Alsace is the Germanic region of France. It is a region lying on the west bank of the river Rhine, between the Rhine and the Vosges mountains. To the north and east it shares a border with Germany; to the south with German-speaking Switzerland, and to the west with Lorraine and Franche Comté.
From 1982 until January 2016, Alsace was the smallest of 22 administrative regions in metropolitan France, consisting of the Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin departments. Territorial reform passed by the French legislature in 2014 resulted in the merger of the Alsace administrative region with Champagne-Ardenne and Lorraine to form Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine.
Historically speaking, Alsace was part of the German-speaking area of central Europe, and to this day a large proportion of the population, of all generations, speak or understand Alsacian, a dialectal form of German closely resembling the German spoken in Switzerland.
In the last two centuries, Alsace has passed from Germany to France and back , and back again; consequently, it is a region that was not part of France at the time of the makings of the modern-day nation, and has held on to a number of institutional differences, particularly concerning religious affairs. For example, Good Friday is a public holiday in Alsace, but not in the rest of France; and in Alsace, priests are paid by the state.
*information partly derived from wikipedia and about-france.com.*
Back in 2011, right after a work-related thing I have done in Durban, South Africa, I decided to continue my trip and have a bit of a break, went to Europe for couple of days to meet my friend who lives in Brussels instead of going back straight to my homeland, Indonesia. Although it was not recent, I think the experience is still worth to share here. However I’m sorry if the post is a bit too long, it’s just that so many things I can share from the region. I hope you will enjoy it anyway 🙂
It was in October, and the weather was pretty decent and not too cold at that time (although at one point we had a 0°c in the middle of the night). We have made a plan to make a short getaway to a place where we both never been visited before. We wanted to do the trip by car, because we thought that would be more convenient for us, thus we sorted out few options where we could go with reasonable amount of driving time yet still interesting for us to visit. Both of us like nature, some kind of gothic-medieval architectures, and castle thingy stuff. After some research, we then decided to go visit Alsace area, with a stop by at Luxembourg.
The driving duration from Brussels to Alsace (Strasbourg) is around 5 hours non stop. We went from Brussels in the evening around 6-7 p.m after my friend finished his work. It was a rush hour thus we got a bit of a traffic in order to get out from the city center. The driving time from Brussels to Luxembourg itself is around 2,5 hours. A bit out of the topic, Luxembourg is also an interesting place to visit. But in order to make this post a bit less longer (which already long due to the photos) I will share it some other time in another post 🙂
Three biggest cities in Alsace region are Strasbourg, Mulhouse, and Colmar. Strasbourg and Colmar are quite known for their beautiful old town and its historical places. The distance between both cities is quite reasonable and for those reasons we then decided to visit both the cities. Of course with the visit to the famous Chateau Du Haut-Koenigsbourg (the Chateau is located in between).
Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace region. Situated on the banks of the river Rhine, Strasbourg is known for its historical and cultural sights, as well as its specific, picturesque ambiance. Strasbourg is also known as a capital of Europe – with the Council of Europe and the Eurocorps, as well as the European Parliament and the European Ombudsman of the European Union located there. The city is also the seat of the Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine and the International Institute of Human Rights.
From the first time we arrived, we got instantly amazed with how beautiful the surrounding was. After checked in at the hotel, we then right away started to explore the surrounding.
Typical buildings you find in Strasbourg, especially around the city center. It’s very lovely with those colorful flowers isn’t it?
A hospital in the city center.
We also had a chance to visit Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg (French: Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg, or Cathédrale de Strasbourg, German: Liebfrauenmünster zu Straßburg or Straßburger Münster), also known as Strasbourg Minster. It is a Roman Catholic cathedral with some part of the cathedral still in Romanesque architecture. However the cathedral also widely considered to be among the finest examples of high, or late, Gothic architecture.
The Cathedral, as any other cathedrals I have visited, has a very beautiful architecture and surrounding. The main hall in my opinion was almost similar to the Kolner Dom in Cologne, Germany. In this Cathedral there is an astronomical clock which has been built since 1843 (this was the third one built since the first clock built in 14th century). Its main features, besides the automata, are a perpetual calendar (including a computus), an orrery (planetary dial), a display of the real position of the Sun and the Moon, and solar and lunar eclipses (wikipedia).
It was pity that I couldn’t capture any decent pictures to be displayed here. It was mainly because when we got there it was already almost dark. I posted here some of the images I got from wikimedia to give a little glimpse of the Cathedral.
During our visit, there were an exhibition about Climate with some displays as above at the plaza around city center. I found one of them that interest me, mainly because of “Indonesia” word in it 😀
On the second day we continued our city exploration to the Petite France district which famous for their black (or dark brown) and white timber-framed buildings.
Petite France forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île (an old quarter that exemplifies medieval cities), designated in 1988. It is located at the western end of the Grande Île (it is literally means “large island” which derived from the fact that it is surrounded on one side by the main channel of the River Ill and on the other side by the Canal du Faux-Rempart). Here in Petite France, the River Ill splits up into a number of channels that cascade through an area that was, in the Middle Ages, home to the city’s tanners, millers and fishermen, and is now one of Strasbourg’s main tourist attractions.(wikipedia).
The Maison des Tanneurs, Petite France.
Place Benjamin-Zix, Petite France
Half-timbered houses and the Ill river bank as the background with younger version me 😉
There were still lots of things to be seen here in Strasbourg actually, but after having lunch we decided to just go heading to our next destination. It was a very nice visit, and for sure I would love to go here again some other time 🙂
Chateau Du Haut-Koenigsbourg
Our second destination of our trip (well, the third if you also count Luxembourg actually) was the Chatau Du Haut-Koenigsbourg. We started our trip after having a short lunch in Strasbourg. The scenery during the road trip was very stunning. We passed by a village that has a very beautiful corner and instantly we decided to stop and took some pictures there :p
The village was very quiet. I don’t think we met any living person there except some cars parked as seen in pictures.
After driving passed the village, we again served with another amazing view. This time was a series of vineyards. It was so beautiful again we decided to just stopped by and took some pictures as well. It became even more magical because of the mist presented in the air. Correct me if I´m wrong, but I think these vineyards are parts of The Alsatian Vineyard Route.
The road we need to pass to reach the Chateau / the Castle was quite hilly. It reminded me a bit to the road around Lembang, Bandung. With pine trees on the surrounding as well as its winding road (just a tiny bit colder here hehe). The moment we reached the Castle, we had to park the car a bit further from the Castle. And then, when we walked to the Castle I got this magical view (again!) in front of my eyes. Its almost like surreal how it look ya. Those hills are vineyards by the way.
Based on the information I read from several websites, the Chateau Du Haut-Koenigsbourg (or Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle) was built in a very specific manner, in a way, it was carved in into the rocks standing on the top of the mountain as to preserve its natural strategic and defensive position (at that time). On a glimpse, it was built somewhere around 1147 by Frédéric le Borgne, duke of Souabe and a member of the Hohenstaufens family who wanted to reinforce his power in Alsace by building a defence line made of castles placed all over the region. During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) the Castle was conquered by the Swedish army and was burnt to the ground. After that, the Castle was left abandoned for more than 200 years until in 1865 bought by the nearby town of Sélestat. In 1871 Alsace became a part of Germany and the city of Sélestat offered the castle ruins to Kaiser Wilhelm II. The German Emperor decided to continue the restoration (which already being done partly by the city of Sélestat). After the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, the castle was once again in possession of France.
If you are interested to know more about the Castle including the complete history of it, you can check this link or their official website.
Pictures I attached here mostly (or all) were taken from inside the Castle. I didn’t put much photos of the inside parts of the Castle because I think the view we got from inside the Castle were more breathtaking and worth to share than the details of the rooms. It’s not that the inside not special, but I guess you will be able to picture how a Castle along with its rooms look like :).
We were quite lucky during our visit the Castle was not that crowded with visitors. I guess it was a bit too cold for some people visiting the Castle at that time. But because of this I was able to take some picturesque scenes without any disturbance from other tourists :p
O ya, one thing to mention, in the entrance of the Castle you can find a miniature of the Castle, complete with some explanations (if I’m not mistaken).
After we were done exploring the Castle, we continued our trip to our last destination – Colmar. The distance between the Castle and Colmar was not that far (around 26-30 kilometers). Although the view on the road was not as interesting as the trip from Strasbourg to the Castle, not that far from the Castle we found a nice scenery of a church located in the middle of a hill. It is actually a bit typical French (with their beautiful small villages spread across the hilly land – so different with the Netherlands who only has flat view hehe), but we stopped by anyway to capture some of the sight as well.
The moment we entered city of Colmar, I found one interesting thing there. They apparently also have their own Statue of Liberty =). The size is not that big, it’s more of the mini liberty, just like the one I saw in Odaiba, Japan.
Apparently according to Colmar Tourisme website, it was sculpted to commemorate the 100th death anniversary of the sculptor Auguste Batholdi, who was born in Colmar and created the “Liberty lightening the world” (The Statue of Liberty in New York). The Municipality of Colmar has placed the replica in the northern entrance to the town.
the 12-meter high replica of the statue of liberty
Colmar has rather a lot of more recent development around the edges, but at the center you will see a lovely view of the old town with street after narrow street of half-timbered, half-painted houses (almost similar to the old town of Strasbourg).
If Strasbourg has Petite France, then Colmar has Petite Venise (The little Venice). This name probably came from the original line of the houses on both sides of the river, which serves the southeast of the city. (tourisme-colmar)
The Tanner’s District is constituted from high wood framing houses and half timbered houses, mostly dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries. The houses were used by tanners who worked and lived there with their families. They were also used for drying out their skins on the upper floors, often with an openwork design. The tanner’s district was renovated between 1698 and 1974. The renovation gave back its beauty to this village in the heart of the city.
Musée d’Unterlinden (Unterlinden Museum)
One of the most interesting buildings in Colmar: the Saint Martin Church. Built between 1235 and 1365 the Saint Martin’s collegiate church is an important example of Gothic architecture in Alsace. Because of a fire in the south tower in 1572 the framework and all the roofs were destroyed. The tower was replaced three years later by the original lantern bulb (a construction on the top of the dome which has the form of a lantern) which gives the Church its characteristic silhouette. The church has been restored several times. In 1982 during the most recent restoration, foundations of a church from the year 1000 and traces of extensions from the 11th and the 12th centuries were found (Colmar Tourisme).
- The Koïfhus or the former customs house. It is the older public local building and had from its creation a double function. The ground floor was used as a warehouse and as a place of taxation for imported and exported goods. The floor was used for the meetings of the deputies of the Décapole, the federation of the 10 imperial cities of Alsace, which was created in 1534. The Magistrate also met there. The revolution abolished commercial privileges and the building was used for other uses. Around 1840 a theatre took place there and in 1848 the first office of the discount bank. The Koïfhus was occupied by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry from 1870 to 1930 and by a catholic boy school and an Israelite school in the late 19th century. Today many manifestations and public activities take place here (Colmar Tourisme).
It’s pity that we couldn’t explore Colmar as much as Strasbourg. I guess we were already quite tired from the trip and with the driving hours back to Brussels taken into account, we decided that it was about time for us to go. I think it was also because most parts of Colmar were almost look alike what we saw in the old town of Strasbourg, we got less wow-ed with what Colmar offered to us. We didn’t regret it though (not at all!), because we still got some superb view of the city. I just have to revisit the city one more time and explore the city again more thoroughly 😉