Friday, December 6, 2013

Five Reasons to visit Strasbourg

Strasbourg is one of the most picturesque towns of Europe.   Tucked in the northeast corner of France on the border of Germany and only about 2 and a half hours by high speed TGV train from Paris, the capital of Alsace beckons visitors especially this time of  year  when the town sparkles of a thousand lights , christmas decorations adorn the facades of shops, restaurants and houses and  streets are bustling with eager shoppers. Here are five reasons to make Strasbourg your destination of choice during  the holiday season and anytime of the year.

Strasbourg Christmas Market
OT Strasbourg-Emilie Cottier
One of the most appealing reasons to come to Strasbourg in December is to visit its famed Christmas market, the oldest one in France, a more than 400 years old institution.  It is in 1570 that the first Christkindelsmarik (Market of Christ Child) took place.  The Christmas market spreads along many streets in the historic center and especially in front of the Cathedral and the lively square --Place  Broglie.  Strollers make their way through the market tempted by the wares of the many sellers installed in 300 wooden chalets selling local arts and crafts, Christmas ornaments and gourmet delicacies.  The scent of cinnamon,  mulled wine and savory sweets fill the air while carolers' voices entertain shoppers. Every year a giant pine tree, the tallest in Europe, is set and on Place Kleber and decorated with Christmas tinsels and ornaments to the delight of children of all ages. 

Strasbourg Cultural Heritage
Strasbourg is appealing anytime of the year for the wealth of its historical heritage and its architectural beauty.  The French Minister of Culture has just recognized the importance of Strasbourg's preserved patrimony and has attributed to it the distinguish label of "Ville d'Art et d'Histoire" (City of art and history).  

OT Strasbourg-Genevieve Engel
Its most prized landmark is the Cathedral Notre Dame, a masterpiece of gothic architecture. Built between  1015-1439, the cathedral is distinguished by it is pink sandstone facade so richly carved and decorated; scenes from the Old and New Testaments adorned the central portal. Its spire stretches up gracefully 142 meter from the ground, one of the tallest in Europe. Inside, the cathedral counts many treasures among which are the stained glass windows dating from the 12th to the 14th century, the St. Pancrace's altar designed by Hans  Hammer dating from 1522, fourteen magnificent 17th century tapestries and its Renaissance astronomical clock with a mechanism dating from the 19th century - a masterpiece of engineering , artistry and craft .  One of the magical moment to take place every day is at 12:30PM when the astronomical clock show takes place with its parade of apostles. 
Astronomical Clock

Strolling through Strasbourg offers many delights. One particular neighborhood La Petite France District has been classified as Unesco World Heritage site.  This picturesque neighborhood alongside the Ile River, once the district of the  tanners, millers and fishermen  is lined with 16th and 17th century timber-framed houses. 

Strasbourg counts many museums among them the Palais Rohan, which holds a collection of  paintings from the  Renaissance to 1870 including works by Botticelli, Veronese, Canaletto, El Greco, Rubens, Goya, Delacroix, Corot and many others.  At the bottom of  the cathedral, the Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame concentrates on art from the Medieval and Renaissance periods that illustrates mainly Strasbourg and the Upper Rhine region's past.  Modern and Contemporary art is housed in a museum right in the historic center and features a collection of fine art from the 20th century, graphic as well as photographic works.  

Gastronomy of Alsace
Strasbourg, as the capital of Alsace, is renowned for its gastronomy- a mixture of hearty german food and French gourmet sophistication.  Some specialities include Choucroute, a dish of pickled sauerkraut and assorted sausages; Baeckoff, a stew of meats, potatoes and spices simmered in Alsatian wine; Flammekueche or Flambe tart, a thin pastry filled with cream, onion and bacon pieces. The local deserts are non pareil such as the Bredele cake for christmas, the Kugelhopf and the Alsatian cheese tart. Strasbourg Winstubs (Alsatian bistro)  are renowned for serving delectable local cuisine in a cozy and  convivial setting. 

Wine and Beer of Alsace
Alsace has a long and rich culture in vineyard cultivation.  Its wines are renowned the world over for their quality and unique terroir.  There are 7 distinct AOC's named for their grape variety - Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Tokay, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sylvaner.  When in Strasbourg, visit the historic wine cellars of the Hospices de Strasbourg . In this magnificent 600 year old vaulted cellar a selection of local wines are stored; one barrel  contains wine from 1472!!

Let's  not forget the Alsatian's beer tradition --In fact the first brewery in Alsace was founded in Strasbourg in 1260.  Famous brands brewed outside of Strasbourg include Kronenbourg, Fisher and Karlsbrau . 

Crossroads of Europe
Photo: OT Strasbourg
Yves Noto-Campanella
Strasbourg has always been at the crossroads of Europe since the middle ages when the city was an important trade center.  Today it is the seat of the European parliament and other European institutions like the Council of Europe with its European Court of Human Rights .  Members meet each month for 4 day long sessions of debating, law drafting and voting. Public can visit the chambers during plenary sessions.

As you see, there are many reasons to visit Strasbourg during the festive holiday season as well as throughout the year and visitors come back for encore year after year.

Visit a France Destination Specialist to arrange your trip to France and beyond.

tags: Alsace, Strasbourg, Strasbourg Christmas market

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