Alsace Tourism – Visit the Alsace region of France

Alsace is the 4th most visited region in France and was recently voted by Lonely Planet as one of the “top hot spots” to visit in 2010. The Lonely Planet guide says that “with a very rich gastronomic heritage, Alsace has all the cards in hand to make the perfect holiday destination”. Alsace is one of the most beautiful and distinctive regions of France and is located in the north-east of France.

France is full of the things that make for a great vacation: great cities, stunning countryside, mountains, great wine, and a rich history. One small region of France where you can see a super concentrated version of all these things is Alsace. Many people have heard of Alsace, and of Alsatian dogs, and they know that it’s near Germany and that Germans had a big role in the history of the region, but the story is far more complex and rich. And the region itself is packed with all the things that make for a wonderful European vacation.

A long, narrow région that borders on Germany and Switzerland, Alsace is beautifully situated between the Rhine to the east and the Vosges mountains to the west. Densely populated since the early 19th century, Alsace is full of picture-postcard villages, castles, and churches.

Strasbourg is the major city in Alsace, and is in practice considered the co-capital city of the European Union because it is the official seat of the European Parliamnent. The entire city center of Strasbourg was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, and the city of around a half-million people is easily navigable by bicycle, on foot, and with the city’s street-level tram network.

While “official” ownership of Alsace changed hands multiple times since the 1600s, the Alsatian people remained very much their own. The traditional Alsatian language, which will sound nothing like French or German to most ears, is still taught in schools and is spoken by almost 40% of the adult population. However, French is the official language, with English widely spoken as a second language.

Because of the dynamic heritage of this little slice of European culture, Alsace boasts many beautiful churches, including the cathedral at Strasbourg, as well as those at Andlau, Thann, and Lautenbach. Castles abound too, including the Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, as well as Wasigenstein, Grand Geroldseck, Wasenbourg, and several others.

Alsace has dry, cold winters and hot summers, with annual precipitation of only 550 mm due to the protection from precipitation provided by the Vosges Mountains. The climate is therefore ideally suited for the wonderful Alsatian wines. The most famous wines from the region are its dry Rieslings and its Gewürztraminer. Alsace is also France’s main beer-producing area.

Alsatian cuisine is strongly influenced by German cuisine and uses pork extensively. Portions are generous, and Alsatian is one of the richest and most distinctive cuisines in France. Sauerkraut, or sûrkrût, as it is called here, is symbolic of Alsatian cuisine, made from finely shredded cabbage layered with juniper and salt and fermented in wooden barrels. It is the perfect complement to the pork-based dishes of the region. Foie gras is another famous regional dish.

For those looking for an excellent European vacation spot with a wonderful mix of French and German influences, or for those staying in Paris who would like a quick overnight trip in a totally different part of France, Alsace is the perfect choice. The amazing and unique combination of Alsatian history, wine, and modern culture gives this small region of France everything novice or experienced travellers could want in a vacation.

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