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Last updated : Nov 2009
Lorraine, Vosges & Alsace
Lorraine, Vosges & Alsace - TravelPuppy.com
This part of France is made up of two historic territories, Alsace and Lorraine, in which there are six départements: Vosges, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin and the territory of Belfort. These territories have see-sawed from French to German control during conflicts between the two countries for centuries. The major cities of the area are Strasbourg, Metz, Nancy and Colmar.

Strasbourg is by far the largest and most important city in this region. As the name suggests, a city on a highway, the highway being the east–west trade and invasion route and the north–south river for commerce. Today, it is the headquarters of the European Parliament and the European Court of Human Rights, but it is rich in historic monuments and architecture and a magnificent cathedral.

Metz, a Gallo-Roman city, is located in a strategic position as a defence point and is also a crossroads of the trade routes. It contains some elegant medieval walls, arches and public buildings, but its pride is the Cathedral of St-Étienne. Nancy is best known for its perfectly proportioned Place Stanislas, gracefully surrounded with elegant wrought-iron gates. The history of Lorraine is excellently documented in the town’s museum.

A visit to Colmar can give a pleasant glimpse into the Middle Ages, and it is one of the most agreeable cities in Alsace, as well as being capital of the Alsatian wine country. The narrow, winding, cobbled streets are flanked by half-timbered houses and painstakingly restored by the burghers of the city. The 13th-century Dominican Convent of Unterlinden, now a museum, contains some important works from the 15th and 16th centuries, including the exquisite Grünewald triptych.

Colmar is a perfect place from which to set out along the Route du Vin (Wine Route) stopping at many of the appealing towns along the way to taste the local wine. Turckheim, just outside Colmar, has some of the best-preserved array of 15th and 16th century houses in the district and a town crier takes visitors through the streets at night to recall the atmosphere of old.

The town of Eguisheim, with its Renaissance fountain and monument in the village square, is also a charming Alsatian town with many historic houses and wine cellars open to the public for wine-tasting. Kayersberg (the birthplace of Dr Albert Schweitzer, whose house has been turned into a museum with mementoes of his work and life, also has some castle ruins on a hill overlooking the town and a picturesque stream that meanders through the town. A popular town with tourists is Riquewihr, with its 13th and 14th century fortifications and belfry tower and its many medieval houses and courtyards. St Hippolyte is another picturesque wine-tasting town at the foot of the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle, a sprawling and impressive medieval castle where Jean Renoir filmed La Grande Illusion. Self-steer boats are readily available for canal cruising. There are also regularly scheduled Rhine river and canal tours daily all summer, several hotel boats ply these waterways as well. Helicopters and balloons make regular sightseeing flights, weather permitting. Ancient steam trains make regular circuits including Rosheim/Ottrat (on the wine route), at Andolsheim a steam train runs along the Canal d’Alsace between Cernay and Soultz.

Throughout Alsace there are artisans’ workshops, including glass and wood painting at Wimmenau and pottery in Betschdorf where studios and shops are open to the public. Organised walking tours that include overnight stops and meals en route are arranged from Colmar and Mulhouse. Bicycle trails are marked along the Rhine, where bicycles are readily available for hire.

Belfort, a major fortress town since the 17th century, commands the Belfort Gap, or Burgundy Gate, between the Vosges and the Jura mountains. Dominating the routes from Germany and Switzerland, it became famous during the Franco-Prussian war of 1870-71 when it withstood a 108-day siege. This is commemorated by a huge stone statue, the Lion of Belfort, by Bartholdi, the creator of the Statue of Liberty. The ‘route du vin’ lies between the Rhine and a low range of pine-covered mountains called the Vosges. The flat, peaceful plain is covered with vineyards and orchards. Pretty, rural villages dot the landscape, their church spires piercing the horizon.

The wines of Alsace have a long history, the Alsatian grapes were planted before the arrival of the Romans. It has never been clearly understood where they originated and unlike other French wines, these depend more on grape type than soil or processing. Almost exclusively white with a fruity and dry flavour, they make an excellent accompaniment to the local food. Beer also goes well with Alsatian food, and as might be expected, good beer is brewed in both the Alsace and the Lorraine areas. There are famous and popular mineral water sources in Contréxeville and Vittel (also a spa town). They were well known and appreciated by the Romans and today are the most popular in France.

One of the food specialities of Alsace is truite bleue, blue trout, which is simply boiled so fresh as to be almost alive when tossed into the water. The swift rivers provide gamey trout and they can be fished by visitors if permits are obtained at any city hall. The cooking is peppery and hearty and quite unlike that of any other French region. Munster, a strong winter cheese, is usually served with caraway seeds. Lorraine and Alsatian tarts are made with the excellent local fruits: mirabelles (small, yellow plums), cherries, pears, and so on. Each of these fruits also makes a world-renowned eau-de-vie, a strong white alcohol liqueur drunk as a digestive after a heavy meal. Lorraine is famous for quiche lorraine made only in the classical manner: with cream, eggs and bacon. Nancy has boudin (blood sausage), although this is found in the rest of France.