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  • Alsace Lorraine

    Alsace Lorraine travel guide

    Overview

    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.

    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).

    Strasbourg Strasbourg Alessandro Caproni
    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.

    Little Venice, Colmar Little Venice, Colmar Olivier Bruchez
    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
    Haut-koenigsbourg Castle Haut-koenigsbourg Castle Julien Gascard

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    Louis XIV described the Alsace-Lorraine region as a beautiful garden. There are various walking and cycling routes through the countryside, but one of the best ways to see Alsace-Lorraine is by boat. There are many attractions in Alsace-Lorraine and visitors can choose to concentrate on doing a wine tour of the region or a military history tour of the World War I battlefields, cemeteries and monuments. There are some charming medieval villages and cities to explore as well.

    Less than an hour's drive from Strasbourg is the city of Mulhouse, which is worth visiting for lovers of the mechanical. The city is home to the National Automobile Museum, and the French Railway Museum. Other things to see and do in Alsace include a visit to Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, which has a history going back nine centuries.

    The capital city of Lorraine is Nancy, a charming city with a very fine central square called Place Stanislas. This square has magnificent golden gates and fountains and is surrounded by some lovely old buildings, including the Museum of Fine Art. Other attractions in Nancy include the beautiful Pepiniere Park and the Montsec American Monument, which is dedicated to all those who fought and died in the region in World War I. Lorraine is full of military history and those who are interested in such things should not miss out on a trip to Verdun, which has a great museum and numerous monuments.

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