The regions of Alsace and Lorraine in the north east of France are perfect partners and share a taste for a genial outlook on life. Both celebrate Christmas in style and the festive markets of Strasbourg, Mulhouse, Metz and Nancy are famous for their gourmet delights. From the magnificent wine routes of Alsace, Lorraine’s art of tableware, medieval architecture and Art Nouveau decor, enchanting villages which nestle at the feet of castles and centres of contemporary art, these two regions offer the best of food and art…
Must-sees in Alsace
The historic centre of Strasbourg, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is like a living museum of architecture from the middle ages. Notre-Dame cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic art whose spire was for centuries, the highest in all of Christendom. Criss-crossed by canals, the irresistibly enchanting ‘Petite France’ island district is full of 16th and 17th century half-timbered houses lining the water’s edge. But it’s in December, when the dazzling Christmas markets are in full flow that you really get to enjoy the festive atmosphere inherited from the great fairs of the Middle Ages. There has been a Christmas market here since 1570 and the intoxicating aroma from the gingerbread stall at the foot of the city’s annual giant Christmas tree is simply sublime.
The wine route of Alsace has a culture side
Strasbourg makes for a great gateway to the Alsace wine route which begins at Marlenhaim, 20 kilometres (12 miles) from the city centre. Experience outstanding culture and splendid gastronomy along the way. In Molsheim, the Museum of Chartreuse, located in a historic monastery, presents an exhibition of archaeology, art and history. It’s also home to the Bugatti Foundation with a collection dedicated to the famous inventor. In Eguisheim, one of the most beautiful villages in France, the medieval architecture is stunning: the town is built helter-skelter effect around a castle. And in Kaysersberg, explore the narrow cobbled streets lined with half-timbered houses to discover its secrets, including a fabulous Romanesque church portal and a fortified bridge. Leave the beaten track to discover less well known delights. In Wingen-sur-Moder, the Lalique museum has a collection of exceptional pieces by the famous glass artist. And in Sélestat the new Humanist Library presents a literary treasure trove.
1000 years of history in Colmar
The city of Colmar is an absolute must-see. Tour this ‘little Venice’ from a boat to admire the gorgeous buildings that line the river. On dry land, discover 1000 years of history. The Unterlinden Museum where, a former 13th century convent, houses the Isenheim altarpiece by Grünewald, a masterpiece of late Gothic art, among its many treasures.
In Mulhouse experience a change of scenery with its vibrant street art and tramline artwork “Arches” by artist Daniel Buren. This old textile town is at the height of contemporary art. The city’s industrial automobile origins are clear: the Cité de l'Automobile is the largest car museum in the world and there is also the Cité du Train museum for railway enthusiasts.
The Alsace Wine Route
Over 170 kilometres (105 miles) long, travelling time along the length of the Alsace Wine Route varies according to your appetite. Along the way enjoy delicious wines like Riesling and Gewurztraminer. More than 50 grands crus, wines from seven grape varieties and many different beers are best enjoyed with a nibble on a pretzel, a local favourite. Wind down in a winstub, a traditional style bistro and savour sauerkraut or dishes flavoured with Munster, the king of Alsatian cheeses. Or relax in the vineyards of Domaine Sohler Philippe and enjoy a meal accompanied by a Grand Cru Muenchberg. In winter, the snack you absolutely must try is spicy gingerbread, a legendary speciality of Alsace.
Nancy, the city whose architecture was influenced by King Stanislas after whom the glorious Place Stanislas is named, is the birthplace of Art Nouveau. Metz also has an impressive architectural footprint: the 6,500 square meters (7,100 square yards) of stained glass which decorates its cathedral could serve as an encyclopaedia on the art of glasswork. The Imperial District is full of rich architecture, while the bold Chinese hat style roof of the Center Pompidou-Metz is a masterpiece of modern design. Belfort symbolizes the wealth of military architecture from the Middle Ages to the nineteenth century including Vauban’s remarkable Citadel.