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Alsace Region Blends French, German Cultures Along Rhine River

The town of Colmar, in the Alsace region of France, is on the Alsatian wine route.

Last week, we traveled along the Rhine River with KPLU travel expert Matthew Brumley. We're farther downstream this week, in the Alsace region of France along the German border.

Owing to various conflicts and annexations through the years (including World War II), Alsatians have been under both French and German rule throughout history.

That’s on display in a variety of ways when you travel through the Alsace-Lorraine region, including the food.

“The specialty here is sauerkraut and foie gras,” said Brumley. “That’s something you don’t see, normally, on the same menu.”

The influence is reflected in the language, too.

“They speak both German and French,” Brumley said. “It’s a very interesting part of France.”

A significant population remains bilingual, although recent reports suggest that is changing.

Future Of Europe

As much as the Alsace region has been shaped by Europe’s past, it’s now helping to shape the continent’s future. Strasbourg, the region’s capital, is home to the European Parliament.

“Most of the time when we think of the European Union, we think of Brussels, because the European Commission is based in Brussels,” Brumley said.

The Parliament meets in both places, but its official seat is here in Alsace. And yes,you can take a tour.

Wine Region

Just like last week’s trip along the Rhine River in Germany, the Alsace region of France is known for its wine. Here, the popular varieties are Riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris, and a variety called Gewurztraminer. A wine enthusiast could spend a long time exploring this region.

Small Places

Brumley says visitors to the region can fly into Paris and end up in Strasbourg less than three hours later via the TGV train. It takes 90 minutes from Frankfurt.

But Brumley says you shouldn’t be afraid to visit the smaller places in between. Getting away from the places in your tour book can offer a unique experience. And the language barrier is not usually an issue for English-speaking tourists.

“But a word to the wise,” Brumley said. “When you come to France, try to learn a little bit of French when you come here” — as a gesture of courtesy, if nothing else.


Matthew Brumley is the founder of Earthbound Expeditions, which organizes group travel to destinations around the world for various clients, including KPLU. "Going Places" explores all aspects of getting from Point A to Point B. Have a travel hangup or a tip? Let us know in the comments.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.