The easternmost regions of France, Alsace and Lorraine, with ancient capitals at Strasbourg and Nancy, were the object of a centuries-old dispute between Germany and France. In fact, they were annexed by Germany between 1870 until after World War I and from 1940 to 1944. Though they’ve remained part of France since the end of World War II, Alsace especially is still reminiscent of the Black Forest, with its flower-laden half-timbered houses and traditional winstub taverns serving choucroute and sausage.
With this cultural mélange, it’s not surprising Strasbourg became the base of the European parliament. Whereas Lorraine, with its rolling landscape and regal architecture, appears and feels more distinctly French in character and is even the homeland of one of the country’s greatest heroines: Joan of Arc. Ponder these local traits while wandering through the quaint towns of the Alsatian Wine Road or through the natural splendor of the Vosges Mountains.
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 over 70 buildings, including houses, farms, and traditional artisanal workshops. Kids can watch a potter at work, learn about beekeeping, poke their heads into a schoolroom or take a ride on a horse-drawn cart. Entrance is 15€ adults, 10€ children 4 to 14, free to children 3 and under. Open daily 10am to 6pm, though it may have alternative hours in December and is closed most of November, January, and February.
The Vosges mountains have plenty of activities for outdoor adventurers, especially the Regional Natural Park of the Ballons des Vosges. You can discover this incredibly beautiful protected ecosystem hiking, biking, canoeing, horseback riding, or at one of the park’s many heritage sites from farms to former mills. For a less strenuous tour of the area, take a ride on the historic Abreschviller train, 2 pl. 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 min. It runs in April and October on Wednesday, Sunday and holidays at 3pm, and more frequently May to September; check the website for a timetable. Tickets are 7€ adult one-way and 13€ round-trip, for children it’s 5€ and 9.50€ 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 5€ adults; 3€ seniors, students and children 12 to 17; free to children 11 and under and all visitors the first Sunday of the month.
The Other Centre Pompidou
Since 2010 the vast collections of Paris’s Centre Pompidou have been shared with its much-talked-about satellite in Metz, the capital city of Alsace’s neighboring region, Lorraine. Located in a building more avant-garde than the art on the walls, you can peruse rotating masterpieces from the main museum’s huge collection in addition to thematic temporary exhibits. Film screenings and guest lectures can extend your visit to a full day. Metz is a 30- to 35-min. train ride from Nancy; trains run every 20 min. (11€ one-way). The museum is at 1 parvis des Droits de l’Homme (www.centrepompidou-metz.fr; tel. 03-87-15-39-39; admission 7€–12€ adults [depending on the exhibit], free for seniors and visitors 26 and under). Open Monday and Wednesday to Friday 11am to 6pm, Saturday 10am to 6pm, and Sunday 10 to 6pm.