Flanked to the west by the rising forests of the southern Vosges, which stretch all the way down to Belfort, Alsace’s picturesque Route des Vins (“Wine Route”) follows the foot of the mountains along the western edge of the wide and flat Rhine valley. Beginning in Marlenheim, west of Strasbourg, the route, on or around the D35, snakes its way over 180km to Thann, near Mulhouse, through exquisitely preserved medieval towns and villages characterized by half-timbered houses, narrow cobbled streets and neighbouring ancient ruined castles – testimony to the province’s turbulent past. The route is blanketed with neat terraces of vines, which produce the famous white wines. Tasting opportunities are plentiful, particularly during the region’s countless wine festivals that mainly coincide with the October harvest.
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The old centre of Colmar, a fifty-minute train ride south of Strasbourg and lying east of the main Route des Vins villages, is echt Alsatian, with crooked half-timbered and painted houses. Its small canals and picturesque narrow streets are a flaneur’s paradise. This is prime Elsässisch-speaking country, a German dialect known to philologists as Alemannic, which has waxed and waned during the province’s chequered history. As the proud home of Mathias Grünewald’s magnificent Issenheim altarpiece, the town is a magnet for tourists all year round.