Transcript for Episode 385: Les Vosges, Off the Beaten Track

Table of Contents for this Episode

Category: Alsace and Lorraine

[00:00:00] Annie Sargent: This is Join Us in France episode 385, trois cent quatre-vingt-cinq. Bonjour, I’m Annie Sargent and Join Us in France is the podcast where we talk about France. Everyday life in France, great places to visit in France, French culture, history, gastronomy, and news related to travel to France. Today, I bring you a conversation with my friend Elyse Rivin of about the Vosges..

[00:00:44] Annie Sargent: No, not the Place des Vosges in Paris that you’ve probably heard of, but the Vosges. The French department, number 88, it’s in the Grand Est region, and the chef-lieu or prefecture is Épinal. It’s a lovely part of France that is very much under the radar, but offers wonderful recreational opportunities, marvelous, bucolic, scenery, and some really quaint villages.

[00:01:12] Annie Sargent: After the interview, we’ll have some travel news. And I would like to remind you that this podcast is supported by donors and listeners who buy my tours and services, including my very popular itinerary consult and my GPS self guided tours of Paris.

[00:01:31] Annie Sargent: You can browse all of that at Annie’s boutique,

[00:01:47] Annie Sargent: Bonjour Elyse!

[00:01:48] Elyse Rivin: Bonjour Annie.

[00:01:49] Annie Sargent: We are going to have a nice conversation about a place that’s pretty cold.

[00:01:54] Elyse Rivin: Yes, actually, it’s a place that’s relatively cold. There are two or three sections of France that are not the places where there are the highest mountains, but that are known for having the coldest weather in the winter time. And of course, one of them is in the area that’s called a Massif Central and the other is the place we’re going to talk about today, which is Les Vosges.

[00:02:19] Annie Sargent: Not la Place des Vosges, but Les Vosges or the mountainous area.

[00:02:25] Elyse Rivin: Well, actually, that’s what I was going to say from the beginning is that, the Vosges is three things. The Vosges is a department it’s 88 in case you’re interested. And the reason I know that is because I did indeed live there for a year.

[00:02:41] Elyse Rivin: There you go. It is, uh, the name of a region which is partly valley and plain with lots and lots and lots of rivers and partly a mountain range and the Massif des Vosges is also the mountain chain as well. It’s so it’s basically a denomination of three things.

[00:03:02] Elyse Rivin: So is it part of the Alps?

[00:03:05] The Vosges are ancient mountains, like the Adirondacks

[00:03:05] Elyse Rivin: Oh no, no, no. It’s part of Lorraine the ancient dukedom or kingdom. I don’t know, which really, to be honest of Lorraine, and it is the mountains of the Vosges, which are the equivalent, for anybody who’s from the Eastern part of the United States, who’s listening, it’s kind of the equivalent of the Adirondacks. That is it’s old mountains. So the highest mountain is called Le Ballon and it’s only 1300 meters, which is not quite 5,000 feet, but it has a lot of snow in the winter time. And is very, very cold. And the chain of mountains actually divides Lorraine from Alsace.

[00:03:47] Annie Sargent: Ah, interesting!

[00:03:48] Elyse Rivin: It pretty much runs north-south there. I mean, there are variations in there, lots of streams and rivers that go through this area. It’s a very, very, very wet area.

[00:03:57] Elyse Rivin: Uh, and

[00:03:58] Elyse Rivin: I mean, it, in the sense that it’s, uh, it’s got lots of rivers, partly because the snow collects and very much, because it’s, what’s called continental climate. What happens is it’s all the winds and all of the rain that comes off the Atlantic that goes, goes from west to east, get stopped by the Vosges mountains. And so if you have the experience as I did, and this is going back a number of years, but it’s embedded forever in my mind of living on the wet side of the Vosges,

[00:04:30] Annie Sargent: Which is the Western side

[00:04:31] Épinal is the only city in the Vosges

[00:04:31] Elyse Rivin: Which is the Western side. And I was living in the only real city in the entire Vosges area, which is called Épinal which is the county seat. It’s a city of about 20 it’s, about 32,000 people, but apparently in the last 15 years or so, it’s grown a lot. So the, in agglomeration, the whole area is about a hundred thousand now because it’s spread out a lot. Uh, but that area is the area that’s relatively wet and cold and has lots of grasslands and forests. And then if you go up into the mountains, there’s a point at which you come across a dividing line and you suddenly see sun. So that’s the way, that’s my memory of it,

[00:05:12] Annie Sargent: Which is always nice.

[00:05:13] Elyse Rivin: Which is always nice. Especially when you’ve spent a few months in, a weather that’s relatively wet. foggy.

[00:05:20] Elyse lived in Épinal for a year

[00:05:20] Annie Sargent: So when you were there, were you there for a whole year?

[00:05:23] Elyse Rivin: I was there for an entire year. I was there from. August till July. I was actually, I had a Fulbright as a visiting professor at the, at actually not at the university, but at a high school there. And I I’d like to tell this story and I don’t think I will ever stop telling it because I arrived at the end of August. I don’t remember the date, but I know for sure. I, was, I was in an apartment building. And the heat went on before the end of the month.

[00:05:52] Annie Sargent: Wow.

[00:05:53] Annie Sargent: And, um, it didn’t go off until may. I think now there were places that were warmer. Uh, but again, uh, uh, the other thing about it is when you’re in a place like that, it’s really lots of lots and lots of forests and lots of grasslands.

[00:06:11] Lots of grass and happy cows in the Vosges

[00:06:11] Annie Sargent: So the fattest happiest cows I have ever seen in my life. Absolutely. I mean, there was nothing to be said. They just had this smile on their face no matter where you went you know, and lots of mushroom hunting as well.

[00:06:25] Annie Sargent: Uh,

[00:06:25] The Vosges is best for active vacations

[00:06:25] Elyse Rivin: The thing about the Vogue is that there are some historical things to see and, um, places to visit, but it’s largely a region that people go to, to do outdoor activity. And those activities, include to the west of Épinal, which is really in the center of the department. If you look on a map, it’s at the it’s down below, just as the mountains start going up slightly to the east of it, it’s in a slightly rolling hilling area. It’s, it’s pretty, it’s actually very pretty it’s on the Meuse river, which is a big river that goes into the Rhine.

[00:07:01] Vittel and Contrex are west of Épinal

[00:07:01] Elyse Rivin: But if you go west of Épinal you get to, uh, town of Vittel and the town of Contrex. And that is where the two waters come from. And not only do the two mineral waters that, that everyone knows come from there too to this day. I mean they’re still actively the places where those waters are bottled, but that’s where they’re, they, they have many, many thermal baths.

[00:07:28] Thermal baths stations in the Vosges

[00:07:28] Elyse Rivin: And, uh, the, the thermal baths, there are actually four major thermal bath stations in the Vosges, and those date back to the Romans. I mean, you know, the Romans were obsessive about water, you know, and they were obsessive about being clean, but also they really knew how to find places that you could go into these nice warm sulfury baths and take care of your aches and pains.

[00:07:52] Tourism around natural water

[00:07:52] Elyse Rivin: And believe me, if you live in the Vosges, you have lots of rheumatism. No, It doesn’t make any difference, you know? There’s a lot of thermal bath tourism. Uh, lots of you can go visit the factories that make the, the waters of the Contrex and, and Vittel as well.

[00:08:06] Annie Sargent: They don’t make water. They just bottle it.

[00:08:09] Elyse Rivin: Right. They bottle it. um, you can see the sources. I mean, I it’s really an interesting region because of that. I’m not sure what the geological reasons for it is, but they’re, but they’re all there.

[00:08:20] The Vosges department is filled with quaint villages

[00:08:20] Elyse Rivin: The department of the Vogue and especially going into the mountains, It’s filled with filled, filled, filled with tiny little villages everywhere. It’s it’s interesting. It’s it’s I thought it would be classified as one of the five least occupied departments in France and not at all to my great surprise. I went online yesterday to look it’s about number 15 or 16 now, which is not that bad considering.

[00:08:47] Elyse Rivin: I mean, France has a lot of rural places. Um, but it’s because Even though there’s no big city whatsoever. There is a zillion of teeny little villages everywhere. So it’s not a very developed area.

[00:09:01] Elyse Rivin: It was in the 18 hundreds and into the beginning of the 20th century, extremely, uh, an extremely important area for textile industry. which unfortunately like a lot of other things has delocalized. And so, uh, like in the states you have areas that have become more or less economically depressed because the small factories, especially textiles have all gone Asian, you know and like that, but, uh, but textile industry was very, very important for about 150 years. And, um, as well as the baths, those were the two main sources of income in the area.

[00:09:39] Clairefontaine paper products

[00:09:39] Elyse Rivin: And, and the other thing there, and there’s still one major factory because since I used the paper for my art, I know about it. And that is there’s a brand in France called Clairefontaine, which is

[00:09:50] Elyse Rivin: Yeah

[00:09:50] Elyse Rivin: A brand of paper it is the last of the several large paper factories that exist in the Vosges. Um, all of that is because textiles and paper require an enormous amount of water running water. you know?

[00:10:08] A nice place for affordable summer homes

[00:10:08] Elyse Rivin: Uh, I remember visiting some of these towns. I think now what has happened, cause I was there a little while ago, but, uh, I think what has happened now is that a lot of these small towns have come back to life because people have bought country homes there because it was an area where it was much cheaper to buy.

[00:10:24] Elyse Rivin: And it’s a very nice place to be in the spring time. and in the summertime. It really is. It’s, it’s, uh, it’s really lovely, uh, those times of years, you know,

[00:10:32] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Although you probably don’t want to be in the place where they make the paper

[00:10:36] Elyse Rivin: No, no, no, not at

[00:10:37] Annie Sargent: Paper industries are it’s smelly.

[00:10:40] Elyse Rivin: Uh, but it, but again, the, uh, you can visit these factories just like you can go to the baths, you can go to the Baths as a client, but you could also just visit them for historical purposes. There’s a brand of bedding linen, called, uh, Linge des Vosges. Which has an outlet here actually in Toulouse. It’s very beautiful. High-end bedding, very lovely stuff, you know? Uh, and so they still make it. And, uh, there’s usually every major city in France has one store that sells their, their goods. You know, so, uh, it’s very nice.

[00:11:16] Elyse Rivin: But again, what happened was luckily tourism took over because otherwise it would just be a largely, very depressed area economicaly.

[00:11:24] The Vosges is the second largest wooded area of France

[00:11:24] Elyse Rivin: So the Vosges is the second largest wooded area of France. It would have been third except for the terrible storm in 1999, that knocked out millions of trees in the Southwest of France. So for that unfortunate reason has moved up to number two, But I can attest to the fact that it’s just filled with forest everywhere. And a lot of it is evergreen forest, which I happen to love, you know. So it smells nice. And it’s just a kind of, if you like green, it’s very, very green. It’s green everywhere, you know.

[00:11:57] Annie Sargent: Is it hilly?

[00:11:58] Hills, low altitude ski resorts, hiking, biking, nature trails

[00:11:58] Elyse Rivin: It’s hilly. And what happens is, so the Western part of the Vosges area is pretty much pasture land and very, just small hills and little forests and streams. But then as you go into you go east going up into the mountains, then it becomes larger hills. And then suddenly you’re really in the mountains, but it’s of course it’s rounded old mountains, you know, like the Appalachians in the states or the Adirondacks, it’s not the peaks that you would see in the Alps or in in the Pyrenees.

[00:12:29] Annie Sargent: Right. So are there any ski resorts?

[00:12:33] Elyse Rivin: Yes, there are. And in fact, I made a list of the things that you can actually do in, in the Vosges area. Outdoor tourism, specifically hiking, horseback riding, serious trailing began in the Vosges in the middle of the 1800. And it was one of the very first places or regions in France to take seriously the idea of, of the healthy aspects of doing this kind of outdoor activity so that, uh, even upper-class ladies would get dressed in appropriate wear to go out walking. And, uh, thanks to that. It has some of the earliest marked trails in France.

[00:13:17] Large natural parks with lots of trails

[00:13:17] Elyse Rivin: And, uh, I have, uh, some statistics it’s really quite amazing. The regional parc because it is, most of the mountain area is a regional park. The regional park has 26,000 hectares, which is very big. There are over 4,000 kilometers of trail, 500 kilometers of that are what we call the GR, the Grande Randonnée, which means that’s really good for backpacking and and going from crest to crest. So even though these are not super high peaks, it’s, it’s good and strenuous. I mean, it’s, it’s a good workout.

[00:13:50] Elyse Rivin: There’s one. Now this, will, this is for you Annie. There are 1000 kilometers of VTT trail. And there are, is there’s 160 kilometers of what is called the green trail. And that is filled with little signs about plants and flowers and and trees. Uh, so it’s really something. The aside from the town of, or the city I should not insult by saying it’s a town of Épinal, uh, the center of all this activity is Gerardmer as the locals would say Gerardmer

[00:14:25] Elyse Rivin: and when I lived in Épinal, now I went to Gerardmer ma many, many, many times

[00:14:33] Annie Sargent: Why?

[00:14:33] Cross country skiing and summer activities in Gerardmer

[00:14:33] Elyse Rivin: Because, except for during the ski season, because I do not ski. It’s the center of skiing. There’s a ski a center right there, and it’s mostly cross country, but there’s some downhill skiing. In the spring and in the summer and in the fall, it’s gorgeous. And they have all of these trails and they have festivals at the same time.

[00:14:55] Elyse Rivin: And so it’s really, Gerardmer uh, is, is up in the mountains. It’s not that high up. It’s at about 700 meters, but it’s a lovely little mountain town with the typical kinds of architecture that you see in the mountain area, especially an area that has a lot of snow with very steep roofs and everything, and all of the head trails lead out from there.

[00:15:16] Daffodil festival (Fête des Jonquilles)

[00:15:16] Elyse Rivin: And so you have all the GR and all of the hiking trails and everything else. And it has a huge lake and it’s a natural lake, because there are many that aren’t natural. And it has two things that are, that are famous and people come from everywhere. And one is called the daffodil festival every other year.

[00:15:35] Elyse Rivin: There’s a daffodils festival because you have to see it to believe it, but it is true. I swear, I did see it with my own eyes. It is a region that has thousands and thousands and thousands of daffodils that come out in the spring time. You can’t touch them. I mean, if, they’re, if anybody sees, if a park ranger sees you, you get slapped with a fine.

[00:15:56] Annie Sargent: So these are wild?

[00:15:57] Elyse Rivin: These are wild, and it covers, it’s just gorgeous it’s absolutely gorgeous, yellow, that covers all of these, these rolling hills and these meadows. And then they make a festival out of it. So of course it’s always an, a good excuse to make a festival, which means eating and drinking and walking and everything else.

[00:16:15] Blueberries

[00:16:15] Elyse Rivin: And the other thing is it’s the region of blueberries. Yo blueberries. Yes. And so it’s famous for its blueberry tarts and its blueberry muffins and, uh, everything you can possibly imagine doing with a blueberry that grow in the forest there.

[00:16:34] Festival international du film fantastique de Gérardmer

[00:16:34] Elyse Rivin: And now, there used to be a festival of fantastic movies that is movies that are either fantasy or science fiction in the town in the Alps called Avoriaz. And that stopped 15 years ago and it moved to Gerardmer. So all of these festivals are just about every other year. My guess is last year, they were canceled because of uh, the virus, but they will pick up again this year.

[00:16:58] Elyse Rivin: And in the spring time, you have thousands and thousands of people who come just for, just for that. Just to see the daffodils, just to

[00:17:06] Annie Sargent: Sounds pretty!

[00:17:07] Ruins of Monasteries hidden in the forest

[00:17:07] Elyse Rivin: It’s really lovely. It’s, it’s very much, you know, green foresty. Uh, it has all of these nature things that seem totally unspoiled. And what’s fascinating is that in the midst of this forest, there are ruins of all kinds of monasteries and churches. Because in the early middle ages, this area was basically like, you don’t want to go there. So of course the monasteries did go there.

[00:17:35] Annie Sargent: Why?

[00:17:36] Elyse Rivin: Because in the early middle ages until really until what we considered to be the, the Renaissance, the idea of a monastery was to be as far away from civilization as possible. It was not to be where people are. That’s why you have things that are in these really remote areas. And so, the church would give money to hermits and then groups of, monks to go off and create some kind of monastery Hermitage.

[00:18:05] Elyse Rivin: Really up until the 1700, this was not a very accessible area. It really was not, you know, so people would go off there and, and, and of course, a lot of these monasteries were abandoned Just before during the French revolution. So now they’re wonderful sites to visit and they’re scattered all over, they really are scattered all over.

[00:18:25] Why visit the Vosges?

[00:18:25] Elyse Rivin: I wrote this down as a question for myself. Why go there? So you have all kinds of outdoor sports activities, all kinds. And I have, uh, I just remember once doing this really long hike with some friends, I have to admit that I’m not the greatest, uh, hiker. So, you know, it’s like after five kilometers, I’m kind of like, oh, are we there yet, you know?

[00:18:47] Elyse Rivin: And, uh, no, we weren’t there yet, you know, but it was worth it because it really is beautiful. It’s not excessively difficult unless you try and do, you know, very slippery kinds of stuff. Um, but there’s all kinds of, uh, wonderful hikes to take. And the views are spectacular, especially when you get up above. There’s a line along the crest of the mountains, Pretty much where you can see both sides. So you see down below the Alsatian side where it’s sunny. And you really can see the plain down below where the vineyards are and everything.

[00:19:19] Elyse Rivin: Colmar is only 55 kilometers away going east. And then you can basically, see the dense, very dense forest that that’s on the west side, you know?

[00:19:27] Elyse Rivin: So you have the sports activities, you have all the thermal stations, Uh, besides the Contrex and Vittel, the other big one is called Bain les Bains,

[00:19:37] Annie Sargent: Okay.

[00:19:38] Elyse Rivin: Why Bain les Bains I don’t know, but Bain les Bains, there you go.

[00:19:42] Annie Sargent: Out The baths of bath.

[00:19:43] Elyse Rivin: The bath of baths, right? I know, uh, lots and lots of these beautiful old monasteries and ruins of like that.

[00:19:49] Lots of pretty (and not famous) villages including Domremy where Joan of Arc was born

[00:19:49] Elyse Rivin: And, uh, very pretty villages. I have to say the villages are small. They are not famous, like in many other parts of France, but they’re really, really cute. And what has happened is that in the last 15 years,

[00:20:04] Elyse Rivin: There has been more and more tourism, so they’ve fixed up. these old villages. And one of them is Domremy.

[00:20:12] Annie Sargent: Ah, Yes, la Pucelle

[00:20:16] Elyse Rivin: La pucelle.

[00:20:19] Annie Sargent: Joan of Arc

[00:20:20] Elyse Rivin: That’s right. This is where Joan of Arc was born. She was born in the Vosges, which is part of the ancient, the area of the Lorraine. Uh, so, uh, this is a very interesting little town to visit. I’m it’s not even a town, it’s just a small village.

[00:20:34] Hwo Visorando works to plan hikes

[00:20:34] Annie Sargent: I would like to make sure to mention a wonderful resource for people who love to

[00:20:40] Annie Sargent: hike.

[00:20:41] Annie Sargent: It’s a French website and an app called Visorando. V I S O R a N d o.

[00:20:51] Annie Sargent: And you can enter Visorando in your Google search or whatever search engine you use, just enter Visorando, and then the name of the town where you’re going to be, and it will possibly give you some results. It will always give you some results. Sometimes they don’t all start from that town. They might start. You know, trails that start from a nearby town, and then you can click on the result and you see a description. You see, you know, like they’re going to tell you park at the, the parking lot called blah-blah-blah and find, you know, the, the trail starts at the intersection of D this and D that, which our departmental roads.

[00:21:35] Annie Sargent: And it’s going to give you, you know, take a left or take a right or whatever. So it has a description. It also has a small map. The small map is not all that helpful, but if you ask, if you tell Visorando that you would like it to look at it bigger, it’s going to ask you for your email address. And then it’s going to email you a description, which will often also include. Commentaries from people, because this is a participative effort. These are people who decide that they’re going to describe their favorite hike. And so some of them they’re extremely well-described and some of them are not, it just depends. And people make comments about, you know, if it was easy to find, if it was a nice scenery, if it was very difficult to.

[00:22:28] Annie Sargent: The hikes are rated by how long they take and the level of difficulty. Sometimes it’s an hour and a half and easy, and sometimes it’s four hours and super hard. So, you know, but you see that before you, before you do anything else. It’s a very nice participative site that’s very helpful for people who want to go on a hike and if you pay extra, then they actually, you can download very precise maps..

[00:22:56] Annie Sargent: Yes, but you have to pay for the maps. So, you know, that’s, that’s how they make their money. I give them a lot of, a little bit of money for the, for the app, but then I didn’t subscribe to the mapping thing because I don’t use it that much. I mostly walk trails that I know. So, you know, it’s fine. I don’t need the map. Uh, and the other thing that’s interesting is that if your phone is set to English, it will know to send you the PDF in English. If it’s available, sometimes it’s only available in French, but sometimes. You will receive it in English.

[00:23:31] Annie Sargent: So there you have it. Visorando. V I S O R a N D O extremely helpful for hikers. It’s not as good for bikes, but it’s perfect for hikes.

[00:23:43] Annie Sargent: Sounds good. Sounds good.

[00:23:45] Elyse Rivin: It certainly would be useful here because there’s lots of different trails and all these different places, you just wanted to mention a few of the other things before I talk a little bit about. some of the food specialties, the blueberries.

[00:23:58] Elyse Rivin: The town of Épinal is very cute. I have to admit once I got over the traumatism of heat in the month of August. It has a lovely museum that’s a mix of just about all kinds of things, fine arts and archeology, because there’s a lot of archeological sites in the area.

[00:24:17] Les images d’Épinal

[00:24:17] Elyse Rivin: There’s also, it’s hard to explain. Let’s see if you’re going to help me with this one. There’s what is known in France as the image d’Épinal and comes from Épinal. So let me, I’ll give the background on it. In the 1700s there was a printer who created images that were colored. And they were basically on woodcut. so they were a kind of engraving, but they were set up on, on woodcut before they used metallic stuff. And they were used for advertisements even as early as that time.

[00:24:52] Elyse Rivin: And, uh, they were big, they became extremely popular. They were. Used on the in cheap paper. And so they were distributed pretty much all over the country, but somehow in the 19th century, the idea of these images, which are cute, they’re kind of stock images. They’re like images of families and of people. I’m not sure of how that came to be. Uh, the expression that’s used that something is an image d’Épinal because it comes from the town of Épinal.

[00:25:25] Elyse Rivin: Épinal

[00:25:26] Annie Sargent: Because it has the style. That’s so easy to recognize, I guess.

[00:25:31] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Well, it’s like a Norman Rockwell, you know, if you like, if you Americana Norman Rockwell. That goes together.

[00:25:41] Annie Sargent: Well, Image d’Épinal is the French kind of somewhat equivalent,

[00:25:45] Elyse Rivin: Somewhat equivalent. So when I was living there, uh, I actually took some art classes because they actually have an art school attached to it. And they have a museum so that you can see the original plates and some of the original reproductions of these lovely little engravings that are really quite charming to look at and, you of course,

[00:26:04] Elyse Rivin: You can always pickup a copy, uh, as a print, you know, as, as, a, as a souvenir, uh, the town itself has the ruin of a Chateau. And also it has why I really do not know, but it has a Roman house that is a house that would be typical of what a Roman noblewoman. going that far back. It was rebuilt. I mean, it’s not the original anymore, but it was rebuilt in the style of a Roman house.

[00:26:30] Elyse Rivin: So it’s a charming little place. If you don’t want to visit there and stay all the way up in the mountains, it’s a nice place to stay. Because there are lots of BNB, Airbnb, hotels, you know, uh, things you can rent and some in the villages and the surrounding areas. And it has all of the amenities. So you don’t have to worry you know, about being stuck in the boonies if that’s not, what you do.

[00:26:54] Elyse Rivin: Gerardmer also has a lot of places that you can stay. And of course, mostly does apartment rentals and and Airbnbs and things like that. It’s very cozy up there

[00:27:05] Annie Sargent: Gîtes

[00:27:05] Elyse Rivin: Les Gîtes. The thermal sites, There was one more. I knew, I remembered that there was another one it’s called Plombières les Bains.

[00:27:12] Annie Sargent: I’ve heard of that one.

[00:27:13] Plombières the flavor of ice cream

[00:27:13] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. And Plombières is also a flavor of ice cream.

[00:27:18] Elyse Rivin: Now, do you remember what that is?

[00:27:21] Annie Sargent: I think it’s got des fruits confits.

[00:27:24] Elyse Rivin: Yes. And a little rum actually like it a lot. Some people don’t like rhum in their things I do have to confess.

[00:27:34] Annie Sargent: Lucky you didn’t pour the whole bottle.

[00:27:37] Elyse Rivin: I was tempted. It really was,

[00:27:39] Lalique and cristallerie

[00:27:39] Elyse Rivin: Uh, there’s a cristallerie, which is wonderful, because there’s Lalique, which is in the region and crystal, um, oh, God knows. I’m really bad at geology. I really am. I never took a class in geology. Shame on me. But it turns out that some of the mineral in the area perfect for, the silicate that they need to make crystal. So, uh, Lalique is one of the places that you can visit if you want to do that kind of, tourism as well.

[00:28:10] Canal des Vosges

[00:28:10] Elyse Rivin: And there’s the canal des Vosges, which is connected to the Eastern canal. Um, there are, you know, there’s a whole network of canals in France that are all like the Canal du Midi, which means you can rent a beautiful little boat and very slowly work your way across. And it was started in the 1800s and it has three main ports. One of which is Épinal. One is called Fontenay le Chateau. There’s a ruin of, it, uh, ruins of a Chateau there and another little town called Charme.

[00:28:44] There are five remarkable gardens in the Vosges

[00:28:44] Elyse Rivin: And there are some remarkable gardens, you know, that’s a label in France. There are five in the Vosges, which is actually a fair number.

[00:28:52] Elyse Rivin: Right.

[00:28:53] Elyse Rivin: I looked them up. They are, uh, four of the five are private. One is actually part of a public garden. Uh, and one of them is very interesting. It’s called the Jardin d’Altitude

[00:29:07] Annie Sargent: and

[00:29:08] Elyse Rivin: It’s a garden, at 1200 meters up that specializes in mountain plants.

[00:29:14] Elyse Rivin: I saw pictures of these gardens. I have to say that I did not visit them when I was there, but they look very lovely.

[00:29:20] The Vosges is best for slow tourism

[00:29:20] Elyse Rivin: So one of the things I’m, I think I’m trying to sort of really insist on is just that there are so many different things to do there as a tourist.

[00:29:28] Elyse Rivin: And especially if you want to get away from big city and big museums and things like that, it’s really a very, very lovely area to be. And now This one’s for you, It has a huge collection of birds in the forest.

[00:29:43] Annie Sargent: Of course, if there’s a forest, there’s lots of birds.

[00:29:45] Wildlife in the Vosges

[00:29:45] Elyse Rivin: Lots and lots and lots of birds. lots of lovely, wonderful birds. And it also has a huge collection of owls that exist. nowhere else in France.

[00:29:54] Elyse Rivin: And uh, different kinds of Falcons and uh, Coq de Bruyère is very rare a kind of Coq de Bruyère, or how do we explain what that is. is a kind of wild chicken but they’re they’re pretty, they have lovely feathers, uh, lots and lots of them. And the Vosges forest has, is one of the two places in France that has lynks. You know me and kitties lynxes lynxes, you know, those cute, not so gorgeous, very Wildcat wild cat that, has that furry pointy sticking note out its ears.

[00:30:29] Elyse Rivin: They were reintroduced to be honest. In 1983, they had all been killed out just like the wolves had been decimated and the bear. I mean, all of these animals were hunted into extinction in. the end of the 19th century, early 20th century. But right now in the forest, now you, you will consider yourself lucky to see a Lynx because it’s very rare, they hide and they come out at night, but there are wolves, in forest wolves. There are beaver, there are chamoix, which are mountain goats.

[00:31:02] Elyse Rivin: And so there’s a lot of, uh, animal life and lots of deer. And of course boar wild boar, which are everywhere in France at this point, you Um,

[00:31:11] Great nature trails for families

[00:31:11] Elyse Rivin: So there’s lots of, they have nature trails where if you go with your family, it’s a wonderful place to visit with family with children because they have lots of stations that explain the, what find in the forest. They have booklets about the trails and things you can see when you go. And, uh, the months in, springtime in thru, I’d say the end of September, beginning of October are good. And then after that it’s winter sports because it starts getting cold and the snow comes there relatively early. It depends on the year how much snow they have, but, um, that there’s, uh, you know, it, gets a fair amount.

[00:31:52] Food specialties of the Vosges

[00:31:52] Elyse Rivin: Besides uh, blueberries. One of the specialties of the area is a cheese. That’s like a Munster called Géromé. Know I almost it’s g in English, G E with an accent, R O M E. So it’s not quite, uh, but, but it’s, uh, I’ve had it before I lost my taste for strong cheeses. But it’s very much like a Munster, so it’s the same, same kind of cheese. Um, there’s, uh, one of the dishes there. That’s actually yummy, but it’s really for cold weather is called the salade Vosgienne, Which is the basis of it is bacon and potatoes. It’s a hot potato salad, basically with cheese and cream and scallions

[00:32:37] Annie Sargent: and bacon.

[00:32:38] Elyse Rivin: and they can,

[00:32:38] Annie Sargent: Yeah. You have to be hiking all day in the cold.

[00:32:42] Elyse Rivin: You have to be hiking. And you do the hiking first because otherwise you’re not going to move. when you eat it, you know?

[00:32:47] Elyse Rivin: And then there’s something that’s, uh, I actually like called Nonettes d’épices, which is a kind of, uh, it’s a little round what in English we would call a honey cake, but in France it’s really called a spice cake. Um, you can actually get them here in the supermarket. They’re not cheap, but it’s, it’s little round pieces like in a cylinder. And they’ve got a, um, a honey center in them and they’re spicy and they’re really delicious.

[00:33:13] Elyse Rivin: And then they have, a, honey, I think you can get it in other places of parts of France, particularly well-known there. And that is a honey that comes from the, the evergreen trees. So technically it’s not quite the same because it comes out of the SAP actually, uh, of the trees. It’s very strong, but it’s very, very good for you if you have a sore throat. and things

[00:33:34] Annie Sargent: So a long time ago, my husband came home with a liqueur that was a pine tree liqueur and it is absolutely foul. And it’s been in the cabinet there behind you for a long, long time. Nobody will drink this stuff. I mean, everybody, every time somebody comes over, I’m like, do you, would you like to try this strange liqueur and nobody wants it.

[00:33:59] Elyse Rivin: It’s fair. It’s rather strong. It’s rather

[00:34:02] Annie Sargent: Pine flavor liqueur.

[00:34:04] Elyse Rivin: Yeah. It’s it’s well, as they would say, And it’s a special acquired taste. But all in all the Vosges is a, it’s actually a lovely area. Uh, the last time I was there at all was a few years ago, we were actually in Alsace. We were on the Eastern side and it was. in the Autumn. And, uh, and so my husband who’s constantly looking to see what’s on the other side of the horizon, you know, uh, I said, oh, you know, on the other side of those mountains, that’s where I was living.

[00:34:36] Elyse Rivin: And he said, oh, well, let’s go. You know? So in fact, what we did was we went through the plain coming out of Colmar and, and going up into the hills from the west, when you get to the top, the view is absolutely magnificent because you really get to see a whole lot of stuff on both sides.

[00:34:52] Elyse Rivin: We went a little bit into the forest. The colors were gorgeous because you do have a lot of evergreen trees, but you still have some deciduous trees. And, the mix is very, very pretty. And we spent a day just just driving around and doing a little bit of hiking and I do believe we had some blueberry pie but I can’t swear to it. I don’t, remember. That would’ve made my day, if that was the case. I don’t remember. It was just at the edge of it’s getting chilly. So let’s where are we going to go now? Um, but it, it really, is a very, very beautiful area and it is of course, probably much better known for French tourists go there and German tourists go there.

[00:35:33] Elyse Rivin: And, uh, one other thing,

[00:35:34] Elyse Rivin: Uh, there was a very moving, not quite as big, but very moving American cemetery. North of Épinal from world war 2.

[00:35:44] Elyse Rivin: You have to go further north into the area around Nancy, which is, about 70 kilometers north of Épinal to have more of that, uh, because that was where most of the fighting was in World War One. But right outside of Épinal there is actually an American cemetery,

[00:36:03] Annie Sargent: But you said it was World War II

[00:36:05] Elyse Rivin: That one’s World War II. Yes, it’s actually World War II because it was the soldiers that moved across, pushing out the Germans. And it was one of the last parts of uh, the fighting that actually took place on the French territory. So that’s where it is. I don’t remember how many people are buried there. It was the first one I’d ever seen. So it was of course, very touching go there as well.

[00:36:28] Annie Sargent: There are a lot of people that I do itinerary planning with that wi ll go from the Alsace and they drive to the Alps. So they drive through this area.

[00:36:39] Elyse Rivin: Well, you’d have to go slightly west. In other words, if you’re in Alsace, if you’re directly in Alsace, whether it’s you’re in, Strasbourg, or in Colmar, if you just go straight south, you will not go into the Vosges.

[00:36:53] Annie Sargent: OK, its’ further east.

[00:36:55] Elyse Rivin: It’s just about 40, 50 kilometers. To be in the mountains there and everything, you know, it’s actually for people who are interested in going to Nancy, for instance, which is a beautiful city, and visit the Lorraine area, where there are many, crystal factories besides Lalique. And, this is an area that you can easily visit. You can go from there into the Vosges and spend a couple of days hiking and then cross down to the other side and head towards the Alps from, from there..

[00:37:25] Elyse Rivin: The city in Alsace that’s actually, the closest is Colmar because it’s closer to the Southern part as opposed to up Strasbourg, but both of them are accessible. in an hour or two from almost any place you are in the Vosges. But when I was living in Épinal I went to Nancy often because it is the first big city that’s close by and even visited as far north as Metz. And then once went to Strasbourg, uh, you know, and things like that. So none of those things are that far away, but if you are an Alsace, this is a place to go if besides just doing the wine route or something like that. If you want to do outdoor activity, this is where you’d go.

[00:38:09] Annie Sargent: So they probably don’t have any wine in the Vosges per se

[00:38:13] Elyse Rivin: No, they have beer.

[00:38:16] Elyse Rivin: It goes with a hot potato salad.

[00:38:19] Elyse Rivin: They make, there, they have a lot of home breweries and now that local brewery. So they make a, what are those called now? IPS? I think that’s what they’re called,

[00:38:27] Annie Sargent: Yeah.

[00:38:27] Elyse Rivin: But yeah, there’s a, there’s some nice strong. beer. The thing about this area is that it is not as dramatic as. Alsace, but for a part of its history in the last 200 years, it was indeed annexed to Germany and the local dialect, I think except for in small, tiny pockets has just about disappeared is a mix of Alsatian and French. So there are obviously words that are a little bit strange and things like that, but it’s it’s so it’s really separate.

[00:38:57] Elyse Rivin: And because Lorraine was for a very long time, it was under the the power of the French king, but there were the Dukes of Lorraine who were actually a separate power. So it was, a, it was a very rich court at the time. And, the baths helped them a lot, you know, in terms of, bringing people in, apparently even the Russians would go there in the 19th century.

[00:39:20] Elyse Rivin: So there, so there you are I’m counting on you going and taking your bike there.

[00:39:25] Annie Sargent: That would be fun. I’ve never been to that part of the country.

[00:39:28] Annie Sargent: I’ve never been to the Vosges. I know this I’ve been to Strasbourg and Colmar and places like that, but not, uh, the Vosges. I’ve never been to Épinal at all.

[00:39:37] Elyse Rivin: I’m thinking a lot of people have. not, but honestly the mountains there are really quite beautiful.

[00:39:42] Annie Sargent: But it’s good to know that it’s growing, that you know, that there’s life happening over there.

[00:39:47] Elyse Rivin: Yes. No, it’s true. It, it’s not a place that is stagnant. It’s the opposite. More and more people in France are going to small cities and more and more tourists or more and more people who want to look for a second home, a vacation home, or going to regions like that.

[00:40:04] Annie Sargent: Yeah. Although if I was looking for a second home, I wouldn’t want one where it’s cold and wet all the time.

[00:40:09] Elyse Rivin: It depends on it depends, you know, there are people who. love the snow. What can I say?

[00:40:14] Annie Sargent: I know it’s beautiful. It’s not for me anymore. I really enjoyed it. When I lived in Utah. It’s gorgeous. The weather is fantastic because it hardly ever rains. It’s never gray, you know, so that’s a big plus, but I think in the Vosges, you probably get the grey, too.

[00:40:30] Elyse Rivin: You get the grey down below, yeah. People who like cross country skiing, love to go there and biking and biking, hiking, biking,

[00:40:37] Annie Sargent: Sounds wonderful. Merci Elyse !

[00:40:39] Elyse Rivin: You you’re welcome to Annie.

[00:40:40] Annie Sargent: revoir.

[00:40:41] Elyse Rivin: Au revoir.

[00:40:43] Annie Sargent:

[00:40:43] New Patreon Reward for Donors!

[00:40:43] Annie Sargent: Again, I want to thank my patrons for supporting the show and giving back. Patrons get several exclusive rewards for doing so you can see them @ no spaces or dashes. Thank you all for supporting the show. Some of you have been doing it for years. You are amazing.

[00:41:14] Annie Sargent: And a shout out this week to new patrons, Lauren Wetterhahn, Garth and Timothy King. Thank you so much for becoming patrons and making this podcast possible. This week, I published a French History Brief for patrons and donors as well called Geeking Out on the Eiffel tower. The Eiffel tower is amazing today, and it was even more amazing when they built it.

[00:41:43] Annie Sargent: It’s a must listen next time you find yourself standing by the Eiffel tower. And I want to remind donors and patrons that they also have access to these rewards through addicted to My thanks also to Janice Adair-Simmon for sending in a one-time donation by using the green button on any page on a that says Tip Your Guide.

[00:42:10] Annie’s Itinerary Service

[00:42:10] Annie Sargent: And of course, another way to support this podcast is to hire me to be your itinerary consultant. Here’s how it works. You purchase the service on Then you tell me about your dream trip to France and I help you craft the details. And then we talk about it for an hour on the phone. And I think that’s the part that’s the most helpful. I’m booked up until the third week of June, because the service is really popular, but if you’re not visiting France until the fall, there’s plenty of time for that.

[00:42:41] Can’t do an itinerary review? Get my VoiceMap tours!

[00:42:41] Annie Sargent: And if you’re coming to France too soon, lucky you get my self guided GPS tours of Paris on the VoiceMap app. They never get overbooked. They never take a vacation and you get to take me in your pocket, giving you directions and sharing beautiful tidbits about Paris. There are even cafe and restaurants recommendations in the tours.

[00:43:04] Annie Sargent: So stop obsessing and making lists. My GPS tours will take you to the best neighborhoods of Paris. And you can even buy them at a discount. If you visit,

[00:43:18] Taking the TGV at CDG

[00:43:18] Annie Sargent: Okay. I have some travel news and tips. On the podcast you’ve heard me or my guests discuss the fact that there is a train station inside of Charles de Gaulle airport. It’s handy dandy because you can leave Paris as soon as you land and go to another destination in France. So that’s what makes it a great option. If that’s what you’re thinking of doing, please check the train schedule by going to SNCF-connect. S N C F, which is the name of the French train company. So it’s S N C F connect.

[00:43:58] Annie Sargent: So yes, it’s possible to hop on a train right at the Charles de Gaulle airport CDG. Many of those trains are TGV trains, so they are fast trains. The problem is timing. Arrival at CDG can go quickly if you don’t have checked luggage, and if your plane arrives on time, in that case, you can get away with two hours between landing and train departure.

[00:44:27] Annie Sargent: But since there’s no way to be sure that your flight is going to land on time, it’s important to get changeable and refundable tickets for your TGV. But if you have to change the tickets, you might have to wait a long time, several hours for the next train. So when doing itinerary reviews for people, I can see that some of them would have to wait six hours between the time they land and the time there’s a direct train to their destination.

[00:44:55] Annie Sargent: Sometimes there are other trains, but they’d have to change two or three times. And, you know, that’s not good.

[00:45:02] Annie Sargent: So in that case, I think you might as well spend a night or two in Paris, enjoy the city, get over the jet lag a little bit, and then move on to your destination elsewhere in France. The reasons are obvious.

[00:45:16] Annie Sargent: Number one, jet lag, number two, fatigue, number three, pickpockets. And they will take advantage of you when they can tell that you’re tired and not paying close attention. Number four, brain fog, and number five, you might miss a step and take a tumble. And you definitely don’t want that.

[00:45:36] Annie Sargent: So it really depends on the timing of those trains when I lived in the US, and we came to France at least once a year, every year, we usually landed in Paris and then immediately took a connecting flight to Toulouse where my parents were. There are flights every 90 minutes between Toulouse and both airports in Paris.

[00:46:00] Annie Sargent: But what if you want to connect to Bordeaux or Strasbourg. It’s not going to be as easy. Uh, you do okay with Nice or Lyon, but it really depends on where you’re going. And another complication is that in Paris, most international flights land at CDG, Charles de Gaulle and most domestic flights depart from Orly, which is on the other side of Paris. Transferring between the two airports is painful, you can take the RER B plus Orly Val it’ll take you an hour and a half. It will not be any fun, especially if you’ve just arrived from California. Or you could take a taxi, but that’s not going to be cheap because there is no set price between the two airports. So avoid a changing airports, like the plague.

[00:46:54] Annie Sargent: So I’m back to square one. Sometimes it’s really smart to stay in Paris for the night or to, uh, before moving on to another destination in France, it’ll help you get over the jet lag. And when you land in Paris, you can hop in a taxi immediately and get started on your vacation. Instead of sitting at a train station, waiting for the train. This is especially true. If you’re staying at a hotel where even if your room isn’t ready right away, they’ll keep your luggage and you’ll be free to roam. Either that, or choose an airline that lands in Paris early.

[00:47:29] Annie Sargent: It used to be that all airlines flew into Paris at 7:00 AM, 8:00 AM. Uh, there’s still plenty of those today. But by now, some airlines, they, you know, they land at like 1:00 PM in Paris and, uh, in the middle of the day like that, there aren’t too many trains at CDG.

[00:47:49] This week in French news

[00:47:49] Annie Sargent: This week in French news. Uh, well, everybody’s on pins and needles about the upcoming second round of our presidential elections. At times like this, I gotta tell you, I stop listening to the news and I listened to books, instead.

[00:48:03] Annie Sargent: Silly books are perfect for me at a time like this. So I just finished one called Dog On It, and I started another one called Pets on the Couch.

[00:48:14] Annie Sargent: Because dogs make me smile.

[00:48:16] Annie Sargent: Having said that it’s likely that Emmanuel Macron is going to win, but should he lose Marine Le Pen is not going to get much done because she has no support in parliament or the Senate. And so what we’ll get is five years of gridlock, that would be a shame, but what are you going to do?

[00:48:36] Annie Sargent: Lots of French people hate Macron with a passion because he made a profound changes in France and he intends to do more. He’s already said what he wants to do, and they hate him for vaccines and health passes. I on the other hand, I’m grateful to him for the same reasons. So we’ll know a week from today.

[00:48:58] Annie’s personal update

[00:48:58] Annie Sargent: While listening to books about dogs, I also did a whole lot of yard work this week because it’s warming up finally. Wonderful. Uh, now I need to start riding my bike again, uh, because I, and I know it’s going to hurt my behind, but it’ll pass. Perfect bike weather.

[00:49:14] Annie Sargent: My labradoodle Opie turned four this week. She is the sweetest dog I’ve ever had, and I’ve been blessed with wonderful dogs my whole life.

[00:49:23] Annie Sargent: Last night was funny. We had a full moon and it was quite warm and our cat went nuts. She stayed out late. I’m not actually sure if she slept at all until it was daytime again. Cats are really strange. I mean, this one is mostly sweet, but, um, that was really strange. She was just going wild, running around and just not listening to anything, but she was in one piece this morning, not a scratch on her. So that’s good.

[00:49:50] Annie Sargent: I am in vacation planning mode. Uh, we’ll spend two weeks when my friend, Brenda, and her husband in June, she’s coming to visit because she’s an author and she’s coming to do a big signing. Um, so we’ll probably take lots of short trips to beautiful villages in the south because there’s still a lot of villages I haven’t been to and she loves that sort of stuff. And then in July, I’ll go spend some time at the beach, in my apartment in Spain. And then, which is really exciting because we’re planning a trip to Nashville, Dollywood, Cades Cove, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and Atlanta that will be for October.

[00:50:29] Annie Sargent: So it’s so wonderful to be able to travel again. And I’m sure you can relate. Um, pretty soon I’ll be in the age group that can get a second COVID booster and I’ll be lining up. The minute that becomes available to me, but even without I’m optimistic, uh, because, um, you know, the pandemic seems to be under much, much, much better control.

[00:50:52] Annie Sargent: Now, if we can keep Marine Le Putin away from the presidency, I feel even better.

[00:51:00] Annie Sargent: Show notes for this episode are on Join Us in France dot com for sash 385, where you can see a recap of what we’ve talked about as well as links to resources Elyse’s notes and a full transcript.

[00:51:16] Annie Sargent: If you enjoy the show, introduce a friend to the podcast and tell them why you listen and how it can help you have a wonderful time in France.

[00:51:24] Annie Sargent: Next week on the podcast an episode, about seven day trips, you can take from Paris with Jennifer Gruenke who moved to Paris a few months ago and seems to love it well enough to stick around for quite a while. She has lots of wonderful insights as you will hear.

[00:51:41] Annie Sargent: Send questions or feedback to Annie at Join Us in France dot com. Thank you for listening. And I hope you join me next time so we can look around France together, au revoir !

[00:52:18] Annie Sargent: The Join Us in France travel podcast is written, hosted, and produced by Annie Sargent and copyright 2022 by Addicted to France. It is released under a creative commons attribution, non commercial no derivatives license. .

Subscribe to the Podcast
Apple Google Spotify RSS
Support the Show
Tip Your Guides Extras Patreon Audio Tours
Read more about this transcript
Episode Page Show Notes 

Category: Alsace and Lorraine