Did you know that pottery was a traditional skill in Alsace, and more particularly in the Bas-Rhin? There are two pottery villages in Alsace: Soufflenheim and Betschdorf, located just outside of Haguenau in northern Alsace. You have inevitably seen Alsatian pottery in the stores, made of clay and stoneware, but beware: many of those you see are unfortunately simple objects industrially manufactured in China, and not real Alsatian pottery. To be sure to buy a traditional pottery of quality, the best is to go directly to the source… Can I give you a lift?
Why potters in Soufflenheim and Betschdorf?
The history of pottery goes back to the 12th century in Soufflenheim, when Emperor Frederick Barbarossa gave the potters the right to extract clay from the subsoil of the Haguenau forest free of charge and in perpetuity. Yes, because that’s why the potteries are in this area: the clay soil found here is the ideal raw material for pottery workshops!
In the 19th century, potters constituted an important part of the economic activity of the villages of Soufflenheim and Betschdorf but the activity then largely declined… Today, only around twenty of the fifty or so workshops that existed in the 19th century remain in these villages . Only a few of them still use only Soufflenheim clay and have managed to preserve the authentic know-how and ancestral gestures handed down by generations of potters before them.
Beyond its price,Soufflenheim clay is less and less used for several reasons, from what I understand. On the one hand, because the reserves of clays already extracted are soon exhausted and that to extract again would be too expensive for the potters. In the past, when there were still many of them, they could divide up the cost to do it, but there are not enough of them nowadays… On the other hand, this clay is difficult to work with and results in a much more limited choice of colors. A large number of potters have therefore chosen to buy clay elsewhere (often mixtures of clays from France and other European countries are used).
Alsatian pottery: terracotta or stoneware? Soufflenheim or Betschdorf?
The pottery of Betschdorf is made of salt stoneware, in gray and cobalt blue tones that are typical of the village pottery. This pottery, whose material is still quite porous, cannot be used for cooking food. For example, stoneware is used to make tableware and decorative objects.
Visit the pottery villages of Alsace
Visiting the potters’ villages is a really nice activity to do in Alsace. You can walk in the villages, which are cute, but especially visit the potters’ workshops. I really advise you to come during the week, the workshops are then in activity and you will be able to see directly the work done.
Just enter a store and ask to see the workshop, the potters are usually happy to open their doors and discuss with you, they are real passionate craftsmen ! I have already been there several times and loved discovering new workshops, talking with potters and observing the different steps of pottery making: it is an impressive know-how that deserves to be known and perpetuated!
Depending on the potteries, you will discover different working methods: clay used, presence or not of machines, size of the workshop… But all have a common point. We are still facing a real artisanal work, far from the Made in China dishes which are unfortunately too much sold in Alsace! Each mold or dish that you will have in your hands will have been the subject of a meticulous work in several stages and will have been decorated with the hand! Think about it if you want to buy a dish: this work has a price, but it is also the price of quality and support for this handicraft work made in France.
Depending on the potters, the pottery is decorated with traditional motifs such as the stork, emblem of Alsace, but also with more modern motifs. Yes, Alsatian pottery can also have a contemporary look!
If you can only visit one village, I would recommend Soufflenheim because it has many more active potters. But once you’re in the area, it’s best to take the time to visit both, especially since they are really close to each other (10km apart).
Don’t hesitate to come to the Soufflenheim Tourist Office to ask for the discovery tours, walking routes that allow you to discover the town and its potters.
My favorite potters
Of course I did not visit all the potteries in Soufflenheim and Betschdorf, but here are some addresses I liked:
- Poterie Ludwig – If you want a pottery made with the old methods (here, no machines at all!) and with real clay from Soufflenheim, you are at the right address! Very beautiful pottery and very warm welcome, I love it! I have some pottery at home that I bought there.
- Poterie Ernewein-Haas – A pottery that also uses clay from Soufflenheim and has a nice selection of colored pottery.
- Poterie Michel Streissel – Another great welcome! This workshop innovates by proposing, in addition to the traditional patterns, really original patterns like “calaveras” (skulls). I have a plate with this pattern that I love!
- Poterie Wehrling et Fille – It’s not every day you see a woman running a pottery studio, and that makes you happy. Peggy Wehrling has brilliantly taken over this family workshop and makes beautiful pottery!
- Siegfried-Burger Pottery – A larger pottery that has existed since 1842 and combines tradition and modernity by regularly innovating in its creations.
- Poterie Beck – The first pottery I bought the first time I came to Alsace when I was younger was a mug that came from this pottery. I still have it and I love it!
- Poterie Graessel – This pottery is located in Soufflenheim but produces stoneware pottery. If you don’t have time to go to Betschdorf, don’t forget to come and see them (they are very nice too!)
- Remmy M.M Pottery in Betschdorf – A great welcome, I got lots of explanations on how to make pottery!
You can’t come to the potters’ villages but want to be sure to bring back a real pottery from Alsace? The best thing to do is to contact the pottery you are interested in and ask them if they have any dealers in the area where you are staying in Alsace! 😉
To do in the vicinity of the pottery villages
I advise you to combine your visit to the pottery villages with other visits in the north of Alsace. Among the must-sees are the charming villages of Hunspach and Seebach and don’t hesitate to go to the charming Wissembourg. You can also go on beautiful bike rides in the Rhineland. For a wellness getaway, don’t hesitate to visit the spa La Source des Sens. Finally, if you like shopping, you might like the factory stores in Roppenheim.
- Discover the craftsmanship of the potters of Alsace
- Watching the artisans at work
- Buy beautiful quality pottery made in Alsace
I liked less
- The villages may seem a bit “dead” at first glance, you really have to push the doors of the potteries, ask to see the workshops and talk to the craftsmen to fully appreciate the visit!
My photos of the pottery villages of Soufflenheim and Betschdorf
Soufflenheim and Betschdorf are located 10km apart, about 10 minutes by car. Soufflenheim is located in:
- 15km from Haguenau (about 20 minutes)
- 40km from Strasbourg (about 30 minutes)
- 110km from Colmar (about 1h20)
- 150km from Mulhouse (about 1h45)
By public transport
You can look at Fluo but it is not ideal.