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Alsace: Uniquely Alsatian … An Intriguing Marriage of two Cultures!

Updated: Jan 1

Overview

The Grand Est (Great East) was previously known as Alsace, and lies on the west bank of the river Rhine, between the Rhine and Vosges Mountains. It shares borders with Germany to the north and east, Swiss-German-speaking Switzerland to the south and Lorraine (France) and Franche Comté to the west.


The “super region” of the Grand Est was created in 2016 and it is the new name for what was previously known as the Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine (ACAL) region. It includes the following departments (prefectures): Ardenne, Aube, Marne, Châlons-en-Champagne, Haute-Marne, Meurthe-et-Moselle, Meuse, Moselle, Bas-in, Haut-Rhin and Vosges.


A Brief & Complicated History


The region of Alsace changed hands so many times that it’s best to just give you a brief introduction so you can get a better understanding of the region’s history, culture and language that is quite unique in a number of ways.


In a Nutshell ...


Alsace was first settled by Celts and Germanic-speaking tribes during the Paleolithic period; it was then ruled by Rome for a short period, until the Alemanni (Germanic) tribe ousted them. The region then flirted between France and Germany until after WWII in 1945, when Alsace-Lorraine was returned to France.


Today, the region is subject to some laws that are significantly different from the rest of France, known as the “local law”. Many of the pre-war governmental policies that clashed with the region’s policies have been modified.


Although France still require French to be the only official language of the region, the Alsatian language (a German dialect) is again being promoted by local, national and European authorities as an element of the region’s identity. While Alsatian is taught in schools, German is taught as a foreign language.


We all know that most foreigners associate France with exceptional ne and outstanding champagne production, but very few know that it has a very interesting beer-brewing history. However, Alsace is where most of the beer brewing takes place and it accounts for 60% of the country’s production.


Alsace has been producing quality beers since 1260 and the region is currently experiencing a revival of the beer industry. More than forty brasseries have joined a handful of the remaining big breweries in an effort to re-vitalize the traditional beer industry of the region.


Meteor, a family-run business located in Hochfelden, has been brewing beer since 1640. In Obernai, Kronenbourg is the largest brewery in France. In Saverne, Licome, the German Karlsberg Group, produces 100% Alsatian beer. Last but not least, Schiltigheim, known as the “city of brewers”, produces the Heineken brand which continues to brew Fischer beer, a favorite among French tipplers. Do you recognize some of the names? I’m not a beer-drinker, but I certainly do!


So if you’re more into beer than wine and thought that you will not be able to slake your thirst with your favorite tipple, take heart! If pub-crawling is your scene, you have 40 craft breweries and micro-breweries to choose from, as most of the breweries also offer some very interesting beer tours.


The family-run business of Meteor, Villa Meteor, offers you an interesting foray into the family’s traditional beer-brewing secrets. How about turning your beer-tasting session into a real adventure? Combine the different beer flavors with samplings of the region’s most delicious traditional dishes to get a real taste of the Alsatian way of doing beer.


For wine connoisseurs, the Alsace Wine Route will be of particular interest as it combines some very interesting wine tours with visits to some of the most charming villages and towns in Alsace. The Route des Vins d’Alsace was created in 1953, and there are 67 villages and towns along the 170 km route. This gives you a wide variety of opportunities to explore the region’s historical and cultural heritage during your wine tour. The route boasts 38 wine trails and there are a number of guided tours during July and August.


Thousands of acres of vineyards characterize the slopes of the Vosges, and the iconic and magnificent medieval villages and castles offer the cultural tourist tremendous insight into this beautiful region of Alsace. There are numerous hiking and cycling routes which will give you extraordinary access to some of the most magical towns and villages along the routes. This is your perfect opportunity to get close to nature and experience its incredible wildlife close up.


Although Colmar, Ammerschwihr, Guebwiller, Turckheim and Ribeauvile are mostly known for their wine fairs and festivals, there are a number of winstubs (wine cellars) which offer wine-tastings for every palate.


Judging by this “oh so” complicated history and its wealth of historical and cultural heritage, the uniqueness of the region lies mostly in the Alsatian language and culture which the inhabitants are very proud of. And wherever people display a deep pride in their cultural heritage, you are bound to experience the most amicable and welcoming atmosphere.


On the question whether the inhabitants veer more toward Germany or France … well, that’s something you’ll have to explore and discover personally; when you visit this stunningly beautiful little corner of France to experience its unique cultural heritage!


Bas-Rhin & Haut-Rhin Departments


Both of these departments are characterized by a rich fertile plain in the east, the flat terrain of the Rhine valley, and the area between the Vosges Mountains in the west.

The Bas-Rhin (Lower Rhine) has Strasbourg as its capital, and as the name indicates, the region lies downstream along the Rhine River.


What makes this region one of the most important territories in Europe is that the Council of Europe and the European Parliament has its seat in elegant Strasbourg.

The Haut-Rhin region is located upstream of the Rhine River with Colmar as its capital. The largest city in the region is Mulhouse, well-known for its car manufacturing industry.


Haguenau


Musee du Baggage

The museum is located in the former Banque de France, and the objects presented come from the astounding collection of Jean-Philippe and Marie Rolland. The couple acquired their collection from dealers, bargain hunters, antique dealers and private individuals across the world.


The collection gives you insight into the evolution of the transport industry and the particular luggage of choice for travelers over decades. Some of the unique pieces of luggage bear the signature of luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Goyard and Moynat, to name but a few.


This unusual museum is a journey where you can well imagine yourself traveling through the most beautiful countries with some of the world’s most famous and also not-so-famous people. Stretch your imagination further – consider the items that were carefully packed in the owners’ luggage and the secrets attached to them to get a better understanding of their lifestyle.


The museum has a collection of about 600 travel-related items dating from the end of the 18th century to the 1960’s. The collection includes suitcases, trunks and chests, as well as hotel labels and posters.


If you want to learn more about the intricate task of restoring previously-owned luggage, you can attend a demonstration at the Rolland workshop. The process involves the cleaning of the leather, leather graft, and the treatment with pigments to give the item its original look. So instead of looking like a brand new item, it seems worn.


Demonstrations are held during special Heritage Days in September from 14:00 to 18:00; they are hosted by the Rolland’s themselves. They also offer guided tours led by experienced local guides from Monday to Sundays which lasts for 90 minutes throughout the year.


The ingenuity that went into the creation of some trunks is sure to impress you. Like those that were specially designed for horse-drawn carriages, boat travel, or plane travel, and not to mention those who used them. They were used by itinerant merchants, bourgeois, artists, musicians and even those who just loved the idea of a picnic lunch.


You can well imagine how people traveling through a remote area during a certain era appreciated that they owned at least a nifty trunk; one that allowed them to have a picnic lunch and a cup of their favorite tea or coffee brew in the middle of nowhere


Musee Historique de Haguenau

The museum is located in a neo-Gothic building dominated by a large square tower. It houses collections dating from the pre-historic era to the 20th century. The collections illustrate the history of the town since its founding in the 12th century and the history of the surrounding region, from prehistory to modern times.


You can explore a rich archaeological collection from the Bronze and Iron Ages to give you insight into the culture in the Forest of Haguenau as you view the objects from the Gallo-Roman period.


Some of the ceramics featured are creations from one of the most prominent families in the town, which includes an outstanding collection of Art Nouveau and Art Deco glassware.


Poterie Michel Streissel


Make your last stop at the pottery workshop of Poterie Michel Streissel where you can learn more about this art from the Ernewein-Haas family. The family has been master potters for generations, and is known to have received the exclusive right to extract Soufflenheim clay in 1165 by Emperor Frederic Barbarossa.


They create beautifully crafted traditional Alsatian pottery that is hand-painted and unique to the Alsace region. This is another opportunity to shop for some sophisticated items that are well-known and used by chefs the world over.

You can book a visit to the workshop which is open from Monday to Saturday from 09:00 – 12:00, and in the afternoon from 14:00 to 18:00 to watch how these beautiful items are created. The workshop is also open on a Sunday from 11:00 to 12:00 and afternoons from 14:00 to 18:00.


Just make sure you book an appointment with them if you’re traveling in a group. You can contact the tourist centre to get more information.


Brewery Meteor Hochfelden


Your visit to Poterie Michel Streissel should be well before lunch so you can take a well-deserved break and have a great beer accompanied by lunch at Villa Meteor in Hochfelden. Hochfelden is about a thirty to forty-five-minute drive from Haguenau.


The brewery is the oldest family brewery in Alsace, and during the tour you will be guided through the six stages of beer production which will last about 90 minutes as already explained before. Park yourself in the terrace area where you can enjoy a delicious lunch after you’ve tasted some of the family’s tasty beers in the on-site pub.


Musée du Pays de la Zorn


Take a brisk 5-minute walk to visit the Zorn Country Museum which is not far from the Villa Meteor to get ready for the rest of the afternoon’s outings.


The museum is located in the former synagogue which has been restored and converted into a charming museum. The former Jewish school and ritual bath (Mikve) can also be visited while there. The Jewish history is presented through artefacts, costumes, furniture and documents that records the everyday life of the people from the area, the history of the tile workers and potters, as well as that of the breweries of the area.


Book an appointment here for the museum to be opened for you: archemusee@gmail.com or contact them at: 03 88 89 04 52 if in the area.


Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg

Hopefully you’ll still have time to take a drive of about an hour and a half to the storied Chateau du Haut Koenigsbourg to round off your day’s exploration. If not, make it a point to include it in your itinerary for the next day.


This famous castle complex is vast and impressive. It is located 757 metres above the Alsace plain and its location offers extensive and stunning views of the surrounding area. Building of the castle by the Hohenstaufens was first recorded in 1147. The castle’s name was changed to Koenigsbourg around 1157.


The castle has been a witness to many European conflicts and rivalries between powerful dynasties since the 12th century. This also means that the castle went through periods of destruction and restoration a number of times, with each new owner leaving their personal mark on the castle’s history.


Take your time to explore the castle’s furnished living quarters where you will discover collections of medieval weapons and the most extraordinary furniture items relating to the different periods of the castle’s occupation. You’ll obviously end your visit at the top of the grand bastion where you can appreciate the spectacular view of the Vosges Mountains, the Alsace plain, as well as the Black Forest.


Your next stop should be at the castle’s bookshop to browse through the books and the castle’s shop where you can purchase souvenirs. You can then make your way to the Restaurant Pavilion Le 757 and the Tavern to enjoy a meal while reminiscing and sharing your thoughts with your group about the castle’s history. The restaurant and tavern’s closing hours are the same as that of the castle.


Visiting hours are as follows:

· January, February, November and December: 09:30 – 12:00; 13:15 – 16:15.

· March and October: 09:30 – 17:45.

· April, May and September: 09:15 – 18:00.

· June, July and August: 09:15 – 18:45.


Check opening hours before visiting as they may change during certain periods. Access to the castle is up to one hour before closing time. Also check out the group tours which come with a knowledgeable guide who might just reveal some interesting ‘secrets’ of the castle’s previous owners.


Colmar

The magnificent main city of the Haut-Rhin department of Grand Est will let you wax lyrical when you explore it. Known as the ‘Little Venice’ of France, it has all the characteristics of a scene out of a fairytale.


The town’s most outstanding claim to fame is that it’s the birthplace of none other than Auguste Bartholdi (refer to the Musée Bartholdi further down for more info), the artist who created the famous “Statue of Liberty”. Little wonder then that Colmar is well-known for its inspiring open-air art exhibitions.


Colmar’s Old Town (Vieille Ville) is characterized by cobble-stone streets, Alsatian Burgher houses and an exceptionally well-preserved historic town center, the Quarter de la Krutenau.


The town’s distinct gorgeous half-timbered houses, excellent examples of Medieval, Art Nouveau and Alsatian Renaissance architecture is just part of the city’s allure; added to it is the mysterious network of underground passages, colorful canals, narrow cobbled-street lanes and a history dating back 500 years.


Start your day by taking a 30-minute boat ride to get a sense of the authenticity of the city. You can head straight to 10 Rue de la Herse to hop onto the Sweet Narcisse, a flat-bottomed boat for your trip. Alternatively, you can visit their website at:

https://www.barques-colmar.fr/en/ to learn more about opening times, dates and guided tours. Boat departures are every 30 minutes and you have to contact them for group bookings.


For your self-guided tour of the city, head to the Colmar Tourist Office at Place Unterlinden to get a map. Here are some of the places that will make your excursion worthwhile:


Église Saint-Martin Church

Located in Colmar’s Old Town, it is the on the exact spot where a Carolingian church was built around 1000, followed by a Romanesque church. During archaeological excavations in 1972, the foundations of the Carolingian and Romanesque churches were discovered.


The current church was erected between 1234 and 1365, while the Renaissance bell tower was added in 1572. One of the portals surrounding the church display graciously sculpted tympana, with pillars supporting the façade. Two Judensau, one in the shape of a gargoyle is a reminder of the terrible Jewish heritage of Alsace.


For those who don’t know, countries across Europe used the Judensau symbol as an anti-semitic insult to the Jews. The Judensau is a folk art image of Jews in obscene contact with a large sow. In Judaism a pig is an unclean animal. The images started appearing during the 13th century in Germany and some other European countries, and the worst part is that its popularity lasted for over 6oo years.


The current collegiate church of Église Saint-Martin was erected between the 13th and 14th centuries in the Gothic style. It features the Saint Nicholas Doorway with its sophisticated design and a High Gothic Choir; the magnificent stained-glass windows features a 13th century painting of the head of Christ.


The splendid Baroque organ case dates back to 1755 and around the choir are several medieval altars and interesting statues.


Église Saint-Matthieu Church

A ten-minute walk takes you to the former Franciscan church which was erected in 1292, but was only completed a century later. The Franciscan monastery was closed in 1543 and the building was converted into a hospital.


In 1575 the Lutheran Reformation took over the building and after the Lutherans were banned the Jesuits took over the church. In 1632, Gustave Horn, a general of the King of Sweden invaded Colmar and the Jesuits were driven out to restore Protestant worship in the church.


In 1715 a wall was built to separate the Protestant chapel on the one side of the nave and to establish a Catholic chapel in the choir with a hospital close to it. Construction of the new Pasteur hospital was completed in 1937, and the church was again reserved for Protestant worship. The wall that separated the church was destroyed in 1987 to restore it to its previous form. Only the chapel remains today, which has been assigned to Protestant worship.


The interior of the church features a wooden Christ dating from the end of the 15th century and the panels of the balustrades and stands are decorated with lovely oil paintings. The organs were created by Silbermann in 1731 and its significance is the acoustics which has turned the church into a major venue for music concerts; most notably the Festival International de Colmar which takes place annually in July.


Église des Dominicains

Also in the vicinity, is the Église des Dominicains which was founded in 1289 by the Mendicant Order of Preachers (Dominicans). During the French Revolution, the building was used as an artillery store. The city purchased the building in 1807 to use it as a corn exchange. It was then returned to worship in 1898.


The cloister is the oldest part of the building and dates to the 13th century. It features wall paintings dating to the 15th century ich illustrate the cycle of the Passion. It was rebuilt in the 18th century after suffering a fire in 1458. The church served as a barracks for the gendarmerie in 1795 and later housed the preparatory school for school teachers.


The narrow high-vaulted nave is adorned with magnificent works of art and the stained glass windows which date from the early 14th century, depicts scenes from the life of Christ. The choir of the church displays the famous Vierge au Buisson de Roses, a masterpiece created by the atelier of Martin Schongauer in 1473.


Maison Pfister

Your next ten-minute walk will take you to the former house of a hatter named Ludwig Scherer. The house was erected in 1537 with a two-storey corner oriel, a wood gallery, an octagonal turret and mural paintings depicting Biblical scenes and secular figures of emperors. Although the house has medieval features, it is the first example of Renaissance architecture in Colmar. From 1841 to 1892, the house was owned by the Pfister family who restored it and gave it its current name.


Musée Bartholdi

Located a few paces from Maison Pfister is the Musée Bartholdi where you can discover the artworks of the famous artist Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. The house belonged to his family and is entirely dedicated to presenting his works. As a sculptor and painter, he is best known for designing “Liberty Enlightening the World”, or the “Statue of Liberty”.


The museum is spread over three floors, and houses a considerable collection of sketches, models, sculptures and other items produced by him.


To visit the museum, you have to make an appointment through the Tourist Office and you can email them at: musees@ville-colmar.com. The museum is open daily (except Tuesdays) from 10:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 18:00. It is closed in January, February and on 1 May, 11 November and 25 December.


Shopping & Lunch


Rue des Boulangers and Rue des Surruriers


You should be starving by now so head to the Rue des Boulangers (Baker’s Street) or the Rue des Serruriers (Locksmith’s Street) which is not far from the Musée Bartholdi. Both streets are lined with quaint half-timbered buildings, boutiques and cafés. Alternatively, you can head to the Old Custom house to try out some authentic Alsatian cuisine.


Koifhaus (Old Custom House)

The Old Custom House (Ancienne Douane) with its rectangular main building was erected in 1480 and used to be the economic and political center of Colmar.


The ground floor was a warehouse for goods and was also used to collect taxes on imports and exports. The first floor still has the coat of arms of the 10 cities on its windows and was the council chamber for the Décapole, the Federation of Imperial Cities.


On the east side of the Koifhus is the Place de l’Ancienne Douane which consists of two additional wings created in the 16th century. A fountain commemorating the Imperial General Lazarus von Schwendi is located nearby.


The Restaurant au Koifhus has a dining room and terrace area where you can enjoy traditional Alsatian cuisine.


Quartier des Tanneurs (Tanner’s District)

A good way to walk off your lunch is to take a walk to the quirky Tanner’s District with its wood-framed half-timbered houses from the 17th and 18th centuries which have been beautifully restored.


The height of the houses was designed so that animal pelts could be hung out to dry on the upper floors. Although the tanners used the buildings to ply their trade, they also served as a home for them.


The tanner’s district was renovated between 1698 and 1974.

lso characteristic of the neighborhood is the numerous canals and an eclectic array of boutiques and restaurants.


Maison des Chevaliers de Saint-Jean

The House of the St. John’s Knights is a historic monument and the building was erected in 1608. It was dismantled in the 19th century and then rebuilt again; according to the original design which was similar to that of Venetian mansions in Italy.


The house has arched arcades over two floors, surmounted by a stone balustrade linking the two wings of the building. The two perpendicular wings frame an enclosed inner courtyard.


Albert Schmidt who was the architect of the house, also built the House of Heads (Relais & Chateaux Hotel) and the House of Arcades. All these buildings show off the architect’s distinct style and talent, and why his work was of great importance at the time.


By the way, there is no record that the Templars ever occupied the house and no one knows why the house was named after them!


For more information contact the Colmar Tourist Office at: info@tourisme-colmar.com.


Quai de la Poissonnerie (Fishmonger’s District)

Your next stop should be at the Fishmonger’s District which was occupied by the professional fishermen and boatmen of the town. This historic part of the town has colorful half-timbered houses and fish ponds that were used by the fishermen to store their treasure trove of fish until market day.


In 1706 a fire destroyed more than forty houses in the area. From 1978 to 1981, many of the half-timbered houses were restored so it would be worth your while to stroll through the area to get more insight into the lives of the fishing community, as well as learn more about the powerful organisation who dominated the area’s fishing industry.


The Unterlinden Museum

This elegant museum is housed in the previous Dominican convent and the municipal baths. It was renovated in 2015 and its new layout allows for better presentation of its collections. The renovated sign provides for larger exhibition spaces to accentuate the artworks presented.


The new wing hosts modern and contemporary collections across two floors and temporary exhibitions on the third floor. The underground gallery linking the convent to the modern building offers exhibitions of 12th to early 16th century art.


The museum’s collection of art objects includes silver and gold-smith objects as well as extraordinary hunting and military weapons. The archeology section offers a complete overview of the early development of human society with objects from everyday life.


Some of them include a Bergheim mosaic from the 3rd century, and funerary objects. Its modern art collection includes works by great artists such as Monet, Guillaume, Bonnard and Delaunay, as well as figurative works by artists such as Dubuffet and Picasso.


But the most iconic treasure is the famous altarpiece by Grünewald, the Issenheim Altarpiece. Sculpted between 1512 and 1516 by Nicholas de Haguenau and Matthias Grünewald, it features a series of painted wood panels, each showing a different scene, namely the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection and the Crucifiction.


Also located in the old baths area is the Restaurant Schongauer with a courtyard, where they serve delicious cuisine as well as mouth-watering patisserie in the afternoons. So pop in here to sample a mouth-watering afternoon snack!


The Hansi Village and Museum

The Hansi Village and Museum is located in the heart of Colmar in a magnificently reconstructed building that has been designed to look like an Alsatian town. The design is based on one of his best-known works. The museum introduces you to the life and work of the artist Jean-Jacques Waltz (23 February 1873 – 10 June 1951).


Fondly referred to as “Oncle Hansi” or “Hansi” (little John), he was a French artist from Alsatian origin. The museum is an adventure into ‘The world of Hansi’ as it is called.


He was born in Colmar and became famous for his illustrations, caricatures and watercolors, which represent Alsace as a region proud of its traditions, farming and production methods. His pro-ench activist stance made him a hero during both WWI and WWII.


The museum showcases the Hansi brand through his life and work. You can view stunning watercolors, publicity signs, hand-painted tableware and clothes, as well as participate in some of the interesting interactive installations. The end of your visit should be in the boutique where you can purchase unique gifts and souvenirs from this famous European brand.


Quartier de la Krutenau (La Petite Venise)

La Petite Venise (Little Venice) is a well-preserved and bewitching neighborhood set amid lush greenery and trees along the river, with restaurants lining the side of canals, elegant bridges and charming half-timbered houses with flower pots decorating its window sills.


To experience the atmosphere of the town, you can take a walking tour of the area or a 30-minute boat ride along the winding canals. Either way, you’ll still enjoy the beauty of the area and be able to take some stunning pictures while doing so.


Ancien Corps de Garde

The former guardhouse is located on the site of the Chapel of Saint Jacques that dates back to 1286. The guardhouse was established in 1575 and the most outstanding feature of the building must be the ornately decorated 14th century terrace.


It also has an oriel window that was used to announce the decisions of the town council. Imagine the job of the “town crier” having to relay information verbally to keep everyone up-to-date about important events.


And then technology happened … to replace the town crier. Makes you wonder how many things will be affected by our very impressive AI in the near future; never mind some of the jobs that are already being affected by it!


Chapelle Saint-Pierre

Also located in the vicinity of the Quartier de Krutenau is the stunning Baroque church which was erected by the Jesuits in the mid-18th century. It was built on the site of the Saint-Pierre priory which was erected in the 10th century.


Between 1742 and 1759, the Jesuits built the current Baroque chapel on the ruins of the old priory.


Most interesting is the church’s garden courtyard with a monument to honour the achievements of the town’s physicist, G. A. Hirn (1815 – 1890).


The chapel hosts several concerts annually during the Colmar International Music Festival.


Musée du Jouet de Colmar

Whether you’re a toy-collector or not, this museum will amuse you no end and bring out the child in you instantly. It displays over a thousand toys from the 19th century to date.


The collection includes miniature train sets and model cars, tricycles, rocking horses, stuffed animals, as well as a collection of creative and innovative items like LEGO creations, scientific creations and robotics.


If you’re traveling with your kids, you will definitely just itch to jockey with them to show off your prowess at a game of giant checkers.


The museum also offers a variety of events, concerts and exhibitions throughout the year.


Choco-Story Chocolate Museum

A visit to Colmar isn’t complete if you don’t indulge in chocolate. Choco-Story is a chocoholic’s Eden.


During your visit you will learn about chocolate from the cocoa bean to production. There are numerous interesting interactive activities for you to choose from, as well as chocolate workshops.


You’ll be amazed at the various creations made out of chocolate; like the themed chocolate moulds. Some feature holiday events like Christmas and Easter and a host of other items made from chocolate.


Another impressive creation is presented in the form of a cabaret show, with figurines wearing gorgeous costumes created completely from chocolate. Various other chocolate items are on display and vintage chocolate displays showcase the packaging and advertising of chocolate.


Interactivities are fun for both kids and adults. Whether you’re visiting with your kids or with an adult group, there are a number of activities available.


They include games, quizzes and movies that take you through the steps of making chocolate, presented by the establishment’s master chocolatiers. An audio guide helps you navigate your way through a room by scanning QR Codes and various interactive animations.


If you’re interested in learning how to make chocolate, the workshop is not only interesting but also fun as you are allowed to experiment and let your creative juices flow as you make your own chocolate bar.


Your chocolate workshop includes 45 minutes with an expert chocolatier to learn the tips and tricks of this heavenly treat. Your reward is your own creation of 250g to 300g to take with you so you can claim bragging rights on your return to your home country!

The workshops are presented in French and English.


If you’re an expert chocoholic, you can take your taste-buds on a journey of discovering the hidden flavors of different chocolates; and if you’re just into chocolates because you’ve got a sweet tooth, you can taste a bit of each to satisfy your insatiable chocolate craving. And to make the experience even more chocolaty, you have a variety of hot chocolate flavors that you can experiment with.


Happy splurging on chocolate for you and your loved ones!


Covered Market Hall

For a bit of shopping before dinner, the stunning brick and metal covered Market Hall will be the perfect stop. There are classy boutiques and shops which sell local scrumptious gourmet products to whet your appetite before dinner.


If you’re planning a picnic for a long drive the next day, it would be a good place to stock up on supplies. Visiting the market hall a day before you take to the road, will make it a quick shopping trip; as you’ll be able to find your way around the market hall easier and quicker to save time.


And besides that, who said there was a law against “sampling to awaken your appetite’s awareness to the wonders of local fare” before dinner?


There are a variety of white wine, cheeses and sausages, jars of the region’s famed sauerkraut, sweet and savory pretzels, salted caramels and chocolates to choose from.


Happy nibbling!


Dins – Relais & Château Hotel (The House of Heads)

A splendid way to end your day is with fine dining at the iconic five-star Relais & Châteaux Hotel located opposite “Uncle Hansi’s House”. The original building was demolished and re-built by Anton Burger in 1609 on the same spot of his family home. It was rebuilt on behalf of him.


Anton Burger was a member of the Corporation of Merchants and became a councilor from 1612. During the Reformation he fled the town and settled in Basel where he stayed until his death. In 1698, his heirs sold the Maison des Têtes and thereafter, the house changed owners several times.


The establishment owes its names to the over one hundred eye-popping stone heads that adorn the façade. They are adorable and will make you wonder at the idea behind them.


Today the establishment is owned by Eric Girardin and Marilyn Tanguy Girardin. The current establishment consists of a hotel, a restaurant and a traditional brasserie. You can opt for traditional, unique variations of Alsatian cuisine in the Brasserie Historique or settle for some delicious Michelin-starred cuisine in the Restaurant Girardin.


No matter what your preferences are, you are sure to enjoy a real treat as a traveler looking for new and exciting dishes to try out.


E güeter! (Alsatian for Bon Apetit!)


Hidden Treasures of Alsace


There are some impressive sites that you can visit around the city of Metz to discover some of the finest historic heritage of the region. Most of these places are not well-known and therefore not overrun by tourist crowds. They are also in close proximity to each other, and if you plan well, you can turn it into interesting and leisurely day trips to get away from the madding crowds.


Pont-à-Mousson

The scintillating city of Pont-à-Mousson is situated at the foot of the Mousson Hill, on the banks of the Moselle River in the Meurthe-et-Moselle department. It was part of the Duchy of Lorraine from the 15th century. During its development in the 17th century, a university was established in the town which soon became famous across Europe. The university was later transferred to Nancy.


The tranquil town has some interesting historical heritage to explore and is the perfect week-end-getaway destination.


Abbaye des Prémontrés

Located in the forest of Coucy, the majestic abbey was founded in 1121 by the Premonstratensian order, one of the great religious orders of the Middle Ages along with the Cisterians and nedictines. The abbey was rebuilt in the 18th century and classified as a historic monument in 1910.


On your tour of the abbey, you will be able to explore the three glazed galleries, the church with its remarkable architectural features, walk along the corridors that lead to the historical rooms, visit the stone exhibition area, and view the impressive staircases that adorn the interior. During your visit you can enjoy temporary exhibitions that are offered throughout the year.


The Abbey Church is built in the classical style with a façade which features three different styles of architecture and columns.


The abbey has three stunning gardens, each with its own serene character. There is a French garden, a Scent garden and a ‘Moselle’ garden for you to enjoy a stroll of the premises.


On the first floor of the abbey there is a historical area which showcases the abbey’s history and a library with a collection of works from the 16th to the 21st centuries dedicated to the history of Lorraine.


At the shop, you can purchase souvenirs and enjoy refreshments at the café after your tour. If you want to overnight at the abbey, its hotel offers luxury accommodation with lovely views of the abbey and the gardens.


Au Fil du Papier Museum

The ‘Au fil du papier’ museum is a fascinating display of papier-mâché and is situated in the heart of Pont-à-Mousson in a refurbished Renaissance town house. The collection is distributed over two levels and is a unique array of lacquered objects; the museum is the only one of its kind in France.


Papier-mâché items on display were produced in the town and across Europe during the 19th century in the fashionable chinoiserie style. This is a decorative style in Western art, furniture, and architecture which was very popular during the 18th century. Chinese motives and techniques were used to create wallpaper and other objects and decorations.


The items on display at the museum range from a face powder box to a three-piece sofa and everything else in-between.

The museum display the history of the town; from its beginnings around the bridge (now a town symbol), the famous Pont-à-Mousson University (a beacon of learning in Europe for over two centuries) and a collection of town imagery. Since 2006, a special area has been dedicated to the history of the ironwork foundries at Pont-à-Mousson which became well-known across the world.

The Brasseur de Lorraine (The Brewers of Lorraine)


Located at 3 Rue du Bois Priest and founded in 2003, the Brasseur de Lorraine is one of the most notable contributors of the region’s brewing community. The company is the largest craft brewery in Lorraine and offers a wide range of beers.


The brewery has earned numerous awards due to the superb quality of its 100% natural Alsatian products. Their beers are brewed with a high content of fermentation according to the tradition of Lorraine.


The brewery offers guided tours on a Friday at 17:00 for groups of over 20 people which is focused on familiarizing you with the manufacturing process.


Château-fort de Sedan

Located in the town of Sedan, the imposing Château-fort de Sedan dominates the surrounding town and stunning countryside. The castle was originally the site of an 11th century abbey.


In 1424 Évrard II de la Marck-Arenberg, Lord of Sedan, took possession of it and converted it into a fortified manor house. His n Jean, and grandson Robert II continued extending the building later on. By 1572, the castle boasted two rings of walls and four bastions.


In 1642, the Prince of Sedan was imprisoned for plotting against King Louis XIII and his property was absorbed into France. Sedan Castle became an important French garrison and in 1699, King Louis XIV commissioned the architect Vauban to inspect the castle’s defenses; which led to Vauban’s design of the new Prince’s Gate.


The Castle became the headquarters of Emperor Napoleon III who suffered a devastating defeat during the Franco-Prussian war and was taken to Germany as a prisoner after surrendering. During WWI, the castle was used as a prison for members of the Resistance. After the last garrison troops left the castle ownership passed to the town council in 1962.


Currently, the castle houses the Sedan Tourist Office, a Museum, a 4-star Hotel and a Restaurant.


When visiting the castle, you can take advantage of one of the specialized, themed tours. The specialized tours are designed to give you better insight into the daily life at the castle.


During the castle’s Medieval Festival in May, you can participate in the celebrations to discover the historical heritage of the castle. The lively festival offers torchlight castle visits, street and traditional musical performances, features medieval camps, and hosts falconry shows.


If you’re visiting during the Medieval Festival, why not overnight at the hotel on the premises? This should give you more time to explore the castle before the festivities begin!


Sillegny

The village of Sillegny first changed hands several times between various religious orders before it was nearly destroyed at the end of the Thirty Year’s War. At this time it was annexed by Germany, during which time casemates (fortified gun emplacements) were built in the Forêt Dominale des Six Cantons, Near Les Jurieux.


On September 19, 1944, this tranquil village became the center of a horrendous battle between the Germans and the American Allies. Many Americans lost their lives during this battle. On September 19, 2009 during a special ceremony attended by a delegation of U.S. citizens, a monument was dedicated as a memorial to the men of the U.S. 7th Armored Division.


They fought in the village and its surrounding areas that were heavily mined. So much so that three bodies of GI’s who lost their lives could only be recovered 20 months later after the mine field was cleared.


Lest we forget, war is the most terrible of all diseases that has ever plagued humankind. After thousands of years of evolution, you’d expect humankind to have learned that no one wins in a war. But guess what? The only thing that seems to have evolved is the rapid advancement in battle technology!


Église Saint-Martin de Sillegny

The beautiful Gothic church was erected in the 15th century and has a real treasure of medieval murals. The church is also known as the little Sistine Lorraine or the Sistine de la Seille because the tire building is covered with these frescoes.


The frescoes are remarkably well-preserved and were painted between 1460 and 1540. The church is awash with frescoes and it will be well worth your time to spend more than just a fleeting few minutes here. Visits to the church are free and guided tours are provided on request. However, it should be noted that tours are scheduled for the second Sunday of each month only, therefore it would be best to make arrangements to visit beforehand.


You can contact them by email at: roland.perrette@wanadoo.fr or visit their website at: www.sixtinedelaseille.com.


Feste Wagner (Group Fortifications of Aisne)


Feste Wagner (renamed Group Fortifications of Aisne) is located a short distance from the Église Saint-Martin Church. It was built between 1904 and 1910 and the name Feste Wagner was given to it in honor of Julius Wagner, a German general.


If you want to learn more about the German annexation of Alsace and Moselle from 1871 to 1918, you will find a visit to the fort fascinating.


During a 2½-hour visit, you will be entering a part of Germany’s war-time history and be able to visualize living conditions for the soldiers who occupied this very comfortable fort. In my mind, such forts were cold and stark places; but this fort is something else. Complete with central heating, toilets, a bread oven, an electric plant, a telephone and running water. These creature comforts make the fort an amazing technical feat in a military and civilian sense, since it was built at the turn of the 20th century.


The network of tunnels will provide you with insight into the connections between the various points of the fortified group of buildings. When you explore the fort you’ll also be awed by the sheer vastness of the area, which included four fortified barracks designed to accommodate 1,250 men, 15 observation cupolas and 51 lookout posts.


The fort is used for events so make sure that you book an appointment to visit it. It is open throughout the year for groups of more than 8 people and you can make an appointment by emailing them at: raymond.decker@fort-de-verny.org


Tours are offered in English and German.


Jouy-aux-Arches (Roman Aqueduct)

Located not far from Feste Wagner, this rustic village will astound you with its Roman Aqueduct and its location - smack-bang within the village!


This impressive ancient site is located not far from Metz. The well-preserved aqueduct date back to the 2nd century AD. The original underground channel was 22 km long and above ground there were bridges carrying water from a spring near Gorze, right up to Metz.


The monument is one of the best preserved of the Western Roman Empire in the region, and was formerly known as the “Pont du Diable” (“The Devil’s Bridge”). It has been restored several times since 1837.


What’s amazing about the aqueduct is that the town has been built around the bridge which accentuates the height of the structure and looks rather weird because of its location. But I suppose there must be a reason it was done this way, considering the underground channel of the aqueduct.


The town itself is one of those sleepy places where nothing much happens and you’ll enjoy exploring its streets at your own pace.


Château de Pange

Situated on the banks of the French Nied in Moselle, the building was erected in the 18th century. The small church next to it was built in the middle of the 19th century and the castle grounds include a harmonious and magnificent park, the Parc et Jardin du Château de Pange.


The current castle was built in 1720 for Jean-Baptiste-Louis Thomas who became the first Marquis of Pange. The castle was occupied by some very interesting figures; such as Empress Marie-Louise in 1813 and Napoleon III and William I of Prussia during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870.


The castle is still owned by the same aristocratic family, and when you visit, you will encounter the family’s legendary heritage which is on display in the castle’s lavish reception rooms.


The château is open to visitors for guided tours, and entry to the château and gardens require separate tickets. You can visit their website at: http://www.chateaudepange.fr

or, if you’re in the vicinity, you can give them a ring on: 03 87 64 04 41.


Wrapping Up


Yet another region where you can experience more than one culture, your visit to Alsace has numerous pleasant surprises waiting for you at every corner.


Alsace is well-known for its artistic traditions, most notably its hundreds of years of production of crystal, hand-blown glass, china, earthenware, crystal enamel and stringed instruments, as well as the finest embroidery which is still used by the fashion industry today. Whatever your interest in these traditional artistic crafts, you will surely find a place where you can learn more about it.


The impressive stunning art galleries feature rich collections of the region’s legendary cultural heritage, where you will discover the talents of some of France’s most celebrated artists.


The awesome museums will give you enormous insight into the intricate history and the iconic historical figures who contributed to this unique cultural heritage.


Your visit to some of these places will ensure that you take home lasting memories of an exciting heritage that is unlike any other place in France.


Needless to say, the region’s occupation between France and Germany has resulted in fantastic collections of art nouveau, stunning Romanesque churches, basilicas, abbeys, and cathedrals, some of them adorned with breath-taking Renaissance and Gothic works. The architecture of the region is truly an artistic wonderland.


The region’s natural heritage is a magical landscape consisting of fertile plains and forests. The region has three nature reserves, as well as over 100 parks and gardens containing over 40 species of orchids. Among the many secondary rivers and lakes fringed with fir trees, you’ll find the region’s stunning seven ski resorts boasting 90 lifts and floodlit runs if you fancy trying out your skiing skills.


Join us for a tremendously enlightening experience in one of the most overlooked places in France!


Happy travels and … Carpe Diem!


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