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The provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, with ancient capitals at Strasbourg and Nancy, have been the object of many disputes between Germany and France. Alsace has been called "the least French of French provinces," more reminiscent of the Black Forest across the Rhine. In fact, it became German from 1870 until after World War I and was ruled by Hitler from 1940 to 1944. These days, both provinces are back under French control, though they remain somewhat independent.

In the Vosges Mountains you can follow La Route des Crêtes (Crest Road) or skirt the foothills, visiting the wine towns of Alsace. In its cities and cathedrals, the castle-dotted landscape evokes a past filled with military glory or defeat. Lorraine is Joan of Arc country, and many of its towns still suggest their medieval heritage.

No clear-cut line delineates Alsace from Lorraine. Alsace is more German. Lorraine, with its rolling landscape, appears more French in character.

Alsace-Lorraine for Kids: One of the best family sites in the region is the Ecomuseum in Ungersheim between Colmar and Mulhouse (www.ecomusee-alsace.fr; [tel] 03-89-62-43-00). It’s a reconstructed turn-of-the-20th-century Alsatian village of 73 buildings, including houses, farms and traditional artisanal workshops. Kids can watch a potter at work, learn about beekeeping, poke their head into a schoolroom or take a ride on a horse-drawn cart. Entrance is 14€ adults, 9.50€ children 4 to 14, free 3 and under. Open daily 10am to 6pm April, May, September and October; and daily 10am to 7pm June through August and December to early January.

The Vosges mountains have plenty of activities for outdoor adventurers, especially the Parc Ballon (mentioned above in “La Route des Cretes”). If hiking or biking is not for you, take a ride on the historic Abreschviller train, 2 Place Norbert Prévot, Abreschviller (train-abreschviller.fr; [tel] 03-87-03-71-45). Started in 1884 for logging, today old-fashioned steam or diesel trains take visitors on a 6km (4-mile) circuit around the area. The round-trip journey takes 90 minutes. It runs in April and October on Wednesday, Sunday and holidays at 3pm, and more frequently May to September; check website for timetable. Tickets are 7€ adult one-way and 11€ round-trip, for children it’s 5€ and 8.50€ respectively.

 

For a family break in Lorraine, stop in at the Muséum-Aquarium de Nancy, 34 rue Sainte-Catherine (www.museumaquariumdenancy.eu; [tel] 03-83-32-99-97) with 57 aquariums and a display of 600 preserved animal and archaeological specimens. Open daily 10am to noon and 2 to 6pm. Admission is 4.20€ adults; 2.20€ seniors, students and children 12–17; free children 11 and under and all visitors the first Sunday of the month.