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Alsace lies in the north east of France between the Rhine and the mountains of the Vosges, sharing borders with Germany and Switzerland. Alsace has at different times in history been a territory of both France and Germany and the influences of both countries are reflected in its language, architecture, customs and traditions.
The region lies in the north east of France between the Rhine and the mountains of the Vosges, sharing borders with Germany and Switzerland. Alsace has at different times in history been a territory of both France and Germany and the influences of both countries are reflected in its language, architecture, customs and traditions.
Strasbourg is the seat of the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights and the Council of Europe and therefore both the regional and European capital. It is a busy cosmopolitan city of great beauty with an old quarter of half timbered mediaeval houses lining narrow streets, squares with handsome 18th century buildings and many parks and gardens. Dominating the city is the great Romanesque/Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, which ranks as one of the finest achievements of mediaeval art and architecture.
Mulhouse is an old university town, the second largest in Alsace and has many museums, including one that houses a vast collection of vintage cars. It is known for its unique textiles with distinctive oriental designs.
Colmar lies near the southern valleys of the Vosges and is the wine capital of the region. The old town has somehow survived and preserved its essence and charm and is worth visiting. Its agreeable climate and situation makes it an ideal base from which to explore the surrounding country.
It is said that the Romans planted the first vines here. The wine route runs through the foothills of the Vosges from Marlenheim to Thann 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 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 producers.
Large areas of the Vosges are protected nature reserves with dense forest, high alpine meadows, peat bogs, rare plants and wildlife and scattered farms and villages. It is easily accessible with a good network of roads and there are many small hotels and fermes-auberges, working farms where you can eat and sometimes stay. Good hiking and cycling country from spring until late autumn. Particularly beautiful in winter, there is excellent cross-country skiing with well marked routes, dog-sleighs and numerous pistes.
The great variety of regional dishes 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. 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 famous for its 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 and a range of light, clear, scented and very powerful fruit brandies.
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. 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.
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.