Hilltop castles, historic towns by the Rhine, rolling vineyards and a plethora of natural parks… Not Germany, but Alsace – France’s hidden gem in the east. This small region, just 8,200km2, is a fascinating confluence of French and German cultures and is packed with history and culture. Join us as we explore life for expats here, and take a tour through the best of its charming towns and villages.
Why move to Alsace?
On the border with Germany and one of the seats of the European Parliament, it brands itself the ‘heart of Europe’. It’s known for its quaint riverside towns and villages with the typical maisons à colombages, or wattle-and-daub houses. This is a mountainous region with plenty to offer for the outdoor enthusiast: the Vosges are unmissable for cyclists and hiking enthusiasts alike.
If you’re more of a ‘take it easy’ type, the region’s equally a centre for gastronomy. The famous flammekueche, or the ‘Germanic pizza’, is a perennial favourite. Meanwhile, the 170km Wine Road connects numerous excellent vineyards, some dating back over 100 years. It’s no surprise, then, that the region’s known for its viticulture, with three local white wines classified as among the best in the world.
And if you’re coming for work, you’re in luck. Alsace has the highest concentration of SMEs and large enterprises in France. It’s also the top exporter in the country and the third most innovative region nationwide. Opportunities are undeniably abundant.
Finally, for those with children, this is a region with tremendous possibilities. As a former part of the German Empire – and with its own Germanic dialect – Alsace has many schools offering the Abi-Bac. This is a combination of the French school-leaving diploma, the famous baccalauréat, and the German one, the Abitur. It’s a great opportunity for children to become fluent in both French and German.
So, where are the best areas to live in Alsace?
Sitting on the banks of the Rhine, Strasbourg is the bustling second seat of the European Parliament. Its entire historic centre, the Grand-Île, was the first worldwide to be classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. La Petite France, situated by the river, is popular for its historic architecture and independent boutiques. Not far away, the sandstone cathedral was the tallest building in the world for 227 years and is still a breath-taking sight today.
The Orangerie is one of the most desirable districts of the city, home to many consulates and diplomatic representatives. Robertsau, with its villas and townhouses, is popular for those looking for a quiet area. A more lively district is Krutenau, once known as a home for boatmen and now the site of numerous restaurants, bars and shops.
This is a quintessentially Alsatian town. Crisscrossed by canals and the river, its pastel-coloured houses offer a quaint contrast to the imposing grandeur of the Château des Rohan. The Producers’ Market on Tuesdays and Great Market on Thursdays mean foodies can really enjoy the excellent produce of the surrounding area (and it’s a great chance to practise your French!). High-speed TGV pass through the town, bringing you to Paris in just 2 hours 40 minutes.
Ottersthal is a peaceful area on the edge of the town, with large houses and views to the surrounding hills. Next to the centre, around the rue de Haegen, you’ll find mixed houses and apartments in leafy surroundings.
In the south, near the city of Colmar, sits Riquewihr. Known for its Riesling and a former winner of the ‘France’s Most Beautiful Villages’, it has a wonderfully preserved centre full of wattle-and-daub houses. Cafés line the cobbled main street, while greenery and flowers festoon the upper levels of its historic homes.
It sits within the verdant surroundings of the Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park – it’s a fantastic location for outdoor enthusiasts. Local homes are largely detached, with higher prices in the centre, falling heading out past the walls towards the Pays de Colmar.
Eguisheim’s narrow, winding streets and timbered homes seem as if they’re straight out of a postcard. This is a relatively sunny area for the region – so it’s no surprise that it’s a centre for wine production.
Named in 2013 as the ‘favourite village of the French’, Eguisheim is largely surrounded by the Alsace Plain, made up of farmland and forest. Despite its rural nature, it is very close to Colmar – around 20 minutes’ drive. Houses are mainly detached, with more outdoor space available outside the historic centre.
Living in Alsace
Wherever you live in Alsace, you can be assured of an excellent quality of life, with easy access to natural parks, a world-class city and countless historic towns and villages.
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