France

The Alsace: All Around Satisfying

The town of Colmar in AlsaceThe Alsace in France is a delightful little treat, a lush fertile patch of land that runs along-side the Rhine, hovering along the French-German border. With a long history of being overtaken by Germans and then reclaimed back by the French, the culture and language is a mixture of the two, though it's the even longer tradition of wine making that makes the region famous. The Alsace can be visited at any time of year, with many historical villages to see between the larger towns of Strasbourg and Colmar. Autumn is the peak time for visiting, though, when the plump grapes are bursting with ripeness and there is just no choice but to stop to taste the wines that are on offer.

The towns of Strasbourg and Colmar are easily accessible by train from surrounding regions and are both worth a visit for their historical old-town centres and grand Cathedrals. Colmar in particular is charming, with canals running through the main streets and many side-streets to explore and stumble across some shopping bargains. It is a manageable size to visit by foot, although there are sight-seeing trams that can take you around and point out the highlights. Accommodation in the area is relatively easy to find, although it is worth booking ahead on weekends or in peak season. You will be able to find a double room from €50-60 upwards, depending on the season.

To visit the surrounding area it is best to have access to either a car or a bicycle. There are many small villages to stop in, each with its own unique character. There are well marked signs for drivers following the so-called “wine trail”, which will take you on a meandering road through the main villages and vineyards. Although there can be a lot of visitors at peak times, parking seems to be well catered throughout, so you can drive easily from place to place. There are also good signs for cyclists and dedicated bike paths that go right through the vineyards, keeping you safely off the roads and right in the heart of the wine country. There are some hills involved, but it is not particularly challenging so most should be able to cover some ground, depending on how many wine tasting stops you choose to make. As far as bike trips in France go, the Alsace is definitely bike friendly. 

It is hard to choose a favourite village in the area, but two that are particularly worth stopping in are Eguisheim and Ribeauvillé. The former really comes to life with a floral display that involves the whole village. Every windowsill and fountain is decorated with colourful flower pots that add even more colour to the painted houses. Ribeauvillé is renowned for its annual Medieval Festival in September, which sees enthusiasts from the area donning their best medieval outfit to participate in a parade of marching bands and wagons displaying the best of medieval times, including drunken monks and wine goddesses. 

Another drawcard are the storks that nest in the area. On top of almost every cathedral and tall building is a large nest and you can often see the storks sitting atop them and looking out. These magnificent birds declined almost to the point of extinction in the area until a reintroduction program led to an increase in their numbers again. They are now a symbol of the area, with plenty of souvenirs proudly designed in their honour.

Lastly, what trip to France would be complete without trying the local culinary speciality? The Alsace is responsible for giving us Tarte Flambée, which is a bit like pizza but with a thinner, lighter crust and sour-cream as the base rather than a tomato sauce. The traditional topping is with bacon, onions and cheese, but restaurants now cater to the differing tastes of tourists and offer a wide range of toppings, including vegetarian ones. Pizza lovers will be pleasantly surprised by a "new" take on an old favourite and may be left wondering why the Italians were more successful at exporting their version to the world. But this is just one of many little treats awaiting you in the Alsace, which though a feast for the eyes, will leave your stomach satisfied too.

follow About the Author

Megan Morlok tries to make travelling a part of life. She has lived in six different countries and hopes her job as an English teacher will take her on one long working holiday around the world. As a nature lover she tries to find natural beauty wherever she goes, but also enjoys experiencing the local culture of the people.

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 Full name: French Republic

click  Population: 65.63 million (CIA, 2012)

 Capital: Paris

 Largest city: Paris

see  Area: 643,801 sq.km. (248,573 sq. mi.)

follow url  Major languages: French

 Major religions: Roman Catholic, Protestant,  Jewish, Muslim, Other 

 Monetary unit: Euro

 GDP per capita: US $35,000

here  Internet domain: .re

follow  International dialling code: +33

 Source: CIA World Factbook