I actually wanted to some more share photos and write some more about Strasbourg – and Alsace – months ago, but the post kind of kept trailing and trailing. So I grunted and finally decided to take it off the back burner. If you are interested in Strasbourg and are looking for all kinds of travel tips, you should also check out my other posts:
Of eating in Strasbourg – restaurant tips, bars and such!
Of my favourite shop in Strasbourg – name says it all, for buying Alsatian artisanal pottery!
Well, it just so happened that Finland had its governmental elections and, instead of heading to my regular voting spot in Stuttgart, we opted for Strasbourg. The bus ride with ADAC Postbus from Karlsruhe is so cheap it’s almost impossible (10€ return) and only takes one hour. So, you will get a sexy mix of wintery photos and more recent, spring flavoured examples. You should also check my previous post about some eating in Strasbourg for more.
It was one of the warmest days of spring so far and the spring was a bit further along in France than in Germany. The weather was verging on blazing hot and the air was filled with the sweet aroma of Magnolias, which were in full blossom along the riverside and on the backyard of seemingly every house and building.
I really like the city and the region. Alsace is generally a wonderfully curious place. It has such a bizarre history and I reckon its having been ping-ponged between different rulers and empires so many times has left a significant mark. Most visible and recent, though, is the modern German cultural and governmental impact. Due to the whole ping-ponging – especially between Germany and France – Alsace still applies “the local law”, which is quite an interesting arrangement. It lets the region have some of its entirely own, local legislation, operating alongside the rest of the French legal system.
Basically what this means is that much of the legislation put in place during German rule, still hold true. Perhaps the most distinct case and exhibit is the fact that Alsace has no laïcité (!!!) – as in official separation of the state and religion – because of this application of local law. It’s the only place in all of the 22 Metropolitan regions in France!
Alsace has also been such a rowdy, rogue-ish place that the word “Alsatia”, (which is the Latin form of Alsace’s name), was used for centuries in the English language to mean “a lawless place” or “a place under no jurisdiction” – since that’s how Alsace was seen by the English. LOL! History is so wonderful!
And you thought that was the trivia snippet for the day? You were wrong! The trivia snippet of the day is that the Easter Bunny comes from Alsace! It’s an Alsatian tradition that an Easter Hare brings Easter Eggs, and the mention of our beloved Easter Bunny – referring exactly to this Alsatian tradition – was first recorded in a German publication in 1682. How cool?!
Due its the prime strategic real estate location, the city has been a major commercial centre and an important trade & transport node for centuries. Actually, even the name reflects this: Strasbourg means “Town (at the crossing) of roads”. This is also quite clear visibly in the medieval architecture and city planning, the city scape dominated by with half-timber and stone houses, narrow alleys and market places. In fact, the entire Main Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
One of my personal favourites historical oddities happened in Strasbourg: in 1518, in an incident known as the Dancing Plague of 1518, around 400 citizens of Strasbourg were struck with a dancing mania and they danced constantly for weeks. Most of them eventually died. Have you heard of “dancing mania”? It’s both hilarious and baffling – you should read about it.
So I hope you’ve had the chance to read my post about eating in Strasbourg. This post is about the other things I like to do there – in winter or in summer.
Petit France, or “Little France” in the West of the Main Island (not across the river! it’s a different deal there), is the sweetest and most picturesque of Strasbourg’s neighbourhoods: full of half-timbered houses that used to be tanners and slaughterhouses. Obviously highly touristic, it’s still so breathtaking that it’s worth a visit.
Hilariously though, this cute name “Little France” was not given to the area for noble, f.ex architectural reasons. The neighbourhood was named after syphilis! Little France housed a hospital for syphilis patients and the STD in question was dubbed in German Franzosenkrankheit, “the French disease”. This was later a key factor in the official naming of the area. How beautiful.
Le Léopard – A friperie or second-hand shop. Weirdly curated – lots of completely incomprehensible items, beautiful African artisanal works, then a selection of a few brand gems and the occasional Hermès bag.
Café Atlantico – A restaurant! On a boat! This place has a slogan: bistrot-resto-dodo – meaning a full-day service. They start with breakfast, serve lunch and dinner and do the bar/club thing in the evening and into the night. So, great for eating, but even better for drinking a local craft beer on their terrace. During summer time, the café spills from the terraces onto the street, but the definitive place to be is on the riverside, with a stunning view over the river, riverbank, other boats and the buildings nearby.
Christmas Market – There is no good way to explain exactly how Strasbourg turns during Christmas time. It’s a 500-year-old tradition and something that has obviously shaped the city in many ways. It’s definitely the city’s biggest tourist attraction: the market(s) draws visitors from all around France and much further abroad. Strasbourg is actually the home of christmas markets. The first in Europe was held in the city in 1570.
The market takes over the whole city – there are 11 locations, all together, each with a different theme (local producers, speciality foods, children, etc). Hundreds of local companies get their little booth – be it food, ceramics, souvenirs or just mulled wine. That’s also a great place for getting some truffle, y’all.
Overall, the christmas lights are breathtaking, though you have to wonder how huge the city’s electricity bill must be… then again, it’s France! They have nuclear! So one needn’t worry.
The riverbanks are actually great for moving around the city efficiently and bypassing some of the biggest tourist crowds, all the while getting a dreamy, scenic experience. It kinda lets you change the perception on the city. If visiting during summer: before dusk, get a cold bottle of a local white, cups and sit down. Watch the night fall and listen to the city. It’s also great with a dog.
Strasbourg Cathedral – It’s quite obvious, but I still wanted to mention it. The tallest cathedral in France with the whole Main Island planned around it. Cathedrals are funny – they’re always different yet always the same. Worth a visit and hard to avoid.
Generally though, even during the winter season, it’s a beautiful central European city with fascinating history and architecture present with every step you take. And, in spring, the whole city blooms and presents all of its best qualities: greenery, flowers, rivers, outdoor terraces, lots of smiles and big sunglasses.
It’s a perfect mid-size city, in many ways: you don’t have to exhaust yourself with overwhelming offerings and running around to check every touristic attraction, yet you never get bored and can always find something new. The city let’s you breathe and belong and you can almost forget that you are only visiting.
Go to Strasbourg!