Alsace Region, France

Alsatian Adventures in Strasbourg

Wandering Strasbourg’s picturesque and peaceful streets, you would hardly believe its history is as colourful as the timbered, medieval edifices which make up much of the centre.

A magnificent mixture of everything you love about Germany and France, the city has spent the last two hundred years switching between the rule of the two countries.

Perhaps the most notable piece of architecture is the Notre Dame.  Built upon the site of a Roman temple, the gothic structure boasts a single of tower, a unique decision which separates it from the twin-towered gothic churches throughout Europe. Its asymmetry may be its most interesting feature, as well as its impressive ornate design. Ascend the 332 stone steps to the summit of the cathedral for extraordinary views that stretch as far as Germany’s Black Forest.

If you don’t necessarily feel like hiking 332 steps, or you feel like finding somewhere a little quieter, then take the 15-minute stroll through the city’s beautiful cobblestone streets to Barrage Vauban. Decorated with a wealth of pretty, little flowers, the 17th weir boasts a terrasse panoramique (you don’t need to be fluent in French to know that translates to seriously amazing views). Head up t to the terrasse panoramique to see the city from the waterways it’s famous for, including the beautiful silhouette of the cathedral.

Using Barrage Vauban to cross onto the other side of River Ill where you will find Petite France. The charming district is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasting half-timbered buildings, all rendered varying hues of pastel, that seem to sink into the meandering canals, and proud, gabled establishments, demonstrative of the region’s history. The area is incredibly green, with weeping willows and colourful, billowing flora.

In contrast to the chocolate-box appeal of Petite France is the grand and opulent Palais Rohan. Built in the mid-18th century, it was once home to the cardinals and prince-bishops of the House of Rohan (unfortunately, no relation to the kingdom from Lord of the Rings). It is basically untouched, with the furnishings and design still what it was nearly 300 hundred years ago. Though not only an objet d’art itself, it is now home to Strasbourg’s three main museums: Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Decorative Arts, and the Archaeological Museum. If that does not denote its size, nothing will.

Situated in the heart of the city is Place Kléber, Strasbourg’s central square. It is made up of mismatching architecture from countless different centuries, atmospheric church spires, and several statues (all hallmarks of a European city square). The expansive space, made even more beautiful by the addition of the pruned foliage and water feature, is the nucleus of the city’s cultural face. Lined with cafés, shops and restaurants, get to know the square or follow one of the many winding streets that lead off from it.

Offering a very particular gastronomy, a combination of the Germanic and Gallic roots, Strasbourg’s Alsatian cooking overwhelms the senses with flavours including Riesling, rich meats, and cream. Dishes like choucroute garnie, baeckeoffe and tourte offer the perfect amalgamation of German and French tastes, creating hearty, warming meals. Experience this unique cuisine in an authentic Alsatian setting at Saint-Sépulcre. The traditional exterior, with bottle-green rendering and hanging ivy, as well as a barely legible, medieval-esque calligraphy, already sets the scene. The classic low-lighting, check table cloths and dark wood continue to add to the ambience, while the copper light fittings and expressive woodwork on the walls denote a modern touch. This merging of old and new, much in-keeping with the blend of German and French, is certainly one of the reasons why it’s so popular, as well as the unbeatable food, of course.

A French staple that is taken care of at Pain Westermann is, you guessed it, fresh baked bread. Basically, picture how you would imagine any traditional Alsatian bread shop to appear, and you will have Pain Westermann. Pick up a baguette, still warm from the oven, or indulge in a delicious pastry, all of which will be teasing you from beneath the glass counter. Alternatively, if you’re desperate to try some of the famous Alsatian gingerbread – and why wouldn’t you be? – head to Pain d’Epices Mireille Oster. You can simply walk in and pick some up, or book in for a cookery class so you can learn the craft for yourself.

The Alsace region is famous for its white wine, so tracking down an inviting wine bar is a must in Strasbourg. Terres à Vin is one of those places. It is both a wine bar and shop, so you can try before you buy then come away your favourite bottle.

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