Tuesday, June 13, 2017. It was an exciting evening for our Alsace Experience group! After a busy day in the Vosges mountains and an early dinner at our hotel in the tiny village of Kientzheim, we drove a quick kilometer to the next village of Kaysersberg to participate in a big village party.
Kaysersberg was one of 13 villages in France nominated this year for the “Village préféré des Français” (favorite village of the French). This annual designation was initiated in 2012, organized around a special television broadcast on the France 2 network. One village is chosen as the candidate from each of the 13 French regions. During the broadcast a special feature highlights each village; then during the time of the broadcast, people across France vote for their favorite village with a phone call or text message. In 2017– for the first time– the winner was announced live at the end of the program.
The “Village préféré des Français” program highlights the beauty and heritage of smaller village communities in France. There are about 32,000 villages in France, and they have a special place in French tradition and culture. Another designation–“Les Plus Beaux Villages de France” (the most beautiful villages in France)– has a similar objective, but is different in several ways. That program is run by an independent organization; villages apply to be considered; and are selected after a review process. There are currently 155 villages with the “plus beaux village” designation. In that program, the villages pay an annual fee and must meet certain requirements. (Read more here.)
But the “Village préféré des Français” is a sort of popularity contest, chosen by the French people. The designation can mean a lot for tourism and also for village pride. Kaysersberg was going all-out to win.
Charley and I have gotten to know Kaysersberg very well over the past three summers. Our Alsace Experience week is based in the tiny medieval village of Kientzheim (population 800), less than a mile from Kaysersberg (population 2,700). We can walk through the vineyards to Kaysersberg in less than 20 minutes! Our groups spend most of a day in Kaysersberg… enjoying a guided walking tour, exploring on their own, and having lunch together. Many group members go into Kaysersberg later in the week to shop, stroll, and for dinner on their own.
Kaysersberg is a charming wine village located on either side of the River Weiss, crossed by a 16th century fortified bridge. It has endured with strength over time, including four transitions between France and Germany since 1871 and serious damage in World War II. The ruins of a 13th century chateau tower over the village. The houses are mostly half-timbered, very colorful, and decorated with flowers. The main street passes by the 13th century church on a very attractive square and is lined with shops, restaurants, and private homes. Humanitarian Dr. Albert Schweitzer was born here, and there are two Michelin starred restaurants! But it’s more than just a tourist town… as we’ve learned over the past three years and was demonstrated at the party, there’s a very strong community spirit and pride.
The party on June 13 was held on the square by the church, attended by perhaps 1000 people. There was traditional Alsatian music, big band music, food and drink for sale, and games for children. The mayor made a passionate and enthusiastic speech. Finally at 9:00 pm, the television program began and was shown to the crowd on a big screen television, with six-minute segments on each of the 13 villages. (Kaysersberg was the 13th!)
We didn’t stay for the whole program, but headed back to Kientzheim. Charley and I– along with many in our group– watched the rest of the program from our rooms.
Charley and I were a bit torn… we also know two of the other nominated villages quite well! Lourmarin is a village located just eight miles from our village of Bonnieux in Provence. We’ve spent a lot of time there and visit during our Return to the Luberon week. La Roque-Gageac is a pretty village in the Dordogne that we visited just today with our Perigord Experience groups. But during the time of the program and for four weeks before, we were based in Alsace… and Kaysersberg had captured our hearts. I sent several text messages on my French mobile with my vote for Kaysersberg!
And the winner was… Kaysersberg!!
Was I imagining it… or did I really hear the cheers floating across the vineyards?! (La Roque-Gageac came in third and Lourmarin was number seven.)
You can watch the video feature on Kaysersberg from the France 2 program here:
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Bravo Kaysersberg! We are proud of our connection with you and looking forward to returning again in 2018!
We’ll be back in Alsace with two Alsace Experience groups in 2018. Visit Kaysersberg and Kientzheim and experience this beautiful and interesting region of France with us!
Kathy and Charley Wood founded European Experiences in 2006, offering week-long “slow tours” in some of the most beautiful areas of Europe. Their trips include The Luberon Experience in Provence, France, named one of the top 50 tours in the world by National Geographic Traveler magazine.
Kathy has now personally hosted over 130 Experience groups. She hosts Experience weeks in the Luberon, the Chianti region of Tuscany, Puglia, Alsace, the Dordogne, and the Cotswolds. Charley is now mostly retired but continues to co-host two longer tours with Kathy: The European Christmas Experience (12 days) and The Cornwall Experience in southwest England (10 days).
Kathy has been traveling in Europe for 30+ years and loves sharing her special places in Europe with other travelers. The Woods have a second home in their beloved village of Bonnieux in the Luberon. Read more about Kathy and Charley here.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.