The Vosges Mountains of France span a length of 75 miles near the French-German border. This range lies close to the border with Germany, and continues on into the fringes of the Palatine Forest of Germany. The Vosges forms a low-mountain range that covers an area of around 3,100 square miles. The Vosges have been declared as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve since 1989. The Vosges Mountains alone has about 36 peaks to climb and explore. The highest peak is at 4,672 feet, while the lowest peak is at 1,804 feet. The Vosges mountains offer panoramic vistas of the Black Forest, Swiss mountains, and the Rhine Valley on the German side. The Vosges itself has remnants of glacial lakes, and forest of maples, pines, and beeches.
The massifs of the Vosges are part of a complex region that includes waterfalls, rivers, fir forests, flora and fauna, thermal springs, and glacial lakes. Roman pagan walls used as defense in the Middle Ages are also part of the landscape. During the past centuries, the Vosges was the site of many battles that included the “Battle of the Vosges” between the French and several German Kingdoms at the end of the 18th Century. Castle ruins can still be seen on its mountain sides that are part of this history. The Vosges was also the border between France and Germany from 1871 to 1918. It was also the witness to two bloody World Wars, and, in 1992, an international airliner crashed into its mountains, upholding its bloody legacy.
Today, the Vosges Mountains are a part of two national park systems. These are the Northern Vosges Regional Nature Park and the Ballons des Vosges Nature Park. On the German side, the Palatinate Forest-North Vosges Biosphere Reserve is part of the cross-border landscape. Climate varies singnificantly in the region by the season. April to October offers warm weather, while November to March receives cool to cold weather. Outdoor activities on the French side include skiing, cycling, parapenting (a form of paragliding), and walking. There are 36 skiing areas and 6,214 miles of walking trails. Cyclists can enjoy over 62 miles of cycling trails as well. The area's famous farm restaurants also offer great cuisine for the visitor. The renowned Munster cheese is a product of the dairy farms in the Vosges, while its vineyards and wineries also produce world class French wines.
Habitat and Biodiversity
For the forest enthusiast, about 70% of the Vosges Mountains are covered with forested areas. The higher subalpine zone has heaths and beech forests, while its middle areas have fir forests. Oak forests grow on its lower slopes, and wet, high altitude meadows also dot its topography. Deep valleys also punctuate the soft rounded mountain peaks that gave it its name, Ballons des Vosges (Balloons of the Vosges). The Northern Vosges and the Higher Vosges divide the area. The Northern park extends to the German border, and is characterized by red sandstone topography and lies to the north of Donon. The Higher Vosges comprise the highest mountain peaks, of which the Grand Ballon is the highest at 4,672 feet in elevation.
Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes
International land disputes in the Vosges stretched from the French Revolution until World War I. In 1871, parts of the Lorraine region were annexed by Germany, but then returned to France after the war. An environmental war was also addressed, caused by land divisions and habitat loss. Flora and fauna biodiversity is also part of the threats that have only been seriously addressed beginning in the early 1990s. Isolation and genetic impoverishment are two factors that have been safeguarded by the establishment of ecological corridors. These permit species to repopulate areas where they had formerly thrived. The project includes the rivers and forests of the park system, and is being handled by the LIFE BioCorridors environmental agency together with BezirPfalz (Bezirksverband Pfalz) headquartered in Germany.