The Northeast of France is a beautiful area, both in terms of its architecture and its landscapes. The home of the wonderful city of Strasbourg, as well as the base for the world's champagne production, this region perfectly combines cultural and culinary elements from France and Germany, formerly in charge of the Alsace and Lorraine regions, to create an atypical, yet spectacular way for visitors to experience France. Often passed through as tourists make their way to other areas of the country, it is worth taking the time to stop and explore an untapped region.
Strasbourg, the official site of the European Parliament, is the Northeast's largest city. Its historic city center, known as the Grande Île, became the first whole center to become a UNESCO World Heritage site. The city's blend of French and German culture makes it a unique city in many ways, with a stunning gothic cathedral, coupled with beautiful German renaissance buildings throughout the old town (with Place Gutenberg and the maison des tanneurs particularly striking examples). Famed Christmas markets in December make the city a particularly attractive destination for winter travel.
Outside of Strasbourg, the Northeast has a number of other majestic sites. It incorporates the world-famous Champagne-Ardenne region, where the famous sparkling wine is made, and tours of vineyards are available. Reims, the city around which this region is situated, has a wonderful 13th century cathedral, coupled with a rich medieval history and Art Deco architecture. Other historic cities in the region include Verdun, Metz and Nancy, many of which incorporate similar Germanic architecture to that of Strasbourg.
Verdun is known especially for its First World War connections, the site of the Battle of Verdun, and now home to a large number of war memorials, such as the Douaumont ossuary, the resting place of more than 130,000 soldiers. The museums and respectfully-maintained war graves make this a must-visit for any history enthusiast. Nancy is a town dedicated to art and culture, with live culture particularly important. Indeed, it plays host to a national opera, ballet, and a symphony orchestra, alongside six major museums, including the ecole de Nancy (School of Nancy Museum). Its old town is also internationally renowned, with Place Stanislas another of the region's UNESCO World Heritage sites. Metz, at the confluence of the Moselle and Seille rivers, is a hidden treasure, with its superb gothic cathedral, adorned with many stained-glass windows, some designed by such celebrated craftsmen as Hermann von Münster and Valentin Bousch, as well as its diverse markets and divine bistros and gourmet restaurants. Colmar, known as the capital of Alsatian wine, is a town with a spectacular old town, whose cobbled streets and beautifully-colored timber houses make it like something out of a fairytale.
Food and Dining
The home of champagne, the liquid wares of this region are not to be missed. In Reims, and indeed across the region, there are champagne bars aplenty in which you can enjoy perhaps the best sparkling wine in the world. The food here, as well as some of the wine, often seems more German than French, with such delicacies as sauerkraut (known here as choucroute) and other pickled produce, juniper berries and smoked pork especially popular in the area. Alsace is the home of the controversial yet delicious foie gras pâte (produced in a more humane way than is traditionally thought), whilst the Lorraine region prides itself in its namesake quiche, an open savory egg tart popular throughout the world, but found here in its purest, tastiest form. Lorraine is also famous for its Mirabelle plums, and the tarte aux mirabelles is not to be missed.
Northeastern France shares borders with Germany, Belgium and Luxembourg, so can be accessed by car or train from these countries. Areas are also fairly close to (within a 2-3-hour drive of) Calais, and the transport links it shares with the United Kingdom: the Eurostar to London, or Le Shuttle and the ferries from Folkestone and Dover respectively. In fact, phase 2 of the Eurostar service between Paris and Strasbourg was recently completed, and operates at a maximum speed of 200 miles per hour (320 km/h). Train links are also available between Paris and other cities in this region, such as Reims and Nancy.
The region is also served by Strasbourg Airport, a minor international airport, to which you can fly from other airports throughout Europe including, in winter times, London, as well as Madrid, Prague, Amsterdam and Athens, as well as from a number of other French airports, and parts of North Africa.