1. Plan to visit the Alsace in mid-July, and, as part of your kamikaze attempt to enjoy as much of France as possible in 13 days, schedule a single weekend for it. Spend the first night in Strasbourg and budget just one Saturday for traveling the Route des Vins south to Colmar.
2. Enjoy Strasbourg. It’s a great city, cozy and cosmopolitan. Also, it’s pretty.
3. Get a primer on Alsatian cooking. Jambonneau, a.k.a. ham, is likely to be served as what appears to be an entire leg, slow-cooked to tender perfection. Flammekueche is an extremely-thin-crusted pizza with lots of salty ham, giant onion chunks, forest mushrooms, and Emmenthal cheese. It’s kind of addicting. Mostly the side dishes are potatoes.
4. Take the train south of Strasbourg on Saturday morning. Exit at Gertwiller, known throughout Europe as France’s gingerbread capital. Discover that the gingerbread kind of stinks. It is chewy and the sugar frosting cancels out the ginger tang, making the fabled Alsatian gingerbread taste like glorified donut holes.
5. Walk in disappointment along the Route des Vins towards the next villages, Barr and Mittelbergheim, which compensate for the disappointing gingerbread by being pretty, friendly, and in the middle of the Saturday morning food market. Grab some snacks, then wander through the Grand Cru vineyards surrounding the villages.
6. This is the part where the first thunderstorm should pop up.
7. Run back to the train station and duck under the small awning while you wait for the train. Stand next to a bunch of French ladies carrying their shopping from the morning market.
8. Take the train to Dambach-la-Ville, where the rain is continuing. Duck into literally the first wine tasting room you see.
9. Drink lots of wine samples. You will be offered a spittoon to be a pro wine taster who doesn’t swallow the wine. Never use it. Who do they think you are?!
10. Learn the classification system. Most Alsatian bottles specify the Grand Cru vineyard from which the grapes originate. These vineyards, like Frankstein and Zotzenberg (which I walked through), are often shared by different wineries, or the grapes are bought up by merchants who create blends or do the wine-making elsewhere, after trucking off the harvest. The best, most exclusive bottles are often only US $20. Good ones start for under $10, although in my experience, the wines were both hugely diverse and rather uneven.
11. Grab lunch and wander around town.
12. This is the part where the second thunderstorm should pop up.
13. Hide and take shelter in somebody’s garage until the rain is letting up (approx. 30 minutes).
14. Time is running out on the afternoon, and you have a concert and World Cup game to catch in the evening. Catch the train to Colmar.