The French-German connection is evident right from the start: Strasbourg = German strasse for street plus French bourg for village. We’re in northeastern France very close to the German border, touring the Grand Ile (Grand Island) section of Strasbourg. Unlike what we usually think of as an island, Grand Ile is the center of the city, which happens to be surrounded by the River Ile and the Canal du Faux Rempart.
From nearly every vantage point, we see the 40-story-high spire of the Cathedral Notre-Dame. We follow it as though it’s the north star and soon we are overwhelmed by the delicate yet imposing cathredral, a red-sandstone monument to Gothic architecture completed in 1439.
The exterior with the dramatic flying buttresses and grotesque gargoyles looking as fearsome as ever. The interior a kaleidoscope of color radiating from the stain-glass windows; the superb artistry of carved wood, such as the ornate pulpit; and the organ suspended in a “swallow’s nest.”
Across from the cathedral is the Maison Kammerzell, built in 1427 and justifiably considered the most beautiful home in Strasbourg. Its distinctive roof lines and old glass windows are impressive, but look closely at the intricate carvings of minuscule musicians with their viols and timbrels; kings, including King Arthur; and the signs of the zodiac.
At the western end of Grande Ile, we cross over the Pont Saint-Martin to Petite France—the “other side of the tracks” in the Middle Ages, with its odoriferous mills and tanneries, where tradesmen and fishermen lived. The half-timber, Easter egg-coloured houses remain along the canals and the cobblestone streets. Cascades of red geraniums spill from their facades. It feels like we are walking through the illustrations in story books. Along the canals are quaint shops with darling bric-a-brac and friendly winstubs (think old-fashioned English pub).
Alsace Wine Route
Can we be this close to wine country and not succumb? Of course not. Drive south from Strasbourg along the Alsace Wine Route past the forested Vosges Mountains to the picturesque villages and, literally, hundreds of vineyards. Sample the range of wines from the fruity to the spicy flavours, especially the world-famous Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
Something for the wine connoisseur, something for the chocolate connoisseur. Strasbourg is a primary point on the “Chocolate Way” that runs through Europe. The city’s upscale chocolate shops display chocolate as another shop might display jewellery. The Chocolate Museum tells the “secrets” of chocolate making in separate presentations for children and adults. Throughout the town, there are patisseries in which you can watch the chocolatier creating the latest confections.
While touring patisseries, sample the traditional Kougelhopf, a fluted brioche-type cake with dried fruits and nuts. Don’t scoff—this is not your great-aunt’s fruit cake.
For dinner or lunch, have another Strasbourg specialty, Choucroute Garnie, sauerkraut cooked with a glass of Riesling wine garnished with different kinds of sausages and other cuts of pork and served with potatoes. You can also get it with fish instead of meat. If you see “Choucroute Royale” on a menu, it is cooked with champagne. What a great way to top off your experience of Strasbourg!
We will spend the rest of our holiday at our “home base,” Le Domaine des Bains by Yelloh Village, 40 miles from Strasbourg in the Vosges Mountains. We may want to rest for a while, take advantage of the pool and whirlpool bath, but we don’t want to miss out on the horseback riding and fishing. The village has been a fantastically economical way to work on our “bucket list” of French cities to visit.
Our guest Post on Yelloh Village
Check out our latest guest post on the Yelloh Village magazine blog.