This varied border country which abuts Switzerland and Germany has developed rich traditions and culture from the variety of influences brought to bear on it over the years. From their commanding position high up in the Vosges mountains, the castles of Alsace still survey the plain. The region has, due to its tempestuous history, the greatest number of feudal castles in Europe. More than 400 can still be seen, mostly in ruins, but about 100 remain relatively intact and give a good indication of their former glory. The Massif des Vosges, extending over 6 departments, is a paradise for hikers with over 16,500 kms of paths from simple trails to more taxing routes. The many activities include cycling, walking and trekking, horse riding, rock climbing, cross country and downhill skiing, golf, ice sports, tobogganing and carting, as well as canoeing, rowing, diving, fishing, swimming, windsurfing and rafting.
Each year more than 8 million visitors flock to Alsace, many attracted by the wines for which it is famous. Since its creation in 1953, the Route des Vins d’Alsace has become, thanks to the 67 villages and towns along the 170 kilometre route, one of the most beautiful in the world. There are 38 wine trails, most with guided tours in July and August. The route winds from north to south past some outstandingly pretty villages. The vineyards cover thousands of acres lining the slopes of the Vosges with its medieval villages and castles. The winstubs and tasting cellars are a delight to visit. Colmar, Ammerschwihr, Guebwilleer, Turckheim and Ribeauvillé are amongst the main sites for the wine fairs and festivals. The best known wines are Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Le Tokay Pinot Gris, Le Sylvaner, Muscat and the sparkling Cremant d’Alsace.
As you would expect, a rich choice of gastronomic delights accompany these wines and excellent restaurants and auberges abound. Amongst the best known local dishes are Kuglehopf, a rich cake, and Choucroute, once of such national importance that the day the cabbage was salted was declared a public holiday. The landscape is dotted with half timbered villages decorated with brightly coloured flowers and often with two bell towers, one for the Christians and one for the Catholics. Amongst the various wildlife parks is the Garden of Butterflies at Hunawihr, featuring over 200 exotic butterflies from three continents. Finally, Strasbourg was the birthplace of the "Marseillaise" composed there during the French Revolution in 1792 and known as the "Marseillaise" because of its popularity with the volunteer army units from Marseilles. Not officially adopted until 14th July 1795, it was subsequently banned twice for its revolutionary connections and was not finally reinstated until 1879. Copyright: Sarah Francis