The historic city of Mulhouse in the Alsace region of France, near the German and Swiss border, has created a 3 km city tour in which every institution, museum, store and restaurant is completely accessible for special needs travelers. The city defines accessible as available to those in a wheelchair, with sight, hearing or cognitive impairments and for those with children in strollers.
The first reference to this fascinating city dates back to 803, when massive flooding led villagers to create a mill wheel. The mill gave the town its name, which derives from the German Mühlhausen, or “mill house.”
Among the attractions along the accessible route are the Fine-Arts Museum, the Museum of Printed Fabrics, the former Town Hall and History Museum and the beautiful buildings and small pocket parks that make up the city center. Shorter loops within the 3 km trail are designed so those with limited energy can see smaller portions of the city.
The tour includes information about safe street crossings and information in Braille for people with sight impairment, smooth surfaces for those with mobility issues and sign language tours for those with limited or no hearing.
Mulhouse is an industrial city with a charming historic center that is very accessible. A mix of architectural styles provide surprises on every corner: whimsical trompe l’oeils, Hansel and Gretel style houses, a giant medieval cathedral and a pink ornate city hall.
While there are some cobblestone streets, most are paved and easily traversed in a wheelchair. Contact the Mulhouse tourism office for information on the specially-designed tours for special needs travelers.
Detailed information on accessibility on the restaurants, hotels and points of interest are available in French, but the international signs and images make it easy to interpret for English speakers. If you see something of interest, copy and past the link of the site and more often than not, you will find an English version of the website available. Additionally, a less detailed version is available in English on the tourist information website.
Train and car enthusiasts will love the city for its transportation museums, which contain the largest collections in Europe. The train museum (Cité du Train) is especially impressive with 15,000 square meters filled with trains, engines, replicas of famous stations and scenes that depict the life of railway workers. It traces historical events from 1860 to 1940 and illustrates the history of France through its collection, which includes specialty trains like General Charles De Gaulle’s private war room carriage, the ornate train that carried president-elects to their inaugurations, the first Trans-Europe train, the first electric trains and fascinating steam engines. The museum can take the better part of a day to visit, so pace yourself. There is a train-themed restaurant on-site and a cafe if you need a break and some refreshments. Admission is 11 euros for adults, 7.70 for children 7-17. Family rates are available.
A few blocks away and just as big and impressive is the car museum, Cité de l’Automobile, with the largest and most comprehensive collection of Bugatti motor vehicles in the world. The 19,000 square meter museum has 520 vehicles, including three types of 41 Royales, Maserati 250Fs, several Ferraris and pre-war Grand Prix cars, including a Mercedes-Benz W125. Tickets are between 11.50 and 14.50 euros, depending on the season. Family and reduced rates are available. Restaurants and cafes are available onsite.
Information on all the museums in Mulhouse is available online.
Getting around Mulhouse is manageable, with all the buses on the primary routes around town and all the trams wheelchair accessible. On the secondary bus routes, 70 percent of the buses are accessible. For those with very limited mobility, Domibus operates a specialized transportation bus that picks passengers up and delivers them to their destination. Registration is required (proof of disability, etc.) for this service and a reservation for pickup must be made at least 24 hours in advance.
The Alsace region of France is famous for its dry white Riesling wine. Less widely known is that the majority of the country’s beer is also produced there. The proximity of the German and Swiss border creates an interesting mix of food, architecture and culture. With a very Germanic influence, visitors can start the day with delicious French crispy croissants, lunch on tarte flambée alsacienne and snack on the region’s famous foie gras and Reisling. For those who prefer a more traditional snack, there are plenty of hot bavarian pretzels. In the colder months, diners enjoy coq au vin made with Reisling. It’s a pleasant mix and one that will suit almost anyone’s taste.
The former Miss France and Alsace native Delphine Wespiser has created a video that shows what Mulhouse looks like. The video is in French, but it’s worth taking a look to see what the city has to offer.
Mulhouse is refitting almost the entire city to make it accessible to all. In the process it is creating a tourist environment that is inviting and welcoming. If you want a personal tour, call a “greeter,” explain your interests and needs and you’ll be guided by an enthusiastic local who will wander around the city with you. The greeters are volunteers who do not charge for their services, but give an insider’s perspective of the city and its riches. You can arrange for a tour with a greeter by visiting the official website.
Do not be alarmed by what may appear to be inaccessibility of the train in the video. SNFR has a system to help people in wheelchairs to board and deboard. See this video to see how it works on high speed trains in France (you can see it at about 45 seconds in).
The nearest airport is EuroAirport, which services Basel, Mulhouse, and Freiberg. The airport is unique in that it is managed by both France and Switzerland. Most major airlines and many low cost ones, including EasyJet. The city is an easy and inexpensive 3 hour train ride from Paris and is a nice overnight trip.