Kaysersberg is a town on the Route de Vin in Alsace, France, barely rates a paragraph in most guide books. Like Colmar and Riquewihr, it’s a great stop to see small-town France and the wine country.
The fact that it’s like a host of other small towns in Alsace is the draw for me. Located just a short distance from Colmar on the eastern edge of France, Kaysersberg is a quick drive to a place that is largely away from the tourist crowds – at least when I was there in December.
Surrounded by vineyards, Kaysersberg is dominated by a ruined castle on a hill. The buildings themselves looked medieval, and I like to think someone transported from 400 years ago would recognize the town.
The first thing I saw when I approached the canal was a rainbow. After taking a few pictures, I walked through the old streets with my family, crossed stone bridges and headed toward the castle, which was flying the Tricolor, giving me the hope that I could climb its tower.
The hill on which the castle stood was blocked by a wall, and I hoped it was possible to reach the ruin. I stepped into a shop and, in my halting French, asked if it was possible to get up to the building. The problem with knowing just enough of a language to ask directions is that it’s impossible to understand the response, but after quite a bit of pointing, I got the message.
Two paths actually led up to the castle, and we followed the nearest one as it wound through a copse of trees and past vineyards before finally ending at the castle walls.
Once inside, I immediately headed for the tower, expecting a closed and locked door, but was happily surprised to find it open. It’s the kind of thing that would probably never happen in the United States, and I climbed to the top for a great view of Kaysersberg and the surrounding lands.
The castle was built starting around 1220 for Albin Woelflin, who was a bailiff for the Holy Roman Empire. It helkped close off one of the routes through the Vosges Mountains to Lorraine. Updated over the years, it has a triangular wall that encloses the circular tower, and it fell under siege in the German Peasants War in the 1500s. It was eventually abandoned at the end of the century and then declared a national asset after the French Revolution.
Kaysersberg probably won’t ever be a tourist attraction like Rothenburg, Germany, simply because there isn’t much to do once you’re done wandering the handful of streets and seeing the castle, but it’s definitely worth a trip if you’re looking for small-town charm. I still find it hard to believe that people live in these sorts of places, since they’re what you see in fairy tale books when you’re growing up, but for the inhabitants of Kaysersberg and the many villages like it, it’s just life.