Travel Guide Europe France Alsace

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Introduction

Strasbourg

Strasbourg

© All Rights Reserved JOSE_MARIA

In the northeast of France lies the region of Alsace. It has two departments: Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin. The capital of the region is Strasbourg. During the centuries it has been a disputed area between Germany and France, and many fights have been fought here. For tourists the area is famous for its wines, and the typical old towns like Riquewihr.

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History

Alsace has changed nationalities many times in the course of history between France and Germany. Colmar has been French for most of its modern history, however its population used to be predominantly German. It was annexed to France after Germany lost WWI and during WWII Hitler reclaimed it. It is quite shocking to see photographs from the time with Nazi flags hanging through the streets.

A reaction to Nazi cultural suppression led to the Frenchification of Alsace (and Colmar with it). Notwithstanding, you will still hear a lot of German spoken in Colmar, some because of the numerous tourists from neighbouring Germany and Switzerland, but some spoken by native Alsatians, speaking their German dialect called Alsatian. Alsatian is the local minority language, although it is endangered, with ever fewer speakers among the young generations. Alsatian is not identical with standard German, but it is to a certain extent mutually intelligible. In some parts of the city, as well as in Strasbourg, street signs are written in French with Alsatian German underneath. Among the minority languages of France, Alsatian German is the most enduring (followed by Breton, Occitan, Basque and Catalan). Many Alsatians will be delighted to be addressed in German rather than in French (though not all of them). If you do not speak French, German should be the next preference. English is unfortunately not widely spoken; however, if you politely address someone in French, they may make an effort to help you despite language barriers.

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Geography

The region is located in the northeast of France, bordering in the east to Germany, and in the south to Switzerland. The border with Germany is the Rhine river, that flows through a huge valley in this area. This valley makes up the most eastern part of the region, while in the western part, you will find the mountains of the Vosges, peaking at 1,426 metres at its highest point (Le Grand Ballon).

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Departments

  • Haut-Rhin, translated to English: High Rhine, the southern part of the region,
  • Bas-Rhin, translated to English: Low Rhine, the northern part of the region.

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Sights and Activities

Riquewihr

Riquewihr is a small place, which is known for its historical architecture. The place more or less still looks like it did 400 years ago.

Castle Haut Koenigsburg

Castle Haut-Koenigsburg

Castle Haut-Koenigsburg

© All Rights Reserved Niels1303

Dating back to the 12th century the Castle Haut Königsburg has been destroyed twice before being rebuilt by the emperor Wilhelm II between 1900 and 1908. Wilhelm II´s goal was to create a castle that would laud the qualities of the medieval period in Alsace and more generally the qualities of German civilization. He hoped it would reinforce the bonds between Germans and Alsatians who had been only recently incorporated into the German Reich. The medieval expert Bodo Ebhardt was in charge of the restauration work. Castle Haut Königsburg is one of the most visited attraction in the region of Alsace. It is located 26 kilomtres north of Colmar, 55 kilometres south of Strasbourg and 12 kilometres west of Sélestat at about 700 metres altitude.

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Getting There

By Plane

1. EuroAirport Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg (IATA: BSL) is the only airport in Europe that is jointly operated by three countries. It is located entirely on French soil, but has excellent connections to Basel (in fact, much better than to farther-away Mulhouse and Freiburg).
Although the airport is on French soil, there is a special Swiss customs area connected to Basel by a border road. The airport receives flights from all major European airports, a few intercontinental flights and numerous smaller cities in Europe. Easyjet flies to/from Berlin, London, Porto, Alicante, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bordeaux, Cagliari, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Istanbul, Lisbon, Madrid, Málaga, Marrakech, Naples, Nice, Olbia, Palma de Mallorca and Rome. Places served further away include Algiers, Montreal, Istanbul and Reykjavik, though most cities are located in central, western and southern Europe. The airports connects to the A3 Motorway. Basel's BVB bus No. 50 connects the Swiss sector of the airport to the Bahnhof SBB, which is the main Swiss and French railway station in Basel. French Distribus bus No. 11 connects the French sector of the airport to the Saint-Louis railway station.
2. Strasbourg Airport (SXB) offers flights with Air France and a number of other airlines operating flights throughout west and south Europe, as well as Tunis, Casablanca and Algiers.

By Train

From within France
LGV Est is the high speed line that serves the region. The TGV from Paris (Gare de l'Est) serves all the major stations of the region in under two hours. In addition to city centre stations, two TGV stations serve the rural areas in the west of the region: 1 Champagne-Ardenne TGV (near Reims) and 2 Meuse TGV (close to Verdun). The line also offers connections from most other parts of France, including Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Marseille, Poitiers and Tours). At 320 km/h, you'll be on the fastest train in Europe!

From Belgium and Luxembourg
EuroCity operates trains from Brussels (Midi / Zuid), Namur and Luxembourg to Strasbourg and Mulhouse. Meanwhile, the Luxembourg to Paris TGV stops at Metz, Meuse and Champagne-Ardenne en route. There are also a number of local cross-border services operating through the Ardennes.

From Germany
A mixture of SNCF TGVs and Deutsche Bahn ICEs operate from Frankfurt (Hauptbahnhof), Karlsruhe, Munich and Stuttgart to Strasbourg. Additional ICEs operate from Frankfurt and Saarbrucken to 3 Lorraine TGV, situated more or less equidistant between Nancy and Metz (though not especially close to either - 35 km in fact, the classic local government compromise that ends up suiting nobody). There are a number of local cross-border services as well.

From Switzerland
TGV and Intercités trains (both SNCF) operate from Zurich and Basel through Alsace, generally stopping at Mulhouse, Colmar and terminating at Strasbourg.

From the United Kingdom
Eurostar offers combined tickets from London (St Pancras), Ebbsfleet and Ashford to many cities in Grand-Est, changing at Lille (Europe). While it may seem like a hassle changing trains, this service is both cheaper and quicker than you might think; for instance London to Strasbourg for as little as £50 return can be accomplished in around 5 hours. Generally, the time sails by as quickly as the countryside outside, and you get to travel city centre to city centre, without facing the questionable pleasures of a couple of airports in between.

From Eastern Europe
If you already thought Grand-Est was pretty well-connected by rail, you ain't seen nothing yet! Russian Railways' Moscow to Paris service takes seeing Europe by train to another level. Passing by Minsk, Warsaw, Berlin, Hanover and Frankfurt, the train stops in Strasbourg before going on to Paris. Needless to say, it's a sleeper service, and from Moscow you'll spend two nights on board (to be precise, 32 hours), but presumably if you're in love with the romance of crossing a continent by train, this will appeal to you. Count on spending around €250 for a second class (4 person) berth, or €360 for a first class (2 person) berth. Departs every Wednesday from Moscow Belorussky station.

By Car

The region is well-connected by road. The A4 autoroute links Paris to Reims, Metz and Strasbourg, while the A5 links the capital to Troyes and the southern half of Grand-Est. The A26 links Calais and the north to Reims (270 km from Calais) and Troyes (400 km), and this route is used by so many British drivers, that the whole highway is called the Autoroute des Anglais. Motorists from Belgium will pass through Luxembourg and enter France north of Thionville on the E25, while those driving from Germany will generally take the Saarbrucken - Forbach route (E50). Pan-European roads use green route indicators alongside the French national routes' red indicators. There are any number of roads crossing all of Grand-Est's foreign borders, and the vast majority will be unmanned by any sort of frontier force. The Schengen Agreement permits open borders across much of Europe, but recent (2016) security concerns have caused some checks to be reinstated.

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Getting Around

By Train

Apart from the TGV, which links the region's main cities, the rest of the network is slower, provided by TER Grand Est.

By Car

The region is well-connected by road, with the following motorways (autoroutes) being particularly useful:

A4 (east-west): Île-de-France, from Paris, Reims (A26/A34), Champagne, Verdun, A31, Metz, the Vosges, A35, Strasbourg
A5 (east-west): Île-de-France, from Paris, Troyes, A26, A31
A26 (north-south): Hauts-de-France, from Calais, Reims (A4/A34), Champagne, Troyes, A5
A31 (north-south): from Luxembourg, A4, Metz, Nancy, Vittel, A5, Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, to Dijon
A34: Reims (A4/A26), Charleville-Mézières, the Ardennes, Belgium, towards Luxembourg Province
A35: (Rhine Valley, north-south): Germany, from Karlsruhe, A4, Strasbourg, the Vosges, Colmar, Mulhouse, Switzerland, towards Basel

The majority of the region's autoroutes are operated by two private companies, so toll charges apply.

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Language

Slightly-accented French is the everyday language spoken by everyone, young and old. The government maintains that French is the only official language of the Republic and largely ignores the existence of all others, so local languages are generally dying out across France, with this region as no exception.

Nonetheless, regional languages are still spoken. Alsatian (Elsässerditsch) is a dialect closely related to Swiss German and Alemannic, still spoken in Alsace and south-eastern Lorraine. Lorraine Franconian (francique or platt) is spoken mainly near the Belgian and German borders. Both Alsatian and Franconian are non-standardised dialects of German containing many French loan words, spoken mainly by older inhabitants in the countryside. East of the Vosges and near the German border, you'll notice many placenames are partly or fully Germanic. The rest of the region is resolutely Francophone; Champenois and Lorrain are the dialects of French spoken by some in the Champagne and Lorraine, respectively.

Other than that, English and standard German are worth a try, especially if you don't speak French. Travellers in cities and major tourist spots should have no trouble communicating without a knowledge of French, but it's always a good idea and good manners to learn a few basic phrases.

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Eat

Alsace is known for its pastries. Kugelhopf is a well-known cake similar in shape to the American Bundt cake and has raisins with powdered sugar on top. You can buy traditional ceramic Kugelhopf pans in any tourist shop with recipes to make at home. During Easter, small cakes molding from lamb-shaped pans are made. They are served with a ribbon around their necks and topped generously with powdered sugar. Macarons are also found in specialty sweet shops and also in the frozen isle of the supermarket (try the Monoprix in the center of the town), which can be eaten straight from the box frozen. Note that they are not like American macaroons (coconut haystacks) but are the French version composed of two small, pastel colored cookies made from almond flour (which has a melt-in-your-mouth quality) with an icing in between. In sweet shop you will also find Meringues, made from whipped egg whites and sugar, dyed in pastel colours and then baked. Make sure to try the tarte aux poires, which is a pear tart with an eggy custard filling with baked pears.

Tarte flambée (Flammekueche in Alsatian, or Flammkuchen in German) is the Alsatian equivalent of pizza, though extremely different. Traditionally, it is made of a thin layer of dough, covered with crème fraîche (rich sour cream), cheese, onions, and bacon (lardons in French). It is baked very quickly in an extremely hot oven so that it gets crispy. Legend has it that the dish was a solution to the extra scraps of dough left over from the bakers. Other regional specialties include the Black Forest cake (with raspberry, cream and sponge) and quiche Lorraine.

Alsace is also famous for their Bretzels (pretzels in English). They are fresh baked and soft with generous amounts of salt. Sometimes you can find them with melted cheese on top accompanied by smoked salmon or ham.

Alsace is also famous for their Sauerkraut (or choucroute in French). This is fermented cabbage served hot with boiled potatoes and a variety of meats. Choucroute aux Poissons (with fish) is becoming more widespread.

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Drink

Alsace is a traditional area of wine production and its wine is widely esteemed in France and outside it. In Christmas time try the cooked orange juice with honey and spices and also the spiced (or mulled) wine served hot in many of the creperies or bars. Alsatian wine is very unique and similar to some German wines. A popular tour is to take the Routes des Vines and sample the wineries along Alsace. Two well known wines that comes from Alsace are Muscat (fairly sweet) and Gewürztraminer (very sweet, more so than wines of the same name produced in other regions). In any of the creperies, they will serve an apple cider, slightly alcoholic. Doux is the sweet version and Brut is the dry version. This is not an Alsatian specialty, all of the ciders come from Brittany on the Northern Coast, but it seems all French people enjoy crepes and cider so authentic restaurants catering to these foods are widespread. Eau de Vie is a very strong alcohol, similar to a vodka but produced from fruit, which gives it a distinct flavor. It was originally produced by the monks of the region. Look for the Eau de Vie de Mirabelle, which is a regional plum unique to Alsace.

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Contributors

as well as Herr Bert (10%), Niels1303 (2%), Sander (1%)

Alsace Travel Helpers

  • Rhmyers

    I have been here three times and have relative there:

    o On the Rue di Vin ( Wine Road) 70 miles of fortified villages 5 miles apart with each having over 5 "Caves" tasting rooms.)

    o Many Casells medeval
    o 1 1/2 hours form Black Forest Germany
    o 1 1/2 hours to Roman Baths of Baden Baden
    o 2 hours to Bazel Switzerland

    Best combination of German and French Wine and Cusine... anywhere !!
    Understanding the French people mmost important.

    Ask Rhmyers a question about Alsace

This is version 13. Last edited at 15:12 on Sep 6, 19 by Utrecht. 9 articles link to this page.

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