Taking its name from the mountain range, Vosges is a department which sits towards the south of the region of Lorraine, in the north east corner of France. The mountains lie along the eastern border of the department, and lush greenery and dense forests set the area apart from the rest of the country. Two rivers, the Meuse and the Moselle, meet in the west of the department, where the land is flat. Spread across a land area of 5874km2, Vosges is home to approximately 381,000 denizens.
The position of Vosges and its mountain range, on the eastern border of France, has made it a valuable area of land to warring nations. The department was created during the French revolution in March 1790. Vosges has grown since its creation, with surrounding areas including Salm and Schirmeck absorbed.
The nearby Alsace, and a small part of Vosges was lost by France to Germany during the disastrous Franco-Prussian war of 1870-1871. Fortunes changed during World War One though, with the Vosges mountain range one of the front lines at the outbreak in 1914, when the French fought to win back Alsace.
- Saint Die des Vosges
The mountainous eastern area of Vosges is subject to changeable weather, often cold and wet because of the altitude. Snow is common. Throughout this northeastern area, the temperatures are generally notably lower than the rest of the country. It is not unusual for winters to be long, cold and harsh, with ice, snow, wind and rain. Summer, on the other hand, can offer a complete contrast in temperatures – generally being very warm and humid (although sometimes stormy as a result).
It is unusual that there is an entire month without any rain – precipitation measures range from an average of 1.71 inches in April to 2.76 inches in October. The prefecture of Épinal gives you a sense of average temperatures in the department:
Average temperature in Épinal
Épinal is the prefecture of the department. As such, the pretty streets have a lot to offer in the form of culture. The Musée Départemental d'Art Ancien et Contemporain, Lorraine's popular art museum is always bustling with enthusiasts. The museum building used to be a seventeenth century hospital. It has since been refurbished and developed to reflect the range of old and modern art it houses.
The 7th century Monastery of Saint Die des Vosges is well worth a visit. It has a colourful past - it has survived wars and several fires. Today, the city thrives on the printing and chemical industries.
At the point where the rivers Meuse and Moselle meet, in the west of Vosges, is the pretty market town of Neufchateau. Plan your visit to the town for the summer time, and take in the wonderful sights and smells of the annual fair.
The mountains can provide endless outdoor fun for families – skiing, snowboarding, snow trekking, tobogganing, scenic walks – take advantage of the stunning natural environment.
Cycling is an ideal way to explore the scenery, and keep youngsters amused. Hire bikes in Gerardmer, and discover the local (and not so local) area through the 200km of markes cycle routes. Try Cycles Picart 16 boulevard Kelsch in Gerardmer.
If you are an avid horse rider, visit a riding school and get back to nature, exploring the region on horseback. One riding school in the region is at 62 route de Sapins in Ramberchamp.
The area is ideal for water lovers - from canoeing to kayaking and rowing, there is plenty to try your hand at. You can book lessons, so do not worry if you or your family are novices. Most water sports centres are only open during the summer. For canoeing and kayaking, try Faubourg de Ramberchamp and, for rowing, try Club Union Nautique, both in Gerardmer.
If the beautiful surroundings are not enough to keep young children amused, try a theme park. Situated near Strasbourg and Saint Die des Vosges, the Pays des lacs de Pierre Percee offers a wide range of outdoor adventures for children and adults alike, including bungee jumping, paintballing and canoeing.
Food and drink
Lorraine is a region rich in culinary traditions. Quiche Lorraine features one of the dominant ingredients of the area's signature dishes – smoked bacon. Another speciality is the chunky local paté, encased in light pastry and made of chopped veal and usually pork. Potato is also used widely, being the main ingredient of potee lorraine, a stew of different meats, potato, cabbage and beans.
The land lining the River Moselle is very fertile because of the water minerals. Vineyards thrive along the valley, and as a result, so does the local wine industry. The most famous variety of wine is the pinot noir. Toul is also an important wine producing area. Whites include Auxerrois, and a rose known as gris because of its pale grey colour.
The Vosges Mountains is most famous among snow-seekers for its cross-country ski runs. The mountains span several different departments, but to the east of Vosges is the range's highest peak, Grand Ballon, at 1424 meters high. There are around 1000 kilometres of downhill runs in the area, many of which are picturesque tree-lined winding routes.
Vosges is home to two beautiful and vast regional parks, the Parc Naturel Regional des Vosges du Nord and the Parc Naturel Regional des Ballons des Vosges. Both cover a significant area of land, and encompass many towns. The area should keep keen walkers occupied.
World War II battlefields can be found throughout the region. For more information on tours of these historical sites, see Holts Tours. This company provides a tour which allows walkers to understand the way of life of the soldiers. You will explore the remains of the front line trenches and other remaining features of the battlefield.
Ease of access
Located near the eastern border of France, Vosges is close to more than one airport. Strasbourg is the most convenient, but you may be able to get more reasonably-priced flights to Basel-Mulhouse, which has links with budget airlines like easyJet, and is less than 100km away from Vosges.
Value for money
Depending on what you want from your holiday, Vosges can provide a very reasonable getaway. With rivers and a stunning mountain range on your doorstep, a whole week could easily be spent taking in what nature has to offer. If you are looking for a more active break, skiing is the obvious option. This obviously comes at a price. The cost of living in a ski resort is inevitably higher than elsewhere in the area. Eating and drinking out is generally good value, especially if you indulge in the local specialities.
As you would expect, there is a range of accommodation available - from self-catering to hotels and guest houses. If you are looking for a winter break, there are plenty of old farm-style cottage and gites in the mountains. For a family holiday, it might be worth paying a little extra for accommodation with a tennis court or other on site attractions.
The culture of Vosges is not typically French, with more than a hint of Germanic influence due to its location on the eastern border. As well as a distinctive culture, this unique area has plenty to explore – the varied landscape ranges from the eastern mountainous area to the rivers and flatter land to the west. Lush dense forests and proud and welcoming locals make for an enjoyable holiday. Just don't forget your layers during the cold winter months, or your umbrella during the summer!