The Vosges (Vogesen in German) is a mountainous massif located in North-Eastern France that marks the natural border between Lorraine and Alsace. Its name comes from that of the ancient god, Vosegus, and it also features in the name of the Lorraine département of Vosges.
Its highest point is the Grand Ballon (formerly known as the Ballon de Guebwiller) which is 1,424 metres above sea level. The term ‘ballon’ is the name normally used for mountains in the Vosges, for reasons that are doubtless more mysterious than might first seem to be the case.The Southern part of the massif is part of the Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park, while the most Northerly zones make up the Vosges du Nord Regional Nature Park.
The 14 mountains in the Vosges that top 1,300 m are:
- le Grand Ballon (1 424 m)
- le Storkenkopf (1 366 m)
- le Hohneck (1 363 m)
- le Kastelberg (1 350 m)
- le Klintzkopf (1 330 m)
- le Rothenbachkopf (1 316 m)
- le Lauchenkopf (1 314 m)
- le Batteriekopf (1 311 m)
- le Haut de Falimont (1 306 m)
- le Gazon du Faing (1 306 m)
- le Rainkopf (1 305 m)
- le Gazon de Faîte (1 303 m)
- le Ringbuhl (1 302 m)
- le Soultzereneck (1 302 m)
The following mountains are also noteworthy:
- le Petit Ballon (1 272 m)
- le Markstein (1 265 m)
- le Ballon d'Alsace (1 247 m)
- le Ballon de Servance (1 216 m)
- le Drumont (1 200 m)
- le Molkenrain (1 123 m)
- le Champ du Feu (1 099 m)
- le Donon (1 009 m)
- le Climont (965 m)
- le Vieil Armand (856 m)
The origins of the word « ballon »
The word ballon is the term usually used to designate the mountains of the Vosges. Common sense would attribute this name to the shape of the mountain summits, which have been rounded by erosion. However, this interpretation is challenged by the German translation of Ballon, Belchen. Two hypotheses have been put forward:
- a reference to the Celtic worship of Belenos – god of the sun – who used to be worshipped on the 2. highest points of the massif;
- a bird, the coot – called a Belchen in German - which sports a white shield on its skull which could remind one of a high mountain pasture covered with snow.
A few ‘medium-altitude’ ski resorts are scattered over the massif, mostly in the Southern areas, where the terrain is higher. The most important of these resorts in terms of the size of its ski area and visitor numbers is La Bresse, known as La Bresse-Hohneck (900-1350 m.) which is the largest ski area in North-Eastern France: 220 hectares, 37 slopes, 282 snow cannons and 1 Terrain park.
It should also be noted that the Ventron ski resort boasts an easy, family-friendly ski area ideal for beginners and children, as well as a more challenging area for good skiers and the more daring amongst us. So there’s adrenalin and stunning views on offer, fun, but safety-conscious skiing!
This resort is within very easy reach of guests renting a gîte in the Résidence des Buis as it is located just 3km (2 miles) from the gîtes. To make things even easier, there is a free shuttle bus service running several times a week from the village square up to the ski area!
The Gérardmer ski resort is also sited close at hand - this resort is suitable for all skill levels of skiing, featuring 40 km (25 miles) of safe, marked slopes, 2 chairlifts and 18 button lifts.
On the Alsatian side of the Vosges, we might mention the Markstein ski resort, host to the French ski jumping cup of 1955 and to some of the events of the Alpine skiing World Cup in 1983 and 1987.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are also very common in the Vosges.
It’s worth noting that Winter mountaineering is possible on the Northern slopes of the Hohneck, in the Spitzkopf area and more generally speaking, on the Alsatian slopes of the Vosges massif. There are also good spots for ice climbing around the Lac blanc.
The Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park
The Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park was created in June 1989. It covers 208 parishes with a total population of 256,000, straddling four ‘départements’: Haut-Rhin, Haute-Saône, Vosges and Territoire de Belfort. Its 3000 km² size makes it one of France’s largest regional parks. The park takes in the South of the Vosges massif from the Sainte-Marie-aux-Mines valley up to the outskirts of Belfort and Luxeuil-les-Bains and is centred on the Hautes Vosges, the highest part of the massif. It is one of the largest and most populated of all French regional nature parks. As with any regional nature park, the main goal of the Ballons des Vosges park lies in constantly seeking to maintain a balance between the protection of the local natural and cultural heritage and local economic development.
The Park takes in very different habitats such as the Hautes-Vosges with their wooded slopes, the valleys of the Vosges, Haut-Rhin and Franche Comté areas, the ‘plateau des mille étangs’ (plateau of a thousand lakes), the countryside South of the Vosges and the Alsatian vineyards in the foothills. It also encompasses rare natural habitats, such as mountain meadows, peat bog, mixed beech-pine woods, mid-altitude forests of oak and beech, chalk grassland, streams and rivers, lakes and ponds.
Five nature reserves play a part in protecting these habitats, the most important to be found along the high crests of the Vosges.
- Plants of peat bogs
- Medicinal plants: species of arnica, foxglove
Having been shaped by the presence of humans since ancient times, the Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park is a living environment, where right from the very earliest times, humans put water, wood, stone and soil to use in order to develop industry and crafts. This area has also seen tumultuous times during the two World Wars.
The earliest industrial activities in the South of the Vosges massif were rural-based and heavily influenced by geographical considerations. The numerous streams and rivers, mineral wealth, (silver, copper, iron, cobalt, …) and building stone (granite, sandstone …), along with the dense forest cover were all elements that were conducive to the growth of industry and crafts. This industry was powered by the water wheel from the Middle Ages until the mid 19th century, when turbines and steam power took over.
The Vosges massif has also been heavily marked by war, the traces of which can still be seen today. Sites that tell the story of this period after all these years, including its less well-known chapters, have also helped people develop their knowledge of our region.
About 60 museums, heritage sites (mills, sawmills, mines, etc.), history trails and interpretative centres run by local associations and bodies invite you on a journey of discovery of the riches of the Park’s heritage. A wide variety of themes are explored: from the forest, agriculture and local skills to industrial heritage, art, history and the remembering and commemorating of past events and societies.
- Mountain agriculture
- Wine production
- Kirsch distillation
- Granite quarrying
- The textile industry
To find out more:
See the official web site of the Ballons des Vosges Regional Nature Park: http://www.parc-ballons-vosges.fr
Fauna and flora
The massif's two symbols are the bilberry, commonly called brimbelle, main ingredient of the famous pie that’s on the menu of all the region’s restaurants, and the daffodil which is celebrated each Springtime at Gérardmer.
Traditional farming centres on producing food for local consumption: potatoes, rye, orchard fruit. To supplement this, there is sheep and cattle farming, especially, in the highest pastureland, the Vosges breed of cattle, the milk of which is the main ingredient of Munster cheese.
The forest provides shelter for large mammals such as wild boar and roe and other types of deer. The chamois and the lynx have been reintroduced, but the most emblematic creature in the Vosges is still the Capercaillie, now at risk of extinction in this region. In terms of birdlife, birds of prey such as buzzards and various species of owls are plentiful ... as are black woodpeckers, warblers and pheasant.
A few photos of the Vosges