The Vosges are a range of mountains running parallel to the Rhine valley and the Black Forest on the far side of the Rhine from the borders of the German Palatinate in the north to the Belfort Gap in the south.
The Vosges and Alsace are the mirror image of Baden and the Black Forest on the German side of the Rhine, with which they share a common origin. Millions of years ago the Vosges and the Black Forest formed part of a single mountain range, the central section of which collapsed. Only the edges of the range, the Vosges to the west and the Black Forest to the east, remained along the borders of the 300km/185mi long rift valley of the Upper Rhine, which was gradually filled with deposits from the Rhine and its tributaries.The Vosges extend for a distance of some 170km/105mi from north to south and up to 20km/12.5mi from east to west, rising to their greatest height in the Grand Ballon (1,423m/4,669ft) and the Ballon d'Alsace (1,250m/4,100ft), to the south. To the north they fall away gradually, rising to only 581m/1,906ft in the Grand Wintersberg. They fall steeply into the Rhine valley, but on the west slope gently down into the Lorraine uplands.The main passes in the Southern Vosges are the Col de la Schlucht (1,139m/3,737ft), the Col du Bonhomme (949m/3,113ft) and the Col de Ste-Marie (763m/2,503ft).In the higher Southern Vosges ancient rocks like granite and gneiss form sharply defined ridges, while the lower Northern Vosges consist mainly of variegated sandstones, frequently forming rugged crags, many of them crowned by medieval castles. There are a number of lakes formed by glacial action and numerous cross valleys which provided good sites for the building of castles, monasteries and churches.The abundance of timber in the Vosges has promoted the development of woodworking and papermaking industries, while the plateaux, known as chaumes, provide pasture for large numbers of dairy cows, whose milk is used to produce a well-known cheese (Munster Géromé).Although in recent years the Vosges have attracted increasing numbers of visitors, there is still plenty of lonely, unspoiled country for walkers and nature lovers.There are three main long-distance trails through the Vosges: No. 1 (waymarked by a red rectangle) runs from Wissembourg to Masevaux (388km/ 241mi), No. 2 (blue rectangle) from Lembach to Masevaux (282km/ 175mi), No. 3 (yellow rectangle) from Obersteinbach to Masevaux (324km/201mi). There are also linking paths (red rectangle with white stripe) from railroad stations and villages to route No. 1.The Vosges are increasingly being discovered by winter sports enthusiasts.The numerous lakes provide opportunities for all kinds of water sports.There are also tennis courts and facilities for riding.There are a variety of folk events and traditional pilgrimages.Of the various tourist routes which pass through the Vosges or run close to them the most important are the Route des Crêtes and the Route des Vosges. The Route des Crêtes (75km/47mi), constructed during World War I by the French army to facilitate the supply of ammunition, runs from the Col du Bonhomme by way of the Col de la Schlucht, the Markstein, the Grand Ballon and Hartmannswillerkopf to Mulhouse. The Route des Vosges runs from to Mont Ste-Odile and then continues by way of Le Hohwald and Andlau to Sélestat. The Route Joffre runs between the Thur and Doller valleys, at the south end of the Vosges, while the Route Verte runs through the central Vosges.
St Hippolyte - Château du Haut-Koenigsbourg
The Haut-Koenigsbourg (755m/2,475ft) is the largest castle in Alsace, with massive walls and towers of red sandstone rearing 500m/1,640ft above the Rhine plain. Originally held (ca. 1147) by the Hohenstaufens, it was destroyed by the cities of the Upper Rhineland in 1462 and rebuilt in 1479 by the Count of Thierstein, who was granted it as a fief by the German Emperor. In 1633, during the Thirty Years War, it was besieged and destroyed by the Swedes. In 1865 the ruin was acquired by the town of Sélestat, which presented it in 1899 to the Emperor Wilhelm II, who had it restored (by Bodo Ebhard, 1901-1908), as near as possible, to its appearance in 1479.
The Grand Ballon (1,423m/4,669ft), above the town of Guebwiller, is the highest peak in the Vosges, with views extending in clear weather as far as the Alps (Säntis to Ste-Odile-Blanc). In early historical times there was a shrine here to a Celtic sun god named Bel or Belen, from which the name of the hill seems to be derived. There is a monument commemorating the defense of the hill by French Chasseurs Alpins during World War I.400m/1,300ft below the summit, surrounded by forest, is the Lac du Ballon, which was dammed by Vauban in 1699 and now serves industrial purposes. The area is popular with winter sports enthusiasts.
Hohneck (1,362m/4,469ft) ranks along with the Grand Ballon and the Ballon d'Alsace as one of the highest peaks in the Vosges. Between 1870 and 1918 the Franco-German frontier ran over its summit. In winter the bare rounded slopes offer excellent skiing, with the Col de la Schlucht (1,159m/3,803ft) only 4km/2.5mi away. In clear weather there are magnificent views of the Vosges, the Alsatian plain and the Black Forest.
Le Donon (1,009m/3,311ft), a hill in the central Vosges, attracts many visitors. It was an ancient Celtic religious center, succeeded in Roman times by a temple of Mercury. There is a museum, opened in 1869, containing Roman objects found here, and in a hollow below the summit are a number of Roman stelae set in a semicircle.On the Col du Donon (727m/2,385ft), in a clearing in the forest, is a copy of a Roman Jupiter column.
Champ du Feu
The Champ du Feu (1,110m/3,642ft) is a plateau in the central Vosges which is popular with winter sports enthusiasts. From the lookout tower there are fine views extending, in good weather, to the Alps.
Masevaux (alt. 405m/1,330ft; pop. 3,329) is a finely situated little industrial and commercial town in the Doller Valley which is also a popular climatic resort. It originally grew up around a Benedictine abbey founded in 728 and dissolved during the French Revolution. It is a town of elegant old burghers' houses of the 16th and 17th centuries and squares decorated with fountains.Masevaux is the starting point for the ascent of the Rossberg (1,191m/3,908ft) by a number of different routes. From here there is also an attractive trip up the Doller valley, with the artificial Lac d'Alfeld, to the Ballon d'Alsace.
Hartmannswillerkopf, also known as the Vieil Armand, is a hill (956m/3,137ft) falling steeply down on one side to the Rhine plain which was the scene of bitter fighting during World War I. On the summit are a cross, a military cemetery with 60,000 graves and a crypt with the remains of 12,000 unknown soldiers, with a French war memorial and a museum commemorating the dead. Some of the old German positions can still be recognized in the surrounding area.
Struthof is a well-preserved site with barbed wire and watchtowers as well as two of the prisoners' barracks. It was the only Nazi concentration camp to be built on French soil. One of the barracks now serves as a museum.5km/3mi southeast of Schirmeck is Le Struthof, a former concentration camp preserved as a memorial to the 40,000 people who were imprisoned here between 1941 and 1944.
Ste Marie aux Mines, France
Ste-Marie-aux-Mines (alt. 360m/1,180ft) is an old mining town, around which silver and other minerals were worked from the Middle Ages, and probably earlier; it now has textile industries. It is a good center for excursions into the surrounding area.The Old Town Hall (1634) contains a small museum. The 16th C St-Barthélemy silver mine is open to visitors in summer (conducted tours). On the Sunday after Ash Wednesday the traditional Carneval des Paysans, with a cavalcade, is held.
Ferrette (alt. 470m/1,540ft) is beautifully situated on the fringes of the Alsatian Jura below a hill (613m/2,011ft) crowned by the ruins of the Château de la Ferrette (1125), which was destroyed in 1633, during the Thirty Years War. In the little town are a number of half-timbered houses of medieval aspect and the 11th century church of St-Bernard-d'Aoste.
The popular climatic and winter sports resort of Le Hohwald (alt. 643m/2,110ft) lies in the high valley of the Andlau, with expanses of Alpine meadow surrounded by coniferous forests.In the summer months, the well-marked trails are suitable for mountain biking and hiking. During the winter they are used for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.
The Ballon d'Alsace (1,250 m/4,101ft) is the most southerly of the high peaks of the Vosges. The plateau like summit is treeless and affords wide views. On the top are a statue of the Virgin, a monument to Joan of Arc and the Monument des Démineurs (mine-clearance and bomb-disposal experts).
The Markstein (1,176m/3,858ft), on the Route des Crêtes, a saddle affording extensive views, is a good base for walkers and skiers. Below it is the Lac de la Lauch, an artificial lake in a forest-fringed cirque, formed by a dam built in 1889-1894.
Schirmeck (alt. 317m/1,040ft), in a wooded setting in the Bruche valley, at the foot of Le Donon, is a popular holiday resort with an old-established textile industry. On the Côte du Château (416m/1,365ft) are the ruins of a castle which belonged to the Bishops of Strasbourg; it now contains a museum.
The little town of Bruyères (alt. 500m/1,640ft), in a wooded region in the western Vosges, is a good base for walkers and skiers. The church of Champ-le-Duc dates from the 11th C.
Bussang (alt. 500m/1,640ft) is a popular summer and winter resort in the upper Moselle valley, on the road to the Col de Bussang (731m/2,398ft) in the High Vosges. Near the town is the source of the Moselle (monument).
Lac Blanc et Lac Noir
In the Vosges, surrounded by coniferous forests, are two picturesque crater lakes, the Lac Blanc and Lac Noir; they were linked by a pressure pipe in 1930 and the water is used to generate electricity.
Vosges Pictures View All