Getting Oriented

Bordered by Germany, Alsace-Lorraine has often changed hands between the two countries in the past 350 years. This back-and-forth has left a mark—you'll find that Germanic half-timber houses sometimes clash with a very French café scene. Art also pays homage to both nations, as you can see in the museums of Strasbourg, Alsace's hub. Westward lies Lorraine, birthplace of Joan of Arc (and the famous quiche). Due west of Strasbourg on the other side of the Vosges Mountains, the main city of Nancy entices with Art Nouveau and grand 18th-century architecture.

  • Nancy. When Stanislas Leszczynski, ex-king of Poland, succeeded in marrying his daughter to Louis XV, he paid homage to the monarch by transforming Nancy into another Versailles, embellishing it with elegant showstoppers like Place Stanislas. Elsewhere in the city, you can sate your appetite for the best Art Nouveau at the Musée École de Nancy and the Villa Majorelle—after all, the style originated here.
  • Lorraine. In long-neglected Lorraine, many make the pilgrimage to Joan of Arc Country. The faithful teen, who went on to become one of France's patron saints, was born in Domrémy in the early 1400s; and nearby spots like Vaucouleurs featured prominently in her short but inspiring life story. If you listen carefully, you might hear the church bells in which Joan discerned voices challenging her to save France.
  • Strasbourg. An appealing combination of medieval alleys, international think tanks, and the European Parliament, Strasbourg is best loved for the villagelike atmosphere of La Petite France, the looming presence of the Cathédrale de Notre-Dame, the rich museums, and the local libations served in its winstubs (wine-bistros, pronounced "veen-shtoob").
  • Alsace. Tinged with a German flavor, Alsace is a never-ending procession of colorful towns and villages, many fitted out with spires, gabled houses, and storks' nests in chimney pots. Here you can find the Route du Vin, the famous Alsatian Wine Road, with its vineyards of Riesling and Gewürztraminer. This conveniently heads south to Colmar, where the half-timber buildings of the centre ville seem cut out of a child's coloring book. The town's main treasure is Grünewald's unforgettable 16th-century Issenheim Altarpiece.

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