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15 Best Things to Do in Alsace

Alsace is right on the border with Germany, and having been contested by France and its neighbour for centuries, this region has been left with a character that combines the two.

This fusion of cultures goes for everything, from architecture to cuisine and language.

The ball-shaped peaks of the Vosges dominate the region to the west, causing a dry microclimate that allows vineyards with Riesling grapes to flourish.

The towns on Alsace’s Wine route are some of the quaintest you can conceive of, with timber-framed houses, canals and colourful flower arrangements.

Lets explore the best things to do in Alsace:

1. Strasbourg Cathedral

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Strasbourg Cathedral

For 227 years up to 1874 this 142-metre building was the tallest in the world.

With its high-gothic sculpted stonework and colossal scale it makes an impression on everyone who beholds it, and has been lauded by epoch-making writers Victor Hugo and Goethe.

There’s enough inside to keep the inquisitive occupied for hours, but the astronomical clock is an incredible piece of mid-19th-century ingenuity: It shows equinoxes, leap years and all sorts of astronomical details.

Study the marvellous stained-glass windows, dating between the 1100s and 1300s, and get up the tower for unbeatable views of the city.

2. Colmar

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Colmar

The medieval centre of Colmar is so cute that it’s almost impossible to take a bad photo.

It’s surprisingly large too, but you won’t mind getting lost as it seems like every cobblestone street has something beautiful to draw your attention.

That might be one of the innumerable half-timbered houses, adorable churches or a renaissance mansion with arcades.

Water also abounds here, and on the banks of the La Lauch is small district appropriately called Petite Venice.

You can rent a paddle boat from the quayside or take a 30-minute cruise to appreciate the rickety old houses brightly decorated with flowers.

3. Petite France, Strasbourg

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Petite France, Strasbourg

The city’s most endearing neighbourhood, and one of the best-preserved old quarters in Europe, is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

The classic scene here is of creaking half-timbered houses, several storeys high and reflected in the waters of a canal or the River Ill.

The whole district is woven with waterways, which in old times powered the city’s flour mills and gave a livelihood to freshwater fishermen.

There are lots of places where you can try typical Alsatian cuisine, if you don’t mind paying a little premium for this romantic location.

4. Cite de l’Automobile

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Cite de l’Automobile

For automobile aficionados the Bugatti marque has an almost mythical quality.

These high-performance vehicles made by Ettore Bugatti up to 1947 have gone down in history for their innovation and beauty.

This museum has 122 of them, which is remarkable when you consider that only 8,000 original Bugattis were ever made.

These are part of a record-breaking 500-car collection amassed in secret by the Schlumpf Brothers, local textile tycoons.

You’ll see how the Schlumpfs managed to keep their fleet of cars out of the public gaze, even storing them in this former Mulhouse spinning mill where they only a few workers and friends ever saw them.

5. Alsatian Vineyard Route

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Alsatian Vineyard Route

On the eastern slopes of the Vosges are nestled the most picturesque of the villages in Alsace’s Wine Country.

Kaysersberg, Eguisheim and Riquewihr are simultaneously heart-achingly pretty and very significant for their winemaking history.

The undulating hillsides around have comb-like vineyards growing white Riesling and Gewürztraminer grapes.

Head into the villages to taste and purchase some of the world’s best-loved Grands Crus at caves in half-timbered homes along twisting, cobblestone alleys.

Eguisheim is one you won’t forget, with three concentric circles of florid cottages wrapped around Saint-Leon Square in the centre.

6. Fort de Mutzig

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Fort de Mutzig

This enormous fort was built by Kaiser Wilhelm II in the late-19th century when Alsace was under the control of the Germans following the Franco-Prussian War.

It was built to defend Strasbourg and takes up almost the entire summit of Breuchstals Mountain.

At the time it was a cutting-edge installation, using reinforced concrete instead of masonry and equipped with 42 heavy guns, including eight howitzers that could hit targets 8.5 kilometres away.

A tour only encompasses a small part of the fort, but it will take at least two hours to see everything.

7. Mont Sainte-Odile Abbey, Obernai

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Mont Sainte-Odile Abbey, Obernai

With a delightful setting in the clouds on one of the Vosges’ most famous peaks, this nunnery demands a visit both for its heritage and panoramas of the Alsatian Plain.

The abbey has a history going way back to the 7th century and although it was damaged by fire in the 1500s it was completely rebuilt a century later.

Make a flying visit to the Chapel of Tears and Chapel of Angels and then escape to the forest to see the 11-kilometre Pagan Wall that rings the plateau at the top of Mount Odile.

Nobody’s too sure who built this wall that has 300,000 individual stones and reaches three metres in places.

8. European Parliament, Strasbourg

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European Parliament, Strasbourg

This building is vast, with a labyrinthine network of corridors, stairways and raised walkways.

As it isn’t strictly a museum you may need to register for a visit some time in advance.

The architecture is impressive without being especially beautiful, but the place’s importance lies more in what the European Parliament symbolises than what it looks like.

If you come when the EP is set here instead of Brussels you might be able to sit in on a debate and find out how this large institution operates.

9.  Cité du Train, Mulhouse

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Cité du Train, Mulhouse

The Cité du Train isn’t just any locomotive museum; it is the largest in the world, with 103 exhibits in 15,000 square metres.

A highlight, and part of a multi-million-Euro renovation at the end of the 20th century, is the “Le siècle d’or du chemin de fer” exhibition (the golden age of the railway). This recounts the social history of France’s railways; both the opulence and sudden mobility enjoyed by the wealthy and what it meant for the workers who constructed the network.

There’s a cast outdoor section with a massive set of locomotives and carriages, as well as older indoor galleries that show you exactly how the steam, diesel and electric trains functioned.

10. Écomusée d’Alsace, Ungersheim

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Écomusée d’Alsace, Ungersheim

This heritage museum managed to save some 70 traditional Alsatian houses from demolition and rebuilt them here beam by beam.

Most date to around the 1400s and go to make up the largest outdoor museum in Europe, with 100 hectares of village, farmland and forest.

As you wander from house to house you can see traditional artisans going about their trades; indeed the museum is a training centre for old-time craftsmen such as potters, wheelwrights and blacksmiths.

You can sample traditional Alsatian cuisine, while kids can jump the vintage merry-go-rounds from the 1800s.

11. Musée Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder

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Musée Lalique, Wingen-sur-Moder

René Lalique was a glass designer whose career spanned the art nouveau and art deco movements.

He designed jewellery for Cartier in the 1890s, and by the 1920s he was famed for his glass art creations.

This museum is on the site of the glassworks he established in 1921 and presents a wide assortment of Lalique’s pieces, with special attention to his glass and crystal design.

These vases, statuettes and even hood ornaments for cars are displayed in specially-lit galleries to bring out the full detail of Lalique’s immense level of craftsmanship.

12. Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Orschwiller

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Château du Haut-Kœnigsbourg, Orschwiller

One of France’s great castles, Haut-Kœnigsbourg has a most authoritative position on a rocky spur with boundless views over the Alsatian plain.

It was built in the 1100s to control the region’s wine, silver and salt routes but was wrecked by the Swedes in the 1600s during the Thirty Years’ War.

When Alsace was part of the German empire Kaiser Wilhelm II had the fortress as restored as closely as possible to its 1600s appearance.

Now the interiors are opulently furnished with medieval tapestries, while the basement holds a fantastic collection of authentic swords, armour and crossbows.

13. Museum of Printed Textiles, Mulhouse

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Museum of Printed Textiles, Mulhouse

In 1833 Mulhouse’s textile manufacturers came together to form the Societé Industrielle, and with it an archive of all the myriad designs they produced, as well as ones from a variety of historical eras and places around the world.

The archive is the basis for this attraction, which will enthral couture fans and anyone curious about industrial history.

There are six million printed patterns stored in 50,000 textile documents, ranging from everyday and practical designs familiar to everyone, to some of history’s most prestigious symbols of luxury.

14. Adventure in the Vosges

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Adventure in the Vosges

This legendary range is a dream for ramblers as the mountains have relatively shallow slopes and rounded peaks.

Vineyards and cool beech and fir forest gives way to verdant pasture at higher elevations.

There’s a dizzying array of signposted trails, but everyone should aspire to walk at least a section of the Crest Road, which runs 77 kilometres from Cernay to Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines and has farmhouse inns for overnight stays.

Electronically-assisted bikes are also taking over, and give you the advantage of fresh air and freedom of two wheels without quite as much exertion! There are rental companies across the Vosges offering these and more traditional bikes.

15. Regional Cuisine

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Tarte flambée

As with almost everything else about the region, traditional Alsatian food is a fusion of French and German flavours.

Choucroute epitomises this perfectly, with sauerkraut heated with Riesling and combined with charcuterie including ham hocks, frankfurters and morteau saucisson.

Tarte flambée is bread dough, rolled flat, topped with fromage frais, onion and lardons and baked.

Alsace is also brimming with streams and lakes, which support freshwater fish species like carp.

Around Sundgau Alsace even has a fried carp route, with villages that specialise in this delicacy that pairs extremely well with the region’s Riesling.

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