The dry and sunny climate here has produced good wine and happy tourists since Roman times, so vineyard-hopping is a great way to spend an afternoon. Roadside degustation signs mean wine-tasters are welcome, but be prepared for grape varieties that differ from what you might find elsewhere in France.
Riesling is the king of Alsatian grapes; it’s robust but drier than the German style you’re probably used to. Sylvaner — fresh and light, fruity and cheap — is a good Alsatian wine for a hot day. Pinot Gris wines are more full-bodied, spicier, and distinctly different from other Pinot Gris wines you may have tried.
Gewürztraminer is "the lady’s wine" — its bouquet is like a rosebush, its taste is fruity, and its aftertaste is spicy — as its name implies (gewürtz means "spice" in German). In case you really get "Alsauced," the French term for headache is mal à la tête.
Along with its wine, Alsatian cuisine is world-famous. Even vacationers traveling on a shoestring should spring for a fine meal in Alsace.
You can't mistake the German influence: sausages, potatoes, onions, and sauerkraut. Look for choucroute garnie (sauerkraut and sausage) — although it seems a shame to eat it in a fancy restaurant. Also try sampling Baeckeoffe (a meaty onion-and-potato casserole), Rösti (an oven-baked potato-and-cheese dish), Spätzle (soft egg noodles), fresh trout, and foie gras.
For lighter fare, try poulet au Riesling (chicken cooked ever-so-slowly in Riesling wine). At lunch, or for a lighter dinner, try a tarte à l’oignon (like an onion quiche, but better) or tarte flambée (like a thin-crust pizza with onion and bacon bits). Dessert specialties are tarte alsacienne (fruit tart) and Kuglehopf glacé (a light cake mixed with raisins, almonds, dried fruit, and cherry liqueur).
For a pleasing taste of European culture, there's nothing quite like Alsace. Visitors enjoy a rich blend of two great societies: French and German, Catholic and Protestant — just enough Germanic discipline with a Latin joy of life.
(Rick Steves (www.ricksteves.com) writes European travel guidebooks and hosts travel shows on public television and public radio. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow his blog on Facebook.)