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Alsace

Alsace

Alsace, sometimes referred to as ‘the crossroads of Europe, is the smallest region of mainland France. It is situated on the eastern fringes of the country along the borders with Switzerland and Germany. Geographically it is located between the Upper Rhine in the East and the Vosges mountain range to the West. This area is a land of forests and lakes and the region as a whole is famous for its many picturesque villages, churches and castles.

As part of Alsace-Lorraine, during the 19th and 20th century, the area frequently alternated between French and German control but it finally became a permanent part of France after WW2. As a result the architecture, cuisine and language still retain a strong Franco-Germanic cultural blend. Many place names are of German origin and an historic Alsatian dialect based on German is spoken to this day. French is now dominant but is spoken with a pronounced regional accent.

The climate is described as semi-continental with hot summers and cold dry winters. The low rainfall is due to the protection of the Vosges Mountains and is of great benefit to wine production. The town of Colmar is one of the driest places in France.

The Alsace region is quite densely populated. It has a number of important industries and is the second most productive region of France. Areas of economic activity include wine production, forestry, automobile industry – not to mention hop growing and brewing. Half the beer produced in France comes from this region. A large proportion of the companies operating here are, not surprisingly, foreign.

Transport links throughout the region are very good. The A35 autoroute links the main towns and there is an excellent rail network centred on the city of Strasbourg. There are two international airports at Strasbourg (Entzheim) and the EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg. The region also benefits from 2000 kilometres of cycle routes.

Strasbourg is the largest city and regional capital. It is of importance as the headquarters of the European Parliament and of a number of other international organisations. It is also known for its great architecture and varied cuisine.
One of the most interesting areas is the historic centre or Grande Ile, now a designated UNESCO World Heritage site. Here you will find the sandstone gothic cathedral of Our Lady.

The city will appeal to art lovers, having several galleries and museums. The Musee des Beaux Arts contains paintings by a number of well known artists. Another characteristic feature is the number of lovely parks and gardens. It is generally considered very easy going in comparison to other large cities which makes it a relaxed as well as an interesting place to visit.

The architectural style of Alsace shows a strong Flemish influence. Traditional houses are timber-framed with flat tiled roofs, said to be so they can be easily moved in times of flooding. Some of the best examples are to be found in Old Town of Colmar, situated on the Alsation wine route or ‘Route des Vins d’ Alsace’. This well-preserved town which dates back 800 years includes an area crossed by canals known as ‘Little Venice’.

You can also visit the Unterlinden Museum which houses a prestigious collection of historical and modern works of art. In addition, Colmar is home to the largest commercial festival in France- the Foire aux Vins d’Alsace, established in 1947.

Another medieval attraction of the region is the Chateau de Haut-Koenigsbourg in Orschwiller in the Vosges which is open all year round. Originally built as a fortress it now affords visitors panoramic views over the surrounding landscape.
The town of Munster plays host to the famous Munster Jazz Festival. This annual international event which takes place in May was founded in 1988 and attracts visitors and musicians from a number of countries. The town is also famed for its pungent but mouth-watering ‘Munster’ cheese.

The cuisine of Alsace generally is strongly influenced by its Germanic associations and many dishes have names of German origin. The emphasis is on pork in a variety of forms. Traditional dishes include baeckoffe, flammenkeuche and choucroute fleischnacka, a type of sauerkraut served traditionally with pork. Bredala are biscuits and small cakes given to children at the end of the year.

Wine production is of great importance in the region. Vins d’Alsace, is a good quality dry Riesling, a white Germanic- style wine. The prolific beer production includes internationally famous brands such as Karlsbrau and Kronenbourg Heineken.

The stork is a symbol associated with the Alsace region and is frequently mentioned in children’s stories. Storks have recently grown in number and you will see their nests, built in high places all over this uniquely different part of France.

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