Alsace is a lovely region located in the north east of France. It is the smallest region of France with its two departments, Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin. However, it is rich in terms of culture, history and gastronomy. The region accounts for a population of 1.6 million inhabitants and Strasbourg is its county town. The Rhine River marks a natural border between Alsace and its neighbour, Germany, which influenced the Alsatian culture in many ways. There, the geographical diversity is important, with the plains, the Vosges which are low mountains covered of forests, and the hills, principally dedicated to viticulture. Alsace is besides generally well-ranked in the villages fleuris conquest, which attributes one to four flowers as stars to reward the flowered town and villages. It makes this region only more pleasant to live in.
If the villages of the plains evoke the traditional representations of an Alsatian village, the villages of the mountains astonished by their similarities with the small medieval town of Tuscany surrounded by vineyards. The highest point of Alsace is the Grand Ballon with an altitude of 1,424m, located in Haut-Rhin. The charm of the various landscapes really makes it a special and picturesque region. During the sunny days, people come to benefit from the privileged climate. Indeed, the winters are harsh but the summers are hot with only a few precipitations.
This hilly territory of Alsace is full of charm. Its large areas of vineyards, the many flowers that embellished the villages, its famous half-timbered houses, the storks overhanging the highest houses… all these elements make Alsace a typical and pleasant region. Thus, lots of tourists visit it the whole year round. In December, many people come to immerse themselves in the Christmas spirit, as Alsace’s combination of tradition, food and good cheer is incomparable.
In Alsace, the cultural identity is strong. This is undeniably due to the painful history of Alsace. A long time hard-fought, Alsace was by turns German or French. This engenders a strong Alsatian culture which emerged due to the fight. Nowadays, this culture remains very strong, notably with the Alsatian dialect which is a derived of German. It is indeed the second native language of France. It is above all spoken by the oldest people or outside main towns, but it is now possible for children to learn it at school to keep this cultural heritage enduring.
In terms of economy, Alsace is doing well. It is the first exporter region of France and the third in terms of GDP per inhabitant. Thus, the transport is well developed, by road, train or plane. Recently, the TGV line Paris - Strasbourg was opened, which allows to reduce the travel to 2h20 only. The region also comprises two airports: the international airport of Strasbourg and the international airport of Basel - Mulhouse - Freiburg, the only binational airport of the world (French and Swiss). The important fluvial transport is not to forget, as Strasbourg is the second fluvial port of France.
Alsace is a former industrial region (textile, mining exploitation) but is today totally different. At the heart of Europe, the region is situated on the famous “dorsal”, an activity area which links London to Milan, including Frankfurt. This explains many things, because Alsace is certainly one of the most famous wine routes of the world, but is above all an economical centre more than ever turned towards the international. Thus, a disparity in prices can be seen between the northern and the southern departments. The prices in Bas-Rhin, around €2,500 /sq m, are more expensive than those of the Haut-Rhin (around €2,000 /sq m), because it shelters the European capital in Strasbourg and welcome many international companies. From a general point of view, the price to buy a property in Alsace was €2,300 /sq m at the beginning of 2009. Even if the prices slightly increased with the venue of the TGV in Strasbourg and Colmar, the actual tendency is more or less a stagnation of the prices for now. In Alsace, an equal proportion of houses and apartments can be found.
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Its beautiful landscapes, its typical flowered villages across the vineyards, its good wines and gastronomy… all that made Alsace a romantic place, where life is in every season completely magical! Many historic heritages, notably castles and monasteries, can be visited all around Alsace while in the same time its formidable culture and specificities are discovered.
Culture: the culture in Alsace is very present and jumps out at you. First, the Alsatian language is still spoken by a big proportion of people. Then, the food and the wine are quite typical. It can be tasted almost everywhere, but the better place is definitely the Winstub restaurant, literally a “wine room”, which is the best illustration of the Alsatian terroir and art of living. Former flavours can there be savoured and people eat on small wooden tables covered of tablecloths with red squares. It is really a place where people still take their time to live.
Gastronomy: Alsace is one of the most “filled with stars” regions by the guides, and has an important gastronomic repertoire. Amongst the many traditional dishes of Alsace, the most important are the saveloy (onion tart}, asparaguses accompanied of 3 sauces, the Baeckoffe – a typical hotpot, the Flammekueche - bread dough covered with cream, onions and bacon cubes, Bretzel, sauerkraut, Schiffele – a kind of smoked knuckle of ham, or Fleischschnaka – rolled past with pork and veal. Foie Gras is also highly produced in Alsace. As regards traditional desserts, the Kougelhopf is a kind of bun that can be eaten for the breakfast or to accompany the coffee all day long. A huge variety of biscuits called Bredele but also gingerbread are made especially before Christmas.
Christmas in Alsace: if there is a place where Christmas is celebrated, it is unmistakably Alsace. At the beginning of December, the streets progressively light up and the Christmas markets are established. The tradition is to eat roast chestnuts and drink mulled wine Glühwein. Furthermore, the festivities continue the 26th December, a holiday in Alsace and Moselle only. The gastronomy, wine and beer are so many opportunities for celebrations. Another event, the corso fleuris, processions of floral floats, are also very popular in the region.
Alsace wine route: one of the most attractive and popular way to discover the picturesque villages of the region while learning more about the local wines. From north to south for 170km, the route passes through vineyards punctuated with villages of flower-bedecked half-timbered houses and below the foothills of the Vosges. The mind-blowing landscapes of the route are combined with the sweet flavor of the wines. Not less than around 50 Grand Cru (classified wines) are produced along the route, which are so many occasions to taste great wines. The varieties of wine produced are Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot gris and Sylvaner. If wine is typical from the region, so is the beer! Alsatian beer accounts for 56% of the French production with 9 million hectoliters per year including 6 famous breweries: Kronenbourg, Heineken, Fischer, Karlsbrau, Météor and Schutzenberger.
Architecture and aesthetics: the Alsatians are proud of their region and have embellished their towns and villages. Usually, the houses are well looked after and many flowers decorated the houses but also the village squares and churches. In the region, many buildings are made of Grès rose des Vosges (a pink stone), which gives life and charm to the villages. Almost every village of Alsace is enchanting!
Rural houses in Alsace are a reflection of the viticultural and agricultural exploitation. The half-timbered farmhouses are made up of a main building, barns and stables, and are very typical of the rural architecture of Alsace. They are of course a symbol of Alsace, but it also exists other Alsatian architectures. Moreover, different styles of half-timbered house exist, depending on their settlements, the affluence of their bulders, the local uses, etc... The traditional dwelling of the plain (in the Ried) in constituted of houses built with walls in cob with wooden sections and decorative wooden beams that are visible. They are protected by a roof made with flat tiles called « queues de castor » (beaver tail) because of their shape. Half-timbered houses like that can be seen in other regions of France, but their particular abundance in Alsace is due to diverse reasons. The proximity with the Vosges made that the wood was cheap and easy to find. Beside it was more flexible and thus more adapted than stone to resist to the seismic risk. Furthermore, most of the walls are painted with warm welcoming colours.
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