A tiny town off the beaten tourist track and situated in Eastern France, Turckheim is a stunning settlement characterised by its timber-framed houses, historic town gate, and unique Christmas market which takes place in December of each year. Here’s a quick guide to the best things to do in Turckheim, as well as a history and how to visit!
Turckheim is to be found just a few kilometres to the east of the French city of Colmar, somewhere on the Alsace wine route and filled with oodles of history. A lesser-known French town in the Alsace region, you can easily explore the town over the course of a long afternoon. Nearby, the tiny village of Niedermoschwihr is famed for its crooked spire and can easily be seen at the same time, provided that you have access to a car.
A brief history of Turckheim
The first suggestion of human inhabitation in Turckheim dates all the way back to Roman times and it was perhaps a Germanic tribe, who had crossed from over the nearby River Rhine, the Thuringii, that lent their name to the original town name.
Though the town was originally known as Thorencohaime, soon enough its name was changed to Thuringheim. As you may well know, much of Eastern France belonged to France and then Germany and then France again throughout much of the Medieval period. Turckheim was no exception and is attested as being part of the Abbey of Munster during the Middle Ages.
In 1312, Turckheim was granted the status of Free Imperial City (meaning that the settlement had a rather large amount of self autonomy when it came to things such as governing and the like). By 1315, construction of the city’s ramparts and walls began.
Much of these can still be spied to this day and, in order to enter the town’s heart, you’ll likely need to pass through one of the town’s remaining city gates. Fast forward a few decades to the mid 1300s, and the city had gained both ‘city rights’ and ‘town rights’.
Today, plenty of traces of history can be found throughout the town, boasting vestiges of the past and signs of times gone by. From the Gothic church to the imposing town hall to the central Middle Ages building which acts as both the police station and tourism office, there’s no shortage of things to see and do.
Perhaps rather interestingly, Turckheim remains one of the only few towns in France to retain a night watchman. On watch nightly from May 1st to the 31st of October, the night watch also makes the rounds on the three Saturdays preceding Christmas (i.e. when the Christmas Market is held). Though the nightwatch is largely for touristic reasons, back in the 13th-century the watch prevented a town-wide fire!
Things to do in Turckheim
Stroll around the town
Truth be told, the town of Turckheim has little by way of attractions when compared to larger towns, cities, and villages in the region such as Colmar, Strasbourg, or Mulhouse. As such, one of the greatest joys of a visit to Turckheim is simply to stroll around, soak up the ambiance, and enjoy traditional local fare in one of the town’s many eateries.
Much of the village architecture dates back centuries, with housing, a hospital, and three town gates all dating back to the 16th and 17th-centuries. Though most of the Alsatian settlement is concentrated around the lower part of town (where the tourism office and town hall are found), you won’t regret venturing a little further off the beaten path to discover the other hidden gems and secret corners that Turckheim have to offer.
See the fortified town gates
One of the more impressive medieval features of Turckheim still remaining is that of the medieval town gate. Constructed as far back as the Middle Ages, the fortified gate is one of the top photo spots in the city today. Nearby, the tourist office offers local advice and is housed in a building dating back to the 16th-century. There are actually three town gateways in Turckheim, though by far the most impressive is that closest to the tourist office;
Munster Gate: you’ll know you’re at the Munster Gate when you spot a clock atop of the slightly leaning tower. This historic landmark has a rather morbid history and would have been where witches were led through so as to burn them at the stake. Due to the presence of scallop shell decorations, it’s thought that the Munster Gate would have also been passed through by pilgrims on the Way of St James.
Brand Gate: the lesser-known of the three fortified gates of Turckheim, the Brand Gate would have led directly onto vineyards and would have been kept locked for the majority of the time.
France Gate: this fortified gate is situated close to the tourist office and makes for an iconic ‘photo spot’. It is so-called because the gate was used for traders passing through. Dating all the way back to 1330, the fortification would have once boasted a drawbridge and is known as ‘La Porte de France’ in French.
Visit some wine houses/ cellars
After its multiple Christmas markets throughout the colder months of the year, the Alsace region of France is perhaps best-known for its wine production, and in particular sweet white wines. Well, Turckheim is no exception and multiple establishments throughout the town offer ‘degustations’ (wine tastings).
Check out the Turckheim Christmas Market
For a whimsical Alsace Christmas Market with an incredibly local feel, you need to look no further than that of Turckheim, which can easily be visited at the same time to the Colmar Christmas Markets. Taking place throughout the Advent season each year (there’s even a life-sized picture advent calendar directly in front of the town hall), the market stalls themselves vend local products and are housed against the backdrop of tiny cartoon-like timber-framed stalls.
If you’re visiting Turckheim during one of the warmer months of the year, then keep your eyes peeled: it’s not at all uncommon to see storks nesting at the top of tall buildings. Spying these tall birds is actually fairly common throughout the Alsace region and is a wonderful sight to see if you’ve never seen storks before!