Strasbourg, proud capital of Alsace, is one of my favourite places in France. Situated at the crossroads of Europe a mere 3km from the German border the city has historically been a meeting point for trade routes- no wonder it is often described as the crossroads of Europe. Annexed by Nazi Germany in 1940, the city was liberated in 1944 and is now one of Europe’s most important political centres (official seat of the Council of Europe as well as the European Parliament).
Walking through Strasbourg’s historic centre there is a constant buzz. The mixture of students from France’s most prestigious Grande Ecole– ENA (Ecole Nationale d’Administration, which trains students who go on to become France’s top civil servants and political figures), tourists and European civil servants ensures groups converse in a multitude of languages (maybe why I like it so much then…).
One of the most striking things about Strasbourg is its prettiness. Were it not for the tram system and omnipresent high street chain stores you could be transported back a couple of hundred years. Strasbourg’s Grande Ile was classified a World Heritage site by UNESCO in 1988 and its Petite France area in particular (previously the tanning-houses/ slaughterhouse area) showcases Strasbourg at its finest. Although this city should be visited all year round it is during the festive season that it really comes to life.
Marchés de Noël
From the end of November until 31 December virtually all four corners of Strasbourg’s city centre are taken over by wooden chalets, artificial snow and lights for the famous Christmas markets. Strasbourg is proudly regarded the ‘capitale de Noël‘ and is the oldest Christmas market in Europe (first one took place in 1570).
Last year I returned to Strasbourg (en route to Nancy) for the Christmas markets. After a slightly shaky start (missed our TGV from Paris as our Eurostar had been delayed so arrived in Strasbourg 2 hours later than anticipated), we celebrated our arrival with the traditional Alsatian tarte flambée and demi-pêches (Stella with peach syrup, i.e. drink of my year abroad) in a student-esque bar on the edge of Petite France, probably Strasbourg’s prettiest district. The following day after a GLORIOUS breakfast (the jam, the bread, the pain au chocolats, the coffee!) we rediscovered the Christmas markets, stopping off in cafés whenever we got cold. Spent too much and took too many photos, but this was definitely the life.
This year’s Christmas markets continue until 31 December- a visit will warm even the coldest of hearts on a frosty winter’s day. Check out the website for up to date visitor information. Experience has shown me you’re probably better off visiting during the week, weekends are ridiculously busy!