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

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 (; 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.

For a family break in Lorraine, stop in at the Muséum-Aquarium de Nancy, 34 rue Sainte-Catherine (; 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.