At the crossroads of Europe
Alsace sits on the long strip of land on the easternmost edge of France. Butting up against Germany along the Rhine River, it also shares borders with Luxembourg on its northen side and Switzerland on the southern part. This charming and beautiful region has long been a meeting place of Europe's Latin and Germanic cultures. It is therefore no wonder that its capital city, Strasbourg, was chosen as the site of the European Union's parliament.
A mountainous region
Nestled between the Alpine foothills to the south and the Vosges mountains to the west and north, the mountains of northern Alsace contain the largest continuous stretch of forest in Central Europe. They include the Haguenau forest and Pfälzer Wald. There are plenty of outdoor activities (hiking, mountain climbing and skiing) in and around the gentle forested mountains of Alsace.
Alsace occupies an area of 190 km long and only 50 km wide, but it is packed with many sites and activities, medieval villages and castles. It is popularly known as the land of storks and colourful houses sprouting geraniums. In the summertime, the villages across the region have a competition to determine which is the most flowerful village; enter any village and be overwhelmed by the plethora of geraniums growing in windowboxes on every building on every story. Weather is hot and humid on the plain during the summer and cool in the mountain meadows; autumn’s splendid colors in the vineyards are matched by the crowds of tourists that arrive for the wine harvests and festivals.
Route du vin
Meandering for some 120 km along the foothills of the Vosges, the Alsace Wine route is one of France most visited tourist tracks. And it's no wonder: add medieval villages, among the most picturesque of all of Alsace and the wine cellars that produce the crisp white wines (Riesling and Gewurtzraminer) and you have a winning combination. World-class restaurants are lined up along the "Route du Vin", which goes from Marlenheim (20 km west of Strasbourg) to Thann (about 35 km southwest of Colmar).
Scars of history
Having been fought over for centuries between France and Germany, the region still bears the mark of history. Nowhere is this more evident than through a visit of the Maginot line. Named after France's minister of war from 1929 to 1932, it was one of the major blunders of WWII. Built between 1930 and 1940, it was supposed to defend France against German invasion and was the pride of the whole nation. Yet, the German army, instead of attacking it head on, marched around it and invaded France across its unprotected northern border. Parts of the Maginot line are open to visitors, and well worth a visit.
Alsace is divided in 2 départements:
- Strasbourg: Prosperous, cosmopolitan, Strasbourg is France's great northeastern metropolitan and the site of the European Parliament
- Colmar: Capital of the Haut-Rhin departement its center is a maze of cobbled streets and Alsatian-style buildings, going back to the Middle Ages
- Mulhouse: Integrated within the cantons of Switzerland until 1798, it is a major industrial city with many world-class museums
- Ribeauvillé: Probably the most visited of all the villages along the Route du Vin, it is a picture-perfect image of an 18th century town.
- Riquewihr: 5 km south of Ribeauville, it feels more medieval, and the 16th century ramparts and the chateau are a great place to visit.