Strasbourg is probably the ultimate European City, combining French and German cultures. Fine dining, fine wine and fine buildings are on offer
My recent visit to Strasbourg was one full of surprises, from the best airport to use (and it isn’t even in France) to the food on offer in the restaurants, I spent four days in the city amazed at what I was discovering.
Some describe Strasbourg as the ultimate European city, not only because it is the home of the European Parliament, but because it is a total mix of French and German cultures. I often imagined Strasbourg to be a big modern city full of skyscrapers so I was amazed to find that the city centre, which is dominated by a huge gothic cathedral, is like something out of a story book. The small cobbled narrow streets have lots of fascinating half-timbered buildings, many of which and date back to the 1400s. It is little wonder that the entire city centre is a UNESCO world heritage site.
The cruise on the River Ill is the best introduction to the city (www.batorama.fr). The trip lasts around 90 minutes, and lets you see the fascinating history of the area from the comfort of an air-conditioned boat. The tour glides past the modern European Parliament Buildings as well as the more historic sights. From a waterside view, the next option is a roof-top view; although the 400 steps to the top of the cathedral are not for the faint-hearted. The stunning gothic building dates from the late 11th century, and as the sixth tallest church in the world, can be seen for miles around.
If you are a ‘foodie’ you will be fascinated by the restaurants in Strasbourg. Some, like the Maison Kammerzell (www.maison-kammerzell.com) and the Tire-Bouchon (www.letirebouchon.fr) offer traditional foods of the Alsace region. Foie gras is one of the main delicacies; however, the more adventurous can try tête de veau (calf’s head) which is often found on menus in the area. I went as far as trying snails in garlic butter – much to the disgust of my children once they heard what I had eaten!
Another famous product of the Alsace region is wine. Strasbourg is surrounded by vineyards and the popular Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines are the speciality of the area. The larger wine producers, such as Arthur Metz (www.arthurmetz.fr), have a wine-tasting school and offer a tour of their facilities. The area is also renowned for growing hops, used in the production of beer. There are many micro-breweries in the region, as well as better known brands, such as Kronenbourg and Desperado.
Nightlife in Strasbourg is not as lively as one would expect. There are a number of bars, including a couple of the mandatory “Irish Pubs” as well as nightclubs. In the interests of research, we checked out a number of them and were surprised to see the vast age-range in attendance. At one club, as we left, a group of elderly ladies (and I mean 65+) were on their way in!
For someone who loves France, it does seem odd to be in the country but experiencing a German way of life. Towns like Obernai and Pfaffenhoffen are very obviously Germanic and, along with Strasbourg, have been French, German and back to French again over the years. Overall it leads to a fascinating cultural experience.
Strasbourg is around four hours from the Paris airports and two hours from Frankfurt. However, you can fly to Karlsruhe in Germany, which is only 20 minutes from Strasbourg city centre. You will find all the usual hotels in the Strasbourg area, from the relatively inexpensive to the very expensive. I stayed at the Etc Hotel which is located in the old city and only two minutes walk from the shopping area and cathedral. While the facilities were basic, there was an excellent breakfast available and it was perfect as a base in the city centre.
I’m looking forward to visiting Strasbourg again; but I think calfs and their heads are safe for a while yet!