Alsace Lorraine

Alsace-Lorraine © Wolfgang Staudt
Alsace-Lorraine is possibly the least French part of France, with a strongly German heritage, especially in the Alsace region. The two regions, in the northeast corner of France, share borders not just with France and Germany, but Belgium and Luxembourg as well, making the area a true melting pot of European culture.

Pretty towns and villages in Alsace produce distinctive white wines often overlooked by the hordes of tourists in Bordeaux and Champagne country, and the Alsatian Vineyard Route is a great way to sample the region's delectable wines along with delicious Alsatian cuisine. Cities like Strasbourg and Colmar provide a bit of urban contrast, but preserve the character of the region with UNESCO-listed town centres containing many beautiful historic buildings and lively arts and culture communities.

Because of its geographic location, a holiday in Alsace-Lorraine gives visitors a chance to glimpse the unique culture and history of the region. It also makes a perfect base for a multi-country holiday with easy access to the Rhine Valley, both the French and Swiss Alps, and major cities like Berne, Basel, Frankfurt and Geneva.



Attractions

Little Venice, Colmar
Little Venice, Colmar © Olivier Bruchez

Colmar

An attractive town in northeast France, Colmar is one of the most popular tourist draws to the Alsace region. Founded in the 9th century, the city boasts many beautiful architectural landmarks, including churches, museums, theatres, mansions, monuments and fountains, many dating back to the 13th century. Colmar is surprisingly big for a medieval city, but visitors should still be able to walk around on foot without much trouble. In addition to its beauty, Colmar is a lively city with music festivals and other events throughout the year. It is also a centre for the German and French-influenced Alsatian cuisine, and visitors can sample local specialties like quiche Lorraine, Black Forest cake, Sauerkraut, and the many varieties of Alsace wine. Attractions in the town include the Musee d'Unterlinden (Museum under the Linden Trees) which is a small but popular art and history museum with an impressive collection of artefacts. The most famous piece is the magnificent Issenheim Altarpiece. Little Venice, a particularly pretty neighbourhood in Colmar, is a good place to take a gondola ride and enjoy the medieval architecture passing you by. The Eglise des Dominicains is a lovely church which now houses Martin Shongaurer's painting 'Madonna of the Rose Garden'. The Gothic Eglise St-Martin is also well worth a visit.


Haut-koenigsbourg Castle
Haut-koenigsbourg Castle © Julien Gascard

Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle

The Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle has a history going back some nine centuries, built in the 12th century as an Austrian fortress. The castle is perched dramatically on a mountain, clearly designed to be defended in times of war and with sweeping views of the Alsace plain below. This impressive fortress has been visited and owned by several notable royals and has changed hands between nations many times. It has also been all but destroyed twice in its long history. The Alsace region was annexed to Germany in 1871, and the castle, at the time only a majestic ruin, was gifted to Kaiser Wilhelm II in 1899. Seeing it as a symbol for Germany's new power in the region, the Kaiser fully restored the fortress and today it is once again a formidable and impressive place to visit. The present structure of the castle gives an accurate idea of how the mountain fortress must have looked in the Middle Ages. Its interior walls are decorated in a rich medieval style, and it houses an extensive and interesting collection of weapons and furniture, mainly from the 16th and 17th centuries. Visitors can view the royal apartments, kitchen, chapel, ceremonial hall and armoury, as well as the walled garden, forge and mill. Exploring this historic building, which has been scarred and marked by the region's history, is exciting for the whole family.

Address: Orschwiller, Alsace, France; Website: www.haut-koenigsbourg.fr/en


Strasbourg
Strasbourg © Alessandro Caproni

Strasbourg

Less than one hours' drive from Mulhouse and three from Paris, Strasbourg is a popular tourist destination in Alsace-Lorraine. The capital and largest city in Alsace, Strasbourg has a beautiful city centre that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, with many churches, museums, and photogenic half-timber houses lining the narrow cobbled streets. One of the most famous sites in Strasbourg is the great sandstone Gothic cathedral with its astronomical clock. There are a few other beautiful churches as well, with architecture ranging from Romanesque to Gothic to Renaissance. Strasbourg is also a modern city, however, with a lively atmosphere that belies its historic facade. Good restaurants abound, serving a blend of French, German, and local Alsatian cuisine. Late summer (July and August) is the best time to visit Strasbourg, as the warm weather paves the way for many theatre and music events. Christmas is also a festive time of year, with holiday markets in place Broglie and place de la Cathédrale. From its position on the Rhine River, Strasbourg also makes a great base from which to explore southern Germany (just across the river) and Switzerland (only an hour's drive south).