Officially in France, the region of Alsace has hopped between being French and German more times over the years than the locals have had hot bäckeoffe dinners. Now influenced by both countries, it serves as a beautiful holiday destination for anyone who enjoys charming small towns and delicious cuisine – especially when the magical Christmas markets come to town.
A History Lesson
Much of this toing and froing started during the reign of Louis XIV when he decided that France should claim all the land up to the natural border of the Rhine River. This led to French forces conquering Alsace and it remained part of France until the rise of Napoleon. At this time, German nationalists were growing increasingly concerned with France’s habit of taking over German-speaking towns and villages and sought to get them back, resulting in many regions (including Alsace) returning to how they were during the Holy Roman Empire – part of Germany.
Later, during the two world wars, Alsace would change hands twice more. First, France regained control when it joined World War I, then this was reversed under Hitler’s reign during World War II. Today, it lies within the boundaries of France, with the locals speaking both languages with ease. Whilst the two nations influence everything from food to local law, many residents will say they are Alsatian first and French/German second.
The Characteristics Of Alsace
Immensely proud if its own identity, Alsace is like a rare bubble with its own culture and way of doing things. Half-timbered houses and cobbled streets create a fairytale atmosphere in many of the towns and cities, leaving images of quaint bridges stretching over peaceful canals in the mind long after you’ve left.
The region is also renowned for its winemaking. Glorious vineyards sweep across the rural areas and turn the foothills of the Vosges Mountains into ideal habitats in which to grow Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes. When it comes to bottling, Alsace takes a lead from Germany, using tall, thin bottles.
As well as tasting it on its own, you may get to sample some of the local wine if you order the aforementioned bäckeoffe. Meaning ‘baker’s oven’ in the Alsatian dialect, this hearty stew consists of pork, lamb, beef, potatoes and vegetables cooked in white wine and juniper.
Local handicrafts are an important part of the culture too and provide great souvenirs for anyone travelling to the area. You’ll find intricate pottery in the form of kitchenware, tablecloths made from a material called Kelsch and, if you’re able to get it home, practical furniture items with plenty of storage.
Where To Visit
Colmar is Alsace in a nutshell. The Pfister House is the perfect example of the half-timbered buildings found all over the region, the Unterlinden Museum reveals the unique culture and history found here, and antique shops showcase a flare for design. Where Strasbourg has the Petite France district, Colmar has Petite Venice – an effortlessly photogenic area featuring multi-coloured houses along a narrow canal.
The capital of Alsace is one of Europe’s gems with a magical Christmas market that is so often included amongst the continent’s best. Full of art and culture, it’s home to a stunning cathedral and the picturesque ‘Petite France’, where the canal is lined by traditional merchants houses. Much of Strasbourg’s Old Town lies on the Grand Ile, an island that has earnt UNESCO World Heritage status.
Formally an industrial centre famed for its production of textiles, Mulhouse is now better known for a host of fantastic museums. There are those dedicated to cars, trains, fabrics and art – all of which have a reputation that spreads further than Alsace’s borders. There are also some great natural spots, including the Little Prince Park where you’ll find farm animals, a butterfly house and a maze. Continuing the theme of Alsatian towns being compared to other places, Mulhouse was historically known as the Manchester of France.
If you would like the Fred.\ Holidays team to help you plan a trip to Alsace, we can tailor-make your holiday to include everything you need. Call us on 0800 988 3369 or contact us via the website.