The incredible Vosges Mountains became a focal point during the 2019 Tour de France. To see the peloton racing up its steep climbs or through picture postcard villages with the beautiful backdrop of deep forests and towering mountains was a delight. But you don't have to be a professional cyclist to enjoy the Vosges.
Amateur riders, hikers, recreational walkers, nature lovers and winter sports enthusiasts will all fall in love with the region. As will those who enjoy discovering the real and more rustic France.
The region lies in eastern France, near its border with Germany, and extends along the west side of the Rhine valley in a north-north-east direction, roughly from Belfort to Saverne.
All images © ATOUT FRANCE/Michel Laurent/CRT Lorraine
The mountains form an elongated massif divided into three sections: the High Vosges, the Middle Vosges and the Low Vosges. Geographically, the Vosges are situated wholly in France, far above the Col de Saverne. This separates them from the Palatinate Forest in Germany, which continues the same Vosges geologic structure, but traditionally receives this different name for historical and political reasons.
There are thousands of kilometres of walking trails, all marked, including the GR5, GR7 and GR53. Cyclists will find hundreds upon hundreds of kilometres of cycling trails.
Skiers and winter sports enthusiasts can enjoy no fewer than 36 skiing areas that offer modest downhill pistes and cross-country routes.
While in the area, try lunch at a Ferme Auberge. These are the region's renowned farm restaurants where you can dine sumptuously on Roigabrageldi (potatoes with bacon and onion) or Shiffala (smoked pork). And, of course, you must try the famous Munster cheese.
Find a huge range of walking and hiking opportunities in the over 18,000km of marked out trails throughout the Vosges mountains. From gentle sloping walks to challenging trails with incredible views, the range has it all.
When walking through the Vosges, make sure you pay attention to the mark trail marks and to choose your route ahead of time rather than to try exploring organically. You want to make sure you choose the route fitting the activity level and hiking experience of everyone involved. And it's easy to get a little lost. Although there's always someone around to help you get back on track.
Take a look through the Regional Nature Park of the Northern Vosges, an award-winning UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Enjoy a short day’s hike of just under four hours through the forest of Illwald. Here you’ll find the great reed marshlands, mapped out by miles of river and home to some of the largest groups of deer in the entire country.
If you prefer something a lot more challenging, then there are multi-day hiking circuits for those who really want to feel the wilderness around them. Take a two-day trip along the Strasbourg to Saverne route to see a host of the region’s medieval castles and churches dotted along the way.
If you want a walk of a different speed, strap on some snowshoes and head for the Alsatian side of the Vosges mountains. These slopes are covered in pristine, still snow and full of trails to the Markstein, the Sundgau, and through both the Saint Amarin and Haute-Vallée de la Bauche Valleys.
Take two wheels to the Vosges and you'll find no shortage of cycling routes waiting you. Overall, there are 110 cycle tour routes throughout the Vosges Mountains. Choose from gentler bicycle rides, mountain biking trips up those rocky rises, road bike rides, and more.
Visit in the early spring, around April, to find the best climate for cycling. The cold falls on the mountains with snow regularly appearing above 1000m, so warm wear is recommended regardless of the time of year.
If you’re a beginner, stick to the western side and find a host of voles vertes, flatter dedicated bike paths that still offer plenty to see on your way. The Alsace wine route is slightly more challenging, but still relatively beginner friendly, taking you across miles of gorgeous vineyard next to the Rhine plain.
If you’re a little more experienced, check out the 120km Tour de Munster, incorporating a climb of 2000m. Few things feel as satisfying as enjoying a nice decline after spending so long climbing. Amateur organized rides regularly come to the Vosges, as well, like the 3 Ballons cyclo-sportive so it’s worth looking into if you’re seeking a challenge.
It should be no surprise that visitors and locals alike love mountain biking in the Vosges. The mountains have, after all, trained their own double Olympic gold medallist mountain biker, Julian Absalon. Whether you’re a recreational mountain biker or more experienced, you can find plenty of blue, red, and black graded slopes in mountain bike trails and down-hill biking routes.
The mountains offer ample opportunity for those who want to kick up some snow, throttle down frozen inclines, or enjoy slower treks across blissful white landscapes. Several ski resorts and winter sports services call the Vosges home. Bring your own gear or rent it from a resort, you’re sure to make use of it.
Find the ski opportunity based on your skill level and you can’t go wrong. Choose from 36 alpine skiing slopes, including the more easy-going Frenz slopes or the more challenging Thannerhubel. Big ski ranges like Le Markstein and Grand Ballon have slopes at every challenge level, making them a good choice for a family.
There’s no shortage when it comes to cross-country skiing, either. Bresse-Hohneck is the biggest ski field in north-east France. Take on the 1.3km peak of Hohneck for those who want a challenging route. If you prefer to take it a little easier, take a trip to the smaller fields of Schlucht or La Bresse-Lispach. These are better suited to families. For the less experienced there are plenty of ski schools and instructors in the region. So there are plenty of opportunities for newcomers to learn the ropes. Or rather to learn the slopes.
But you can also discover tons of other fun winter sports options besides skiing in the Vosges Mountains. Sledging at Wiidoo Gliss keeps things thrilling but accessible for kids and families. Snowmobiles add real throttle to your cross-country treks. Those with a fondness for dogs can enjoy being pulled by sled through the Ballon d’Alsace, the traditional way of getting around the slopes.
As popular as it is amongst visitors, it should be no surprise there’s a wealth and diversity of great eateries to discover amongst the mountains. Standing about above them all, the famous farm restaurants, or ferme-auberge, welcome all visitors for some hearty, honest foods. Pies, quiches, sauerkraut, baeckeoffe stew, and kougelhopf cake all await those with an appetite. Naturally, the wine, beer, and eau de vie on the mountains bring their own character, too.
Farmhouse inns like the Ferme Aubrge Lindenhof offer an idyllic setting near the waterfall, overlooking soft rolling hills and verdant forests. Besides offering farmer dishes like tartiflette, you can take some homemade cheese along with you on the journey for that kick of flavour to keep you going.
Meanwhile, larger farmhouse restaurants like the Ferme Auberge du Promont offer a more traditional restaurant experience in a much wilder landscape. Take shelter indoors or grab a seat in the outdoor dining area overlooking forests and hiking trails. Unique menus make use of what’s available directly from the farm, including ducks, rabbits, cockerels, pigs, calves, and lambs. Bring the kids and they can even make a farmyard visit out of it.
The organic eating experience of the ferme auberge and of finding menus based on what’s immediately available from the farm is what makes dining in the Vosges Mountains so unique. No two dining experiences are ever likely to be the same.
The Route des Cretes, an itinerary developed during the Second World War that takes you to the Vosges' highest mountains, where mountaintop lookouts provide stunning views of the Alsace Plains, the Black Forest in Germany across the Rhine, the Jura, and, on an exceptional day, even the Alps.