifc to the region without renouncing his avoidance of choucroute (Sauerkraut)…but that’s a post for another day. Suffice it to say that both and quality and quantity demands were more than exceeded.

I think living and working here, perhaps in some EU capacity, would be nice.