Wednesday, September 19, 2012

All About France, Picturesque Alsace Lorraine

One of the great perks of living in Western Europe is the proximity to so many different countries and cultures, and Frankfurt being situated smack dab in the middle of Europe, as far as traveling goes, I couldn’t have asked for a better location.

Of course, as soon as I landed on the continent, I had made it my mission in life to see and discover as much of France as my time and finances would allow. I wanted to explore this country filled with world-class art and architecture, unmatched food and delicious wine that has inspired many to gasp in satisfied contentment, and to see the breathtaking landscapes. Even before my first road trip to Southern France had ended, I was already making a list of other regions and cities to see.
I quickly found out that traveling in France is like taking a bite out of a scrumptious mille-feuill, a French pastry made up of alternating layers of puff pastry and pastry cream. It literally translates ‘a thousand leaves’, and it’s layers and layers of tasty goodness that fills your mouth with such pleasure that once you’ve tasted it, you will never go back to eating an ordinary pie.

My first stop, Alsace Lorraine. Being that it’s a region closest to Germany, and that I’d gotten a brief but lovely introduction to the area and its culture during my studies in Strasbourg, my husband and I wanted to explore Alsace Lorraine almost every chance we got.

Though often spoken of as if they were one, Alsace and Lorraine, neighboring regions in France’s northeastern corner, are linked by little more than a border through the Massif des Vosges (Vosges Mountains). Lorraine, a land of prairies and forests popularly associated with quiche, has little of the picturesque quaintness of Alsace. However, it is home to two particularly handsome cities, both former capitals. Nancy, one of France’s most refined and attractive urban centers, is famed for its Art Nouveau architecture, while Metz, 54km to the north, is known for its Germanic architecture and the stunning stained glass of its marvelous cathedral.

Alsace is one of the most picturesque regions of France. Filled little villages and town that are straight out of fairytales, gorgeous landscapes with imposing medieval castles, and picturesque vineyards and wineries that produces world-class wine, it is an ideal travel destination for anyone looking for a taste of France’s joie de vivre.

Gertrude Stein has famously declared, “America is my country and Paris is my hometown.” I definitely understood this sentiment as soon as I’d arrived in Paris, as it’s beauty and culture allured me as it has millions of visitors before me. However, if Paris is heart of France, then Strasbourg is definitely its soul.

This beautiful home of European Parliament captivated me from the moment I first saw it. Also, as the capital of Alsace, it offers a wide variety of options in hotels as well as dining and entertainment.
Situated in the heart of the Alsace, Colmar is a charming little town along the Route du Vin. The old town is beautiful, reminiscent of la Petite France in Strasbourg, with narrow cobbled streets, flanked on either side by sixteenth and seventeenth century half-timbered houses.
More picturesque villages & towns in the area: Eguisheim, Guebwiller, Kaysersberg, Obernai, Ribeauville, Riquewhir, Saint Hippolyte and Turckheim
(Chateau de)Haut Koenigsbourg
a monumental medieval castle in the midst of the Alsacean mountains
another big city in the area, not as quaint or charming but nevertheless has a good selection of inexpensive hotels and a wide variety of restaurants

High on a hill near Belfort in eastern France, Le Corbusier’s masterpiece unfolds in the round, offering, like a sequence of Mondrians and Arps, different and uncannily poised compositions from every angle, back and front, side to side, inside and out and, crucially, in relation to the grounds. It commands the hill as the Parthenon does the Acropolis, its immense roof a great airfoil or billowing sail appearing to lift the building off the earth, and simultaneously seeming to weigh it down, compress it.

What Le Corbusier called the chapel’s “ineffable space” derives not from Zen-like simplicity or Baroque extravagance but from this quasi-Cubist asymmetry of robust, jaunty, sensuous shapes, held in improbable equilibrium as if by a juggler on a tightrope. It’s a sculptural feat. Nowadays architects rely on digital technology to fashion swooping, soaring spaces that look as if they folded in on themselves. Ronchamp, by contrast, is the product of old-fashioned craft and serendipity, every surface different from every other, imperfectly, lovingly made. – “Quiet Additions to a Modernist Masterpiece” by Michael Kimmelman
Built on both banks of the Meuse and intersected by a series of canals, Verdun may not be the prettiest city I’ve seen in France, but it is definitely one of the most memorable. Most visitors who come to Verdun are there to see the famous World War I battlefields and the cemeteries of the unknown soldiers, the setting of the novel, “All Quiet on the Western Front” by Erich Maria Remarque, where one of the most devastating battles in the First World War and the history of warfare took place.
The Vosges (La Route des Crêtes)
The Vosges are one of the oldest mountain ranges in France, and once formed one of the country's boundaries with Germany. Richly forested with tall hardwood trees and firs, they skirt the western edge of the Rhine and resemble Germany's Black Forest. La Route des Crêtes, originally chiseled out of the mountains as a supply line, begins west of Colmar, at the Col du Bonhomme. High points are Münster (home of the cheese), Col de la Schlucht (a resort with panoramas as far as the Jura and the Black Forest), and Markstein. At any point along the way, you can stop and strike out on some of the well-marked hiking trails.
My favorites in Strasbourg
  • Hotel Gutenberg – a lovely and charming hotel in the heart of the city
  • the wonderful outdoor markets, especially the antique book market on Saturdays
  • the Christmas market – will take your breath away
  • l’Orangerie – a lovely park near the European Parliament building
  • Flames – a wonderfully inexpensive restaurant that serves up all sorts of tasty tarte flambé
Recommended Hotels & Inns in Alsace Lorraine


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