Unique hybrid culture gives Alsace its special charm

PUBLISHED: 11:59 04 January 2007 | UPDATED: 10:30 07 September 2010

By our globetrotting travel specialist, Marijke Peters DO NOT be fooled by the German-sounding place names – France s Alsace region is proud of its Gallic roots and is pouring cash into promoting them. The area has swapped hands between the two nations several times over the past few centuri

By Marijke Peters

DO NOT be fooled by the German-sounding place names - France's Alsace region is proud of its Gallic roots and is pouring cash into promoting them.

The area has swapped hands between the two nations several times over the past few centuries and the industrial town of Mulhouse only became French in 1798. Since then, though, a unique hybrid culture has developed, making it one of the most interesting parts of France to visit. Although many visitors concentrate on Strasbourg and the north of the region, there is plenty to see in southern Alsace.

Stroll down the cobbled streets of medieval Colmar and it's impossible not to be won over by the town's charm. The pastel-coloured houses are decorated with berries and greenery for Christmas and seem to invite you in. In the summer, the little canal running through the centre is used by punters and its banks are lined with café terraces.

Alsace is famous for its Christmas markets and Colmar is one of the best towns to sample their delights with no less than six sites bursting with traditional wooden stalls selling local food and produce.

The smell of hot mulled wine wafts through the air and is the perfect antidote to cold winter evenings.

There are more than 20 markets dotted around the little towns along the famous wine route and part of the fun involves driving from one to another and stocking up on goodies along the way. They are excellent places to find unusual Christmas presents and handmade decorations, as well as cheeses, sausages and the local gingerbread.

A short drive from Colmar, Riquewihr and Ribeauville are both perfect examples of the local architectural style, with their wooden-beamed houses and ancient ramparts. Behind them, the hills are planted with vineyards as far as the eye can see.

And if it's only the wine you're after, Alsace is the place to come. Although Reisling is probably the most famous of all the Alsacian wines, there are actually seven grape varieties grown in the region. A number of vinyards are open to the public for tasting and tours, including the fabulous Vins Becker in Zellenberg, where the family has been making wine since 1610.

The other great product to come out of Alsace is foie gras. There are 20 producers in the area, each with a different recipe for gourmet paté. And although animal rights campaigners frown on production methods, it's hard to care that much when you come to taste it. Silky and rich, the paté is the perfect accompaniment to a glass of dry white wine.

For the more culturally minded, Alsace boasts a number of museums to keep its visitors entertained. Perhaps the most famous is one in Mulhouse devoted to the automobile - one of the world's biggest collections of vintage vehicles, collected by Fritz and Hans Schlumpf in the 1960s. The brothers collected

105 Bugattis in under 10 years and there are now 123 of them

on display.

Mulhouse is also home to a textile museum where the world's great designers look for inspiration. The town was once the centre of the European textile industry and the museum includes examples of materials produced there throughout the ages.

The town is just a short drive from Basle international airport, and, with regular flights from three major UK airports, it's incredibly easy to get there. And with neighbouring Germany and Switzerland just a short drive away, you could always visit three countries for the price of one.

Easyjet flies daily from Liverpool, Luton and Stansted from £33.98 return, including tax. To book a visit, go to www.easyjet.com or phone 0905 821 0905.

For more information on the region, visit the website www.tourisme-alsace.com.

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