Vacances Actives Linguistiques visited Alsace this summer and brings you its favourite things to see and do during a language stay in Alsace for our French students. Here’s a trip through both the region (north to south) and time as you travel back to the Middle Ages, Renaissance and Industrial Revolution. Autumn and its golden colours make Alsace one of our favourite destinations: half-timbered houses, fortresses standing on mountain roads and hillside vineyards, staggering views of the Ballons des Vosges and rib-sticking comfort food!
1 : Craftsmanship and culture, Musée Lalique, Hochberg
You’re in for an exciting introduction to the art of glass and crystal at the Lalique Museum. The sheer variety of display pieces showcase the attention to detail and prestige of the work and expertise that go into making them.
The museum is named after a famous creative family and specifically René Lalique, the world-renowned glass designer who opened his glassworks on the Hochberg site in 1922. The museum displays fine jewellery, perfume bottles for luxury brands, chandeliers and beautifully crafted home accessories.
Get to grips with the extraordinary art of glass with films and sensory workshops where you can touch the material at each design stage.
2 : Strasbourg and flammekueche foodie workshop.
Strasbourg is a must-visit on this language stay in Alsace. The city and European district are worth spending a full week exploring (please see our first travel guide in Strasbourg).
After a walk around Petite France and a trip up the cathedral to say hello to the gargoyles, the students got stuck into a cookery workshop devoted to a local delicacy: flammekueche!
The wood-fired recipe has simple yet specific ingredients: smoked lardons, onion and cream. Once our aprons and worktops were completely covered in flour, the workshop turned into a tasting session to find out who had made the best flammekueche!
3 : Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg, Alsace’s iconic medieval fortress
It was time to visit Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg and tackle one of Alsace’s best-preserved and most iconic medieval fortresses. Sitting on a rocky headland at an altitude of 750m, the château is a blast from the past. Its uneven walls hug the mountain with views of the rolling Vosges, Black Forest and even the Alps on a good day! An essential geography break to reset your compass north!
The fortress trip was a chance to introduce our group of students to medieval architecture terms in French: donjon, pont-levis, chemin de ronde, mâchicoulis and more. From the weapons rooms and keep to the beautifully furnished reception rooms, Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg captures medieval everyday life and how weapons and warcraft have evolved.
4. Humanist Library in Sélestat
Say goodbye to the Middle Ages and hello to the Renaissance as we follow in the footsteps of the humanist Beatus Rhenanus. He left his fantastic book collection to the Alsatian town of Sélestat where he was born and it is now listed on the UNESCO Memory of the World Register.
As you flick through the books, manuscripts, leaflets and numbered schoolbooks, you experience the lives of great humanists and travellers like Beatus Rhenanus and his famous friend Erasmus. Discovering uncharted territory, meeting new cultures, making progress in science and technology, considering man’s place in the universe and more, a trip to the Humanist Library certainly got our French students and budding travellers thinking.
5 : The Eagle Park at Château de Kintzheim
Do birds of prey make your heart soar? Then head to the Eagle Park for a show you’ll never forget! We took our French students out on an educational and exciting trip to meet the tawny eagle, spectacled owl and snowy owl (which Harry Potter fans loved for its Hedwig vibes).
Admiration and wonder were the keywords. We met as many as 30 lively, smart and remarkable birds of prey here. Our trip included an educational workshop to find out how the eagles are born in captivity here and live in their natural habitat.
6 : Charming little Alsatian towns: introducing Colmar, Eguisheim and Ribeauvillé
We simply had to spend a day visiting Alsace’s beautiful villages with their signature personality and romance. These towns are popular during the holiday season with their magical Christmas markets, but they’re just as lovely on a trip to explore and sample local produce! Feast on cured meat, bretzels and classic choucroute galore on the Wine Route!
Ribeauvillé is a fine example of Alsatian village architecture with bright and colourful half-timbered houses. Our students’ favourites were Auberge de l’Éléphant and Maison des Ménétriers (meaning the House of Musicians) at the top of the Grand-Rue with its beautiful frontage dating back to 1683. We kept our energy topped up with a trip to a family-run Alsatian chocolate shop!
We did a little scavenger hunt in Eguisheim: our young visitors explored the village with spiral lanes and met locals and tourists to answer as many questions as they could in the shortest time. Mission accomplished! Half-timbered houses, high-pitched roofs, sculpted lintels and secret fountains… there were hidden clues everywhere! This colourful village is a favourite among French people (just ask TV presenter Stéphane Bern!) with its pretty labyrinth ideal for having fun and enjoying views of the Alsatian hills.
Last stop: Colmar, the most magical and peaceful of the trio. The so-called Little Venice is home to half-timbered houses lining the canals and cobbled lanes. Since the Christmas market and its many craftsmen and traders weren’t here, we focused on the Ecomusée d’Alsace: a traditional Alsatian village brought to life to showcase bygone buildings, trades and costumes. We met the blacksmith, cooper, wheelwright and schoolteacher who held a class about Alsace’s history in the classroom! Listen up!
7. La Cité du Train, SNCF heritage in Mulhouse
A journey within a journey… La Cité du Train in Mulhouse whisked us away to the world of train travel as we explored rolling stock, all the items used on board and how they’ve changed over time.
As our visitors moved from one area to the next, they got a glimpse of the railway world in all its glory whether it be exciting (the train and holidays, paid leave in 1936), geographical (the train and mountain, a technical challenge!) or political and dramatic (the train and world wars).
The students were fascinated by the genuine steam trains from the 1850s, imperial carriages and luxurious Compagnie des Wagons-Lits restaurants used on the iconic Orient Express.
Let’s not forget France’s high-speed rail service: the TGV! The students were eager to find out more about the modern trains and may even have found their calling!
Our language stays in Alsace bring together the cool mountain nature of the Vosges with the fantastic local history and culture. They are easy to pair with trips to major cities such as Paris or Lyon, available all year round and are even more magical over the holiday season.