Visiting Alsace, France
Alsace is the most perfect part of France full of a long tradition, beauty and fairytale villages.
I maybe bias as I am half French coming from Alsace and spent many joyest times visiting Alsace. Alsace has its our culture and world, where many of the people call themselves Alsacien then French, even speaking there own dialect which changes from district to district. Even when I speak French I am asked if I am German as I speak French with an Alsacienne accent.
History of Alsace
Alsace sits next to the Rhine River on the east sharing its borders with Germany and Switzerland and the Vosges to the west making it a land of plains and mountains with rich lands for planting produce such as the Vineyards making their famous wine but also means it has been fought over for centuries as France and German wanted Alsace for its own for over 300 years from being part of the Holy Roman Empire, Kingdom of France to joining in the French Revolution where the nation anthem "The Marseillaise" was written in Strasbourg.
The main history that has refined Alsace as its own culture started in 1870 with the Franco Prussian War (which was fought down the road from my village) where France was annexed to the German Empire. (A fact which I love about my Australian family is history was a Great Great Grandfather emigrated to Australia to escape the Franco Prussian War, so no matter what my past, I was always going to be an Alsacienne Girl). The culture of Alsace changed to being forced to speak German, just saying Bonjour incurred a fine and taking on many German ways of life until World War 1 where reclaiming Alsace was the top goal for the French. Many Alsacien's fought for the German Armies during World War 1 until 1918 when Alsace become part of France once more. The French began a Francisation Campaign making it again difficult for the people of Alsace as they were forbidden to speak any German after 48 years of speaking it and being divided into categories in regarding their ancestry to see if they where really French. But my Grandparents who were born in the 1920s in Alsace enjoyed a life full of tradition growing up speaking Alsacien at home and French only as a second language.
All this was going to change as World War 2 was announced. The Alsacien's were both Nazified and Germanized at the same time, where they were brought into the idealism through the use of Organisations and Social Clubs. The other generations where angry as they had been through this 11 years earlier. My 2 Grandfathers refused to join the German's again; 1 owning a Restaurant, he closed it down straight away instead of serving the troops and the other 1 was a Police man and he refused to work for the German's which lead to him spending a long time in a Prisoner of War Camp where he was lucky enough to be gently poisoned by a Doctor which allowed him to stay in bed for another year. The young men were forced to became Nazi Soldiers or their families would suffer, my Grandfather and Uncle were stationed in Denmark and near Russia where after the War they both walked the long way home. Every one was forced to speak German, changed their names to German names where my Grandmother went from Marie Antionette to Antonia over night. It was a hard war where they had their lands torn apart to give meals, petrol and work force to the German Armies. Alsace was returned to France in 1945.
Alsace since then has become a traditional part of the world, which has made it one of the oldest and most beautiful parts of France. In each village you will discover brightly coloured wooden homes from the 1500's with vivid Geraniums sitting on the window edges. Winding roads through villages seeing the Vineyards, the fields of wheat and sunflowers, the Stork Birds that live ontop of Steeples and the sense of the tradition through the use of Costume giving Alsace a symbol.
To get to Alsace there are 3 airports in the region; Euro Airport; Basel-Mulhouse Freiburg, Strasbourg Airport and Karlsruhe Baden-Baden Airport (just over the border in Germany). With multiple car rentals based at the airport, buses into the centre of cities and train lines.
The main cities of Alsace are well connected by train all over France using a TGV, with the trip between Paris and Strasbourg only taking 1 Hour and 50 minutes at 330kms an hour.
Visiting Alsace is best done with a car. Yes it does have a train line and some buses to villages but if you truly what to see Alsace with all it twists and turns and beautiful Village, you must do it by car. When renting a car remember that you will be driving on the right side of the road, in the left hand side of the car so for anyone who isn't use to that, it can be an adjustment especially when going through the villages if there are tiny roads. As well as most cars being manual which I personal can't drive, so if you are like me book in advance as much as possible so you can get a automatic car. (It also helps alot to drive if you are not use to driving on the right side of the road)
I think you can just manage to see Alsace in a week if you pick the highlights of the trip but after 28 years I am discovering more and more beauty and places to see I could easily spend months there. In this blog I will include the top sights to see but please have a look through my blog to see new places I add as I discover more.
Wissembourg is at the north tip of Alsace on the border of Germany. It is a old city that grew next to the Benedictine Abbey in 1354, you can still see the ramparts that guarded the city. Now days it is a beautiful city along the Lauter River with the Maison du Sel being a wonderful sight against the water and geraniums.
While in the area head over to Cleebourg for the best wine in the area with the most delicious Riesling and Cremant to drink.
Chateau de Fleckenstein-
The Chateau de Fleckenstein was built in the 12th Century by Emperors of the Holy Roman Empire. It was a fortress that stood guard on the defensive line of castles along the Vosages and North Alsace Border. The castle is now a wonderful ruin to discover. To discover more there is a 4km walk to all the 4 castles that are dotted along the edge of France through the beautiful forest then finishing off by having a delicious lunch at Gimbelhof.
The Maginot Line -
The Maginot Line project was launched in 1930 as a way of creating a defensive border after the mistakes learnt from World War 1. The Maginot Line had strong wall from Luxembourg down the Switzerland along the French Border with many bunkers full of soldiers waiting for War to begin. Sadly the German Army came through Belgium then knocked on the back door with all bunkers having to surrender without being used once for what they where built for. There are many different places to see along the Maginot Line, but for the best experience head over to Four a Chaux near Lembach, they offer tours in multiple languages with a great museum at the end.
Pottery of Alsace - Betschdorf & Soufflenheim
The Villagers of Betschdorf and Soufflenheim have been a hub for making Pottery for 100s of years.
Betschdorf has had villagers since Neolithic times, with Roman Gods statues being from in the nearby Forest. Betschdorf is known for making its blue and grey coloured pottery since the 18th Century when emigrants from Rhine brought knew techniques making the famous pottery we now know. In the village is the Musee de la Poterie which has a selection of pottery from the area dating from the Medieval Period to now all set in a traditional Alsacien home.
Soufflenheim has had pottery created since the Bronze Age where the land had a large amount of clay. Soufflenheim is know for its use of Red and warm coloured pottery that can be found all over Alsace in restaurants where your Baeckeoffe lunch has been made or your Kougelhopf cake has been baked in.
So enjoy a walk through the villages discovering all the beautiful pottery local to the area. The best shops to go to are:
Poterie Remmy M.M: 16, Rue des Potiers 67660 Betschdorf
Poterie Hausser: 24 Grand Rue 67620 Soufflenheim
Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace as well as being an official seat of the European Parliament. The city has been around since the 5th Century having a turbulent history being situated of the Rhine River. It has always been a important port on the Rhine River. Strasbourg developed through the Cathedral as the heart of the city, with palaces and traditional homes being built over time making it a beautiful old city.
There are so many things to see and do in Strasbourg, please refer to my blog for more info but here are some of the highlights to see in Strasbourg.
Notre Dame Cathedral: Do not miss the Astronomical Clock, the Rose Window and the Man who told the Architect that this post will never stand so the Architect placed the man there to watch over the Cathedral forever.
Maison Kammerzell: Being one of the oldest buildings in Strasbourg and now is a delicious Restaurant.
Palais de Rohan: Was a Bishop's Palace built in 1704, now days it is home to the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Musee des Beaux-Arts and the Musee Archeologique.
Petite France: Was once where the Fishermen, Tanners and Millers lived and is one of the most beautiful parts of Strasbourg, especially enjoying a meal at Maison des Tanneurs or at Au Pont Saint-Martin.
Ponts Converts & Barrage Vauban: Are two bridges close by to Petite France that were built as defensive lines over time. Now days Barrage Vauban is home to many statues from Strasbourg including a Panoramic Terrace on top.
Musee Alsacien: Is a great Musee about the long history of Alsace from Costumes, to life at home and to the 3 religious' (Catholic, Protestant and Jewish) living together in harmony.
Christmas Markets: The Christkindelsmarik is one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe and the most beautiful, it takes over the whole city with many squares covered in rows and rows of Christmas stalls and delicious food.
Chateau du Haut-Koeingsbourg -
Chateau du Haut-Koeingsbourg is a medieval castle built on a rocky spur. It was abandoned in 1633 during the Thirty Year War and was unused becoming a ruins in the forest with many romantic poets written about it. Kaiser Wilhelm II had it restored in 1900 to reinforce the bond between Alsacian's and Germans, today it is a wonderful castle to explore and have an understand of an old life as well as incredible views.
Obernai is a picturesque village in Alsace with everything traditional about Alsace in it, from Rampart walls guarding the city, narrow cobbles streets, a well, old wooden houses and hundreds of bright flowers. It is a wonderful village to walk around and enjoy a traditional Alsacien life. Obernai is important for wine in the area but most important for the famous Kronenbourg Beer being brewed down the road, it does taste better in Alsace.
Schirmeck is an important place for the History of Alsace, even with the name meaning 'Protected Place'. Schirmeck is in a valley between the forest mountains showing off the best views in Alsace. It makes it the perfect place for the Memorial d'Alsace-Moselle which is an incredibly detailed museum about the people of Alsace and Moselle from 1870 during the Franco-Prussian War to World War 1 to World War 2 till now, it is one of the best museums I have ever been to. Further up the mountain is the Struthof Concentration Camp that was used by the Germans during World War 2, it is the only camp that was build in France and I believe it is important to see this place to understand what happened during this period of history.
Ribeauville is a charming medieval village nested underneath 3 castles. It is in the middle of the Route des Vins with vineyards dotted all of the hills that guard this old village. The village has multiple festivals throughout the year from a Easter Festival, Wine Festival and Christmas Festival but the highlight is The Fiddlers Festival which is the oldest festival in Alsace being a tribute to Medieval Life. While there make sure you visit the Castles of Saint Ulrich, Girsberg and Haut-Ribeaupierre.
Riquewihr is a brightly coloured, flower filled, traditional house village. It is build in a fortified village on the foothills of the Vosages inbetween the vineyards. It still has most of its traditional life from the 1500s as the village has never suffered greatly from the wars over itime. It is the perfect place to stroll through the streets, enjoying the delicious restaurants, the best Macarons in France, a shop full of Witches and the best Christmas Shop. It truly is a fairytale village.
Colmar is a magical postcard city. It is the southern capital of Alsace and one of the oldest in Alsace being founded in the 9th Century. Walking through the city you can see why the makers of Disney's Beauty and the Beast used it for inspiration.
It has been made famous for Alsacien's through the works of Hansi who was a illustrator from Alsace. You can see many of his art works as Shop Signs through the old streets as well as his traditional Costumed Children in many shop windows. La Petite Venise is a must see, it has idyllic canals covered with flowers and traditional Winstub's to eat at,along with little boat rides through the canals. It is also famous for being the birth place of Auguste Bartholdi who designed the Statue of Liberty.
There is so much to discover in Colmar as you stroll down the twisted narrow cobble stone streets. It is even better during Easter and Christmas when they open multiple markets celebrating the season.
This Ancient Village of Eguisheim was developed around a octagonal castle which grew over the years. The village built up into a charming old village in between the Ramparts that you can walk through the see the picturesque old traditional houses where you think you are walking onto a film set. It is the perfect place to stroll through to discover the history of the houses and the characters behind them, the variety of bright colours and the 100s of flowers that cover the streets, not to mention the large amount of families of Storks on the roof tops. It is one of the best villages in Alsace.
Kaysersberg is a quaint medieval village inbetween foothills of vineyard with the River Weiss running through the city. On the hills over looking the village is the ruins of a castle. The area is famous for its local wine Pinot Gris which is a must to taste. It is a delightful village discover with all its beauty of wooden homes and geraniums not to mention all the delicious places to eat.
Route des Vins -
The Route des Vins starts from Marlenheim through the mountains down to Thann. There are many beautiful drives winding through the vineyards and villages. Stopping off at cellars, winstubs and drinking the most delicious Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Muscat wines not to mention the best sparkling wine in the world Cremant.
When you are in Alsace make sure you try out the local cuisine such as Tarte Flambee, you can find in my blog of What to Eat in Alsace. Keep your ear out for the Locals speaking Alsacien (Elsässisch ) which is music to my ears.
I may be an Alsacienne Girl but I can not get enough of Alsace, it is one of the most beautiful areas of France and needs to be on everyone's list of places to visit.