A verdant valley in Alsace in the midst of the Vosges mountain range.
With its idiosyncratic mix of French and German culture, Alsace is an irresistible place to visit.
The Munster Valley will appeal to fresh air fiends and gourmands alike.
Green hills? Check!
Quaint villages? Check!
Outdoor activities? Check!
The world's stinkiest cheese? Double check!
In the midst of the Vosges mountain range, 20 minutes from touristy Colmar. Map.
ALSACE IS WHERE France crashes into Central Europe. Perhaps nowhere else in Europe will you find such a unique symbiosis of two leading European cultures: Gallic wine and Teutonic architecture combine to create a picture-perfect setting that attracts a fair amount of tourists.
Unfortunately some of the most picturesque villages on the famous Route des Vins are overly twee and can be overrun with coach loads of German pensioners blowing the kids' inheritance on a package tour.
But Alsace has two faces: the flat plain where most of the vineyards are and whose Route des Vins attracts most visitors. And then there are the mighty Vosges, which, like a wall, closes off the plain from the rest of France and which offers Heidi-esque green meadows and lots of cows. These cows are the source of what's arguably the world's stinkiest cheese: Munster.
|Where it all began: Munster town.
Munster is made from raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk, and as such it's illegal to import it into the US. For our American readers: the cheese sold in the US under the name Muenster has exactly nothing to do with the French cheese, and you're unlikely to ever have tasted a real Munster in the US. The fact that you can buy a gun at Walmart, but not Munster (because it's so dangerous!) is of course a never-ending source of bemusement to Alsatians and other cheese-eating surrender-monkeys alike.
The traditional pairing for a Munster is Alsatian Gewürztraminer, the white wine whose heady floral aroma offsets (or compliments) Munster's delicate barnyard-meets-stinky-feet aroma.
|Picnic of champions: A glass of Gewürztraminer confronts a round of Munster.
|A delightful assault on the senses: Munster with caraway seeds.
|Stinky cheese. That way.
The road into the Valley (the D417) ends at the Col de la Schlucht, and the route there offers a number of breathtaking vistas and lots, lots of fresh air. It's a great area to go hiking and you will see plenty of footpaths as well as numerous cyclists scaling the sometimes steep hills.
A good place for hiking is the area around the Lac Vert, which sits high up in the mountains, and doesn't quite live up to its name, being more grey than green, but is a great place to catch some fresh fish (provided you brought your permit and gear.)
At 1100m, the Auberge de Schantzwasen offers something completely different: a reindeer farm. Santa is nowhere to be found, but there are several daily tours where you can pet the creatures and feed them lichen imported from Finland (they're picky gourmets as well, these reindeer.)
|Forget Central Europe: Auberge de Schantzwasen is where France collides with Lapland.
|Two storks feasting on worms and and other goodies.
There are frequent TGV trains to Colmar from Paris Gare de l'Est. There are frequent local trains to Munster and other villages, or you can rent a car at Colmar station.
The Valley is dotted with Gites so it's not hard to find a place to stay
Office de Tourisme- official website
Cheese.com on Munster