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The Alsace region of France


Regional Departments
Bas-Rhin, Haut-Rhin.

Main Towns
Strasbourg, Colmar, Mulhouse, Haguenau, Molsheim, Sélestat, Guebwiller.

Alsace is one of the loveliest areas of France and one of the most unusual. The region lies in the Northeast of France, between the River Rhine and the mountains of the Vosges, sharing borders with Germany and Switzerland. At different times in history, Alsace has been part of both France and Germany and the influences of each country is reflected in the language, food and fine wines, architecture, customs and traditions.



It is said that the Romans planted the first vines here. The wine route runs through the foothills of the Vosges in the south to Marlenheim in the north, through a series of small towns and villages huddling in the midst of endless fields of vines. There are well sign-posted lanes through the vineyards, where you also can walk and cycle. The wines produced in Alsace are almost exclusively white. Visits to the cellars to taste are welcomed and you can buy directly from the vineyards.

Large areas of the Vosges are protected nature reserves with dense forest, high alpine meadows, lakes, rare plants and wildlife and scattered farms and villages. It is easily accessible with a good network of roads and there are many chambres d'hotes bed and breakfasts, small hotels and auberges. Good walking and cycling country for summer holidays from spring until late autumn. Particularly beautiful in winter, there is excellent cross-country skiing with well marked routes and numerous downhill pistes, some with night skiing. Families are well catered for.

Strasbourg in the Haut-Rhin is the seat of the European Parliament, The European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe, a busy cosmopolitan city of great beauty with an old centre of half timbered medieval houses lining cobbled streets, squares with handsome 18th century buildings, many parks and gardens and some of the best restaurants in France. At its heart is the great Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, which ranks as one of the finest achievements of medieval art and architecture. The whole city is magical at Christmas time.

From Strasbourg, take the N4 north to Marlenheim and the wine villages of Wangen, Westhoffen, Traenheim and Imstett ( this is the most direct route, but as in the whole of Alsace, there are marvellous little lanes through beautiful countryside). All the villages have their own charm and story to tell and you can eat well anywhere.

To the south is Obernai, a delightful little town that is essential Alsace, then come the vineyards of Barr and lovely Mittelbergheim, which has been making wine for more than 1500 years. Other villages are Nothalten, Eichhofffen and Stotzheim. Next is Dambach, best explored on foot. A visit to Haut-Koenigsbourg with its massive fortress castle is a must. St-Hippolyte, Bergheim and Riquewihr are others. They say that if you haven't seen Riquewihr, you haven't seen Alsace.

Colmar is a medieval town at the centre of the vineyards that lies near the southern valleys of the Vosges in the Bas-Rhin, as unspoilt as the pretty country villages that surround it; Katzenthal and Turckheim, which still has a nightwatchman who does his rounds through the village every night at ten, Wettolsheim and Husseren-lès-Châteaux, the highest wine village in Alsace and Rouffach, west of which is Munster, home of one of the most famous cheeses in France.

Mulhouse, south of the wine growing area, is a wealthy, old university town that has ancient economic links with Switzerland. The town has several museums, including one that houses a vast collection of vintage cars and is also known for its unique textiles with distinctive oriental designs.

Food

The great variety of dishes in Alsace have evolved partly from an abundance of local produce and partly from traditional dishes brought from Poland, Germany, Russia and Austria, which have influenced Alsatian cooking.

Creamy onion tarts, generous meat pies, snails with garlic parsley butter or pureed lentils, foie gras, slices of fresh goose liver studded with truffles or sometimes wrapped in pastry, patès and terrines. Excellent fresh water fish stews. Trout, perch and pike in simple wine based sauces. Strips of carp, deep-fried and served in a great mound with lemon wedges.

Steaming plates of choucroute (pickled cabbage) and sausages. Schiffala, smoked shoulder of pork. Casseroles, chicken cooked slowly in wine and cream or pheasant, with bacon, pepperoni and juniper berries.

Munster is a strong, rich, creamy textured cheese which, at the right stage of ripeness, is one of the great cheeses of France. Fresh soft cheese, mixed with horseradish or herbs, is very local.

The region is also famous for its sumptuous cakes and pastries. Rich apple and plum tarts and cheesecakes. Kougelhopf is a moulded yeast cake with almonds and sultanas. Birewecke is a fruit bread bulging with dried pears, apples, plums, figs, raisins, almonds and walnuts which have been marinated in kirsch, then eaten a week after it has been baked.

Alsace produces many excellent beers as well as wine and a range of light, clear, scented and very powerful fruit brandies.

Activities

Numerous canals and rivers which offer canoeing, boat hire and good fishing. There are several golf courses throughout the region, many with a minimum handicap of 30-35. A small membership fee is usually required. Paragliding, hang-gliding and several flying clubs.
Fairs and markets throughout the year. Many jazz, classical and folk music festivals. Carnivals and flower festivals, spectacular Christmas markets and events. Several theme parks.
In winter there is good downhill skiing as well, with tuition available. Numerous resorts, with several that provide night skiing. Families with children are well catered for.

Climate

Hot dry summers. Cold, snowy winters with often, long sunny stretches. Protected from westerly winds by the Vosges mountain range. Lowest rainfall in France in Colmar. Good snow cover in winter.

Travel

By Air
Various international and other independent airlines operate services to Paris (Roissy, Charles de Gaulle and Orly airports) and there are regular air links to Strasbourg International Airport, Basel Mulhouse (EuroAirport) and Metz-Nancy-Lorraine airport from Paris and a host of mainly European cities.

By Road
The region has excellent road connections with Paris, the South of France, Germany and Switzerland.

By Train
From Paris (Gare de l'Est) the SNCF (French National Railways) operates frequent daily services to Strasbourg with connections throughout the region.


 
 
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