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Alsace vineyard
An Alsace vineyard after the harvest

Alsace - golf and gastronomy

Go to the Alsace and you might not feel as though you are in France when you see the German-sounding name of a village, hear a person's name or people speaking. This region has changed hands many times between Germany and France over the centuries, until the last war returned it to France.

Click here for a map of the Alsace region

Think of the Alsace and golf might not be the first thing that comes to mind. You might perhaps think of medieval villages, its wines or the European Parliament in Strasburg. But this eastern region of France, between the Rhine Valley and the Vosges mountains on the border with Germany and Switzerland, has in fact eleven courses and is now actively promoting itself as a golf tourism destination.

In October 2005, we were invited to sample some of the many pleasures - golfing or otherwise - that the Alsace has to offer over a three day period. This coincided with the end of the grape harvest when the vines are magnificent in their autumnal colours before the first frost kills the leaves, and when you get sudden heady whiffs of fermentation as you pass through a village.

 
Kempferhof - the clubhouse
The Clubhouse & 18th green at Kempferhof
DAY ONE

A late-morning arrival at Strasburg Airport from London's Gatwick allowed time to have a round of golf at the outstanding Golf Le Kempferhof in Plobsheim, 20 kms south of Strasburg.

But first we checked into its luxurious hotel and enjoyed an excellent lunch in its restaurant overlooking the 18th hole and one of many lakes on the course. The hotel occupies an 18th century stately home with 29 rooms and 5 suites, each of the latter being dedicated to a movie legend. "La Luna", situated at the top of a tower, offers a stunning panoramic view of the course. As you would expect, it's very golfer-friendly; far more useful and much better for the waist line, instead of a chocolate on your pillow at night, you get a golf ball!

The golf course, designed by Bob van Hagge, was built in 1989 and covers an 85 hectare nature reserve. It was ranked second in the Peugeot Golf Guide in 2001 and has its own David Leadbetter Golf Academy. This carefully groomed, flattish course is very challenging and delightfully scenic, with large, contoured greens. Although the rough isn't especially tough, it doesn't need to be when there are numerous daunting water hazards and huge bunkers waiting for you. Accuracy is a must here and we recommend you bring plenty of balls, but it was as much a joy to play as to look at. Sunset over the lakes was unforgettable, and although the course clearly owes a lot to the work of bulldozers, there is a feeling that nature is taking the land back, helped by an almost total lack of building around the course.

 
Kempferhof - the clubhouse
The par 3 7th at Kempferhof

The seventh hole, a par 3, offers a magnificent view over an 18th century mill which is now the clubhouse.

For the evening meal, the Chef uses seasonal produce to create his menus and selects the best wines to go with his food, and our only slight disappointment was that the bar closed at 11pm, when we might have liked a little longer to mull over the day.

DAY TWO

After breakfast (included in the room price), we headed for the Wantzenau Golf Course just outside Strasburg, a flat but technically demanding course designed by Jean Garaïalde and Jeremy Pern, which will appeal to players of all levels. The style is somewhat American with plenty of water and interesting par 5s, but is it nevertheless an easier proposition than Le Kemperhof, not overly long and not overwhelming for a woman. The clubhouse is cosy and in typical Alsatian style and the staff are very helpful.

The clubhouse & aerial view of GC de la Wantzenau
The clubhouse and an aerial view of Golf Club de la Wantzenau

 
The Becker Winery - Martine and her vats
At the Becker Winery

In the afternoon we visited the Becker Winery in Zellenberg on the Route d'Ostheim, which has existed since 1610. Its vines all had to be replanted after the war, as the Americans had built a fuel dump in the midst of the Froehn "grand cru", causing the vines to be crushed under their trucks and tanks, but all is normal again now.

The very enthusiastic Martine (right), who speaks seven languages including Japanese, made us extremely welcome and showed us around the 200 year-old vats. We were then given a generous tasting of their organic wines. First the young wines, just fermented, (her brother Jean-Philippe's "newly-borns" as Martine called them), then each one of the seven grape varieties (see the section on Alsatian wines below). The family also produces liqueurs, fruit brandies and Crémants d'Alsace. After this alcoholic interlude, Martine walked us through the vines to our home for the night - The Kanzel Hotel & Suite Residence.

We can heartily recommend this upmarket resort and haven of peace situated on the Amandiers Hill, along the Wine Route, and we guarantee you won't be disappointed. For anyone who has ever dreamed of drinking a cellar dry, Hotel Kanzel finally offers you that possibility - and it's already included in your room price! With your room key comes access to a personal cellar from which you are positively encouraged to indulge. Given the number of bottles inside, drinking it dry might be a challenge... But while you're at it, to ensure you really do end up with the mother of all hangovers, your personal minibar is also included in the price of the room, as is the half bottle of wine provided in the kitchen area - a delicate touch. And that's before we mention the complimentary access to the sauna (to sweat out the booze) and the free internet access (to boast to all your friends). Oh, and - as if you needed it - they offer you a free welcome drink too.

 
Apple tart
Apple Tart

That said, the hotel does not have a restaurant, so if you're planning to take solid as well as liquid nourishment, you'll have to go out. A chauffeur is on hand, however (best you don't drive!) and we can recommend Winstub Caveau Gambrinus in Blebenheim where we were served a typical set menu consisting of Gratinée (thin pastry with a grilled cheese topping) with a choice of local beers, followed by an enormous rib of beef and chips, a salad and a Calvados-flambéed apple tart.. This meal prompted one of our group to comment delicately "It feels like we've eaten a cow each".

After dinner, Mein Host brought us a glass of flaming Friesengeist - a sort of very strong herbal spirit. Fearing the worst we downed it and - to our considerable surprise - some of us woke up with a totally clear head the next morning. Why can't we find this miracle drink anywhere else?

DAY THREE

Some of us in better condition than others, we visited two more fine golf clubs.

Rouffach Golf Club is flat, long and challenging with plenty of water hazards, sandwiched between forest and vineyards. It offers a panoramic view over the Vosges mountains and wine villages.

Rouffach Golf Club (left) and Ammerschwihr/Trois Epis
Rouffach Golf Club with the Vosges in the background (left) and Ammerschwihr/Trois Epis

Ammerschwihr/Trois-Epis Golf Club is situated in the heart of the wine-growing area. We were given a very cordial welcome to this stunning mountain course. The course is not long, which makes it ideal for beginners or high handicappers, yet it has some spectacular holes. The 12th, for example, has a 50 m drop from tee to green and affords a superb view of the Alsatian vineyards.

ALSACE - THE HOME OF GASTRONOMY

Alsace may be the smallest region of France, but it holds the record for possessing the largest number of five-star chefs per inhabitant. Some twenty highly talented Alsatian chefs have built up the region's reputation over the last two decades and have turned it into one of France's leading gastronomic areas.

These chefs have resurrected Alsace's traditional and varied local cuisine, a heritage of its lively political and cultural past, and which is closely linked to the region's friendly "art de vivre".

The following are some of the great traditional dishes from Alsace:

 
Flammekueche
Flammekueche
  • Sauerkraut or "choucroute": a great classic dish made up of sour cabbage & smoked meats.
  • Baeckeoffe: a dish made up of 3 different types of marinated meats that used to be baked in the baker's oven.
  • Flammekueche or flambéed tart (right): a very thinly-laid bread dough tart garnished with cream, bacon & chopped onions, best enjoyed with friends and a glass of beer or wine in a "winstub".
  • Matelote du Rhin: a delicious river fish stew enhanced with some local Alsatian wine of course.
  • Munster cheese: Delicious hot or cold, it's often eaten with cumin and a glass of wine.
  • Kougelhof: a sweet or savoury brioche cooked in a special very high brioche tin made in the potters' village of Soufflenheim.
  • Not forgetting foie gras (something you don't normally associate with the Alsace but rather with the south-west region of France), onion tart, Alsatian snails, coq au Riesling, fried carp, pretzels, heart shaped gingerbread traditionally produced in Gertwiller, plum tarts and much, much more.
 
A Winstub
A Winstub
THE "WINSTUB"

Literally translated as "wine room", the winstub is a perfect example of the "art de vivre" of Alsace, and of Strasburg in particular. The winstub is an inexpensive restaurant with large wooden tables where you eat and … drink in a warm friendly atmosphere. It serves traditional Alsatian dishes such as "Baekeoffe" or "Sauerkraut", and is very much like an old-fashioned pub.

THE ALSACE WINE ROUTE

The Alsace Wine Route winds its way for more than 170 kms from north to south through pretty villages along the eastern foothills of the Vosges mountains.

Along the way, visitors are invited to explore the heart of the vineyards; they are welcome to taste the local produce in the winstubs, tasting cellars and, in a fun and festive atmosphere, at the numerous wine fairs taking place from April to October.

The Alsatian wine-producing villages never fail to seduce their visitors with their outer walls, picturesque houses and friendly inns.

Vines have always thrived on the Alsatian slopes, taking maximum advantage of their exposure to the sun. This region is the only one in France to produce primarily varietal wines.

The seven Alsatian grape varieties used here are:

     

    The Riesling Grape
  • Sylvaner: gives a light, fresh and fruity dry wine. It can be served as an aperitif.
  • Pinot Blanc: well-balanced, supple and racy. It produces the lightest wine in the region.
  • Riesling: the most elegant grape of the Alsace region (right). It gives dry, graceful and well-balanced wine. Riesling is known to be the finest Alsace wine.
  • Muscat d'Alsace: a dry, inimitable fresh grape taste.
  • Tokay Pinot Gris: opulent and robust.
  • Gewurztraminer: robust and full-bodied, with marvellous flavour and bouquet. Can be drunk as a dessert wine.
  • Pinot Noir: gives dry red or rosé wine, very fruity. Reminiscent of cherries.
PAIRING ALSACE WINE WITH FOOD

Alsace wines should be served chilled but not too cold (6° to 10°). They are generally best enjoyed when young, one to five years after harvest, and go especially well with Indian, Chinese or Thai cooking.

  • With fish and seafood dishes- try Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc
  • With foie gras, spicy dishes and strong cheeses - try a Gewurztraminer
  • With poultry - Riesling
  • With sauerkraut - Riesling or Sylvaner
  • With a Flammekueche - Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Riesling
  • With a coq au Riesling - Riesling (obviously?)
  • With an onion tart - Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc
  • With a fine Munster cheese - try Gewurztraminer
 
Ribeauvillé
Ribeauvillé
VILLAGES TO BE VISITED

Located on the Wine Route, between vines & mountains, half-way between Strasbourg and Mulhouse, Ribeauvillé is a very attractive picturesque town which is well worth a visit. The town and neighbouring hills are dominated by the majestic ruins of the Three Castles of the Lords of Ribeaupierre. The Grand-Rue and its picturesque neighbouring streets, lined with handsome 15th to 18th century buildings with pretty geranium-filled window boxes, are scattered with squares decorated with Renaissance fountains.

 
Riquewihr
Riquewihr

Riquewihr is also on the Wine Route, 4 km from Ribeauvillé and 13 from Colmar. It is an admirably preserved mediaeval town and an ideal tourist resort, famous for the quality of its wines which thrive on its sunny slopes. A member of the Association of the Most Beautiful Villages in France, it is now deservedly one of the most visited tourist attractions in Alsace, thanks to its unique rampart walls and its extraordinary number of picturesque houses, some dating back to the 13th century, either half-timbered or made out of carved stone and sporting courtyards, galleries, old wells and fountains. Not to be missed.

For further information on these villages, visit www.ribeauville-riquewihr.com/

---oOo---

Golf aside, the Alsace is well worth exploring year round, but especially in the months of May to October. So, instead of heading directly south when you next drive to France, why not head east instead or take the 90 minute flight from Gatwick to Strasburg if you're pressed for time? Sample the various pleasures this very different, picturesque and welcoming region of France is only too happy to offer. When you do finally head on, we guarantee you will be thinking about when you can make it back.

Here is some useful information for your visit to Alsace:

HOW TO GET THERE
  • 1h30 from Gatwick Airport to Strasbourg (Air France)
  • 4h30 from Calais
  • Eurostar TGV: 5h00
THINGS TO DO
  • Wildlife Parks (there's even a Stork reintroduction Centre
  • Leisure Parks
  • Sports & Adventure Parks (hiking, rambling, paragliding, skiing etc…)
WHAT TO SEE
  • Discover its numerous local crafts (pottery, fabrics etc…)
  • Explore its museums (Alsace has over 250), and discover its architectural treasures
  • Go on the many fun trails available from beer to sauerkraut or asparagus…
  • Make sure you visit at least one vineyard
PLAYING GOLF

WHERE TO STAY

Superior:

  • Beaucour-Baumann Romantik
    5 rue des Bouchers, Strasbourg
    Tel : +33 (0)3 88 76 72 00 – Fax : +33 (0)3 88 76 72 60
    www.hotel-beaucour.com
  • Hostellerie du Château ***
    2 rue du Château, Eguisheim
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 23 72 00 – Fax : +33 (0)389 41 63 93
    www.hostellerieduchateau.com
  • The Kanzel Hotel & Suite Residence
    Chemin des Amandiers, Beblenheim
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 49 08 00 - Fax : +33 (0)3 89
    www.kanzel.com/
  • Golf Le Kempferhof
    351 rue du Moulin, Plobsheim
    Tel : +33 (0)3 88 98 72 72 - Fax : +33 (0)3 88 98 74 76
    www.golf-kempferhof.com
  • Le Colombier
    7 rue Turenne, Colmar
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 23 96 00 – Fax : +33 (0)3 89 23 97 27
    www.hotel-le-colombier.com
  • La Cour d'Alsace
    3 rue de Gail, Obernai
    Tel : +33 (0)3 88 95 07 00 – Fax : +33 (0)3 88 95 19 21
    www.cour-alsace.com

More affordable:

  • Le Colmombier ***
    6 rue Dietrich, Obernai
    Tel : +33 (0)3 88 47 63 33 – Fax : +33 (0)3 88 47 63 39
    www.hotel-colombier.com
  • La Cour du Bailli ***
    57 Grand’Rue à Bergheim
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 73 73 446 – Fax : +33 (0)3 89 73 38 81
    www.cour-bailli.com
  • Hôtel Les Remparts
    4 rue de la Flieh à Kaysersberg
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 47 12 12 – Fax : +33 (0)3 89 47 37 24
    www.lesremparts.com
  • Chez Norbert
    9 Grand-Rue, Bergheim
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 73 31 15 – fax : +33 (0)3 89 73 60 65

WHERE TO EAT

Category "Winstub" - very reasonable prices:

  • Caveau Morakopf
    7 rue des trois Epis, Niedermorschwihr
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 27 05 10 - Fax : +33 (0)3 89 27 08 63
  • Le Caveau Saint Pierre
    24 rue de la Herse, Colmar
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 41 99 33 - Fax : +33 (0)3 89 23 94 33
  • Muensterstuewel
    8 place du Marché-aux-Cochons-de-Lait, Strasburg
    Tel : +33 (0)3 88 32 17 63 - fax : +33 (0)3 88 21 96 02
    www.strasnet.com/munsterstub.htm
  • La Dime
    5 rue des Pèlerins, Obernai
    Tel : +33 (0)3 88 95 54 02
  • Caveau Gambinus
    4 rue des Raisins, Beblenheim
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 49 02 82

Category "Gastronomie" - from expensive to very expensive!

  • Le Rosenmeer (2 restaurants : 1 with a Michelin star and 1 winstub),
    45 avenue de la gare à Rosheim
    Tel: +33 (0)3 88 50 43 29 - Fax: +33 (0)3 88 49 20 57
    www.le-rosenmeer.com
  • Abbaye de la Pommeraie (2 restaurants : 1 with a Michelin star and 1 winstub),
    8 avenue Foch à Sélestat
    Tel: +33 (0)3 88 92 07 84 - Fax: +33 (0)3 88 92 08 71
    www.relaischateau.com/pommeraie
  • Au Crocodile
    10 rue de l'Outre, Strasburg
    Tel : +33 (0)3 88 32 13 02 - Fax : +33 (0)3 88 75 72 01
    www.au-crocodile.com
  • Le Chambard
    9-13 rue du Général de Gaulle, Kaysersberg
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 47 10 17 - Fax : +33 (0)3 89 47 35 03
    www.chateauxhotels.com
  • La Grangelière
    59, rue du Rempart-Sud, Eguisheim
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 23 00 30 - Fax : +33 (0)3 89 23 61 62
  • Jys
    17 rue de la Poissonnerie, Colmar
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 21 53 60 - Fax : +33 (0)3 89 21 53 65
  • La Maison des Têtes
    19, rue des Têtes, Colmar
    Tel : +33 (0)3 89 24 43 43 - Fax : +33 (0)3 89 24 58 34
    www.la-maison-des-tetes.com

For further information, visit these official French tourist office websites:

 Photo credits: © CRTA/Hampé - CIVA - CIVA/Moya - CIVA/Journou




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