This beautiful region is one of contrasts. The memories that you will carry home are of the fields of vines from which the wines of the region are produced, the medieval half-timbered houses and villages of multi-coloured houses for which planning permission has to be granted for a colour scheme change. Flowers are everywhere throughout the summer months and the house-owners take pride in their displays of geraniums and surfinias which cascade from their window boxes. The Munster Valley is full of little country inns. Many parts of the region are forested. Alsace is the smallest region of France and borders on Germany, Switzerland, Franche-Comté and Lorraine.
Alsace is also the main beer producing region of France and there are many famous breweries in the Strasbourg area such as Kronenbourg, Heineken, Kantebrau, Fischer and Météor.
The local dialect is referred to as Alsacien in French and the German dialects are Alsatian and Frankish. Called Elsässisch in Germany this dialect is a little like Swiss and not easily understood by a German speaker
Departments and MainTowns
Colmar - the centre of the Alsace wine-growing region, Colmar with its streets of Medieval half-timbered houses is beautiful and proud of the heritage it displays. The Unterlinden Museum holds many treasures from the Rhine renaissance and it is the Renaissance period that is reflected in the architecture of the city and the waterways which pass through it. There is the restored leather maker's district which has been described as "Little Venice". Colmar is considered the driest place in France and coupled with its micro-climate is an ideal climate for wine production.
Mulhouse - named after a mill surrounded by houses, Mulhouse is considered the industrial centre of Alsace. Mulhouse has many attractions including two museums - The Automobile Museum and the Railroad Museum. It is situated in the south of the region, between the Vosges mountains the River Rhine. Mulhouse textile factories were world famous in the 19th century for their prints and chintses
Strasbourg - Most famous now for being the seat of the Council of Europe and European Parliament, Strasbourg has many other facets. It has a wonderful Opera House and many museums. The Cathedral is magnificent. Strasbourg was where Guttenberg developed printing and subsequently many of Luther's works were printed there. A paradise for "gourmets" Strasbourg is well know for Foie Gras, Brandy, wine and Chocolate. Visit the Petite France quarter. Foie Gras was invented in Strasbourg.
There is a wine to suit every palate.
The Whites - many of these can be drunk as an aperitif or to accompany the appropriate foods or simply be enjoyed, served chilled, on a warm summer's day or a spring day or any day.
Pinot Blanc which is smooth and clear tasting, Riesling which is delicate and fruity, Gewurztraminer which is a prince of Alsace white wine and is light but full of flavour and body, Sylvaner, Tokay Pinot Gris are also quite heavenly.
Pinot Noir - dry red or rosé is fruity and people say reminds them of cherries
Cremant d'Alsace is a sparkling white wine, made in the same way as Champagne, very popular in France and delightful on its own or with the addition of Cassis to make a Kir Petillant.
Muscat d'Alsace which is dry but full of grape flavour.
Kirsch is a white brandy distilled from cherries
Schnapps - this is a clear and very strong drink distilled from a variety of ingredients including fruits, grains or roots such as potatoes and has no sugar or any artificial flavouring added. It was produced in quantity by home distillers under licence but these people are declining.
Munster Cheese: This a cheese made with cow's milk and said to be the "smelliest" cheese in the world! It originated in the 10th and 11th centuries. Munster can be served hot or cold, is often eaten with cumin and should be accompanied by Gewürztraminer or Kirsch.
Baeckeoffe - this is a stew made up from three different meats which have been marinated plus onions and potatoes and seasoning. This is cooked for three hours at the very least.
Flammekueche or tarte flambée - This delicious savoury tart is wafer thin pastry topped with a topping of cream, chopped bacon and onions. It is sold throughout France and is very popular.
Kougelhopf : A sweet or savoury brioche made with yeast
Sauerkraut - cabbage cooked with spices including dried juniper berries and vinegar and served with a variety of other savoury meats including sausages and pork, potatoes and other vegetables. The variations are numerous
Rhine Matelote - fresh water fish stewed in white wine
Pretzel - a knot shaped biscuit and Gingerbread:
Legends and Traditions
One of the Alsace legends is of King Dagobert who, it is said, was so enamoured with a Kuttolsheim beauty, that he built a pipe line to bring wine from this, her village, to Strasbourg. Apparently it was such a commercial success as well as a demonstration of his attraction to the lady, that Strasbourg built another pipeline for red wine!
Christmas is important to Alsace and there is still quite a strong German influence with lots of biscuits and small cakes called brédlaas and pain d'epice which are given to children on Christmas Day.
There are numerous festivals all year round including Carnivals and The Fiddler's Festival. Strasbourg is famous for its Music Festival. Colmar has an annual International Music Festival and Mulhouse hosts a Jazz Festival
Alsace is a wonderful place to spend Christmas as the region combines the traditions of both France and Germany There are numerous markets and the region is alive with lights, colour and tradition.
To understand Alsace culture, one needs to have a knowledge of Alsace history. The region was inhabited during earlier ages but the Celts made their mark here in 15,000 BC and then the Romans, invading in 58BC, developed wine by cultivating the vines. Caesar was very proud of this and made sure the region was well protected by fortifications. One of these, Argentoratum, became Strasbourg. In 750, Alsace was divided into two regions, the Nordgau and the Sundgau - equivalent to the Haut-Rhin and Bas-Rhin. One of the influences on the region has been the numerous times it has changed from being controlled by France to Germany and vice versa. In the 12th and 13th centuries Alsace prospered under the Hohenstaufen Emperors and it was in this period that many of the beautiful churches were constructed. The area went through stages of prosperity, supported the arts and culture and the influence for many years was Germanic but the Thirty Years War saw a change to this and eventually in 1648 under the terms of the Treaty of Westphalia, the Hapsburgs handed over their rights to the province to France - Alsace became French and again prospered. So French was Alsace that in 1792, La Marseillaise was composed in Strasbourg by Rouget de l'Isle.
Prosperity continued and Alsace produced a variety of crops including hops and tobacco. Fabrics were produced and Mulhouse fabrics were considered world leaders.
Then came the Franco-Prussian war and to the surprise of the people, who considered themselves more French than German, they were forced to be a part of Germany and the school children had to be taught in German not French and the newspapers were published in German.
Then back Alsace went to France with many turbulent times during which, understandably there was hope of the region being autonomous.
During World War II, in 1940, poor Alsace was again seized by Germany and the inhabitants had to speak German again. Worse still thousands of the men were made to fight for Germany when their nationality was in their hearts French. They were called the Malgré-nous" which means "Against our Will". After the war back Alsace went to being French in speech and culture. It is quite appropriate that Strasbourg is the location of the European Court of Human Rights.