France is by no means a “best kept secret” of the travel world.
Boasting destinations like Paris, Nice, Marseille, and the French Riviera, France has perfected the art of combining relaxation with culture and class. One city, though, more than any other that I’ve had the pleasure of coming across, outshines even the City of Lights.
Strasbourg, located on the border of eastern France and western Germany, is the capital of the Grand Est/Alsace region. Its prominence as a European city is compounded by the fact that it is home to one of the three official seats of the European Parliament. Strasbourg is no stranger to the long and deep-roots of European history as the original foundation for the site was laid with the Roman camp of Argentoratum in 12 BC. From the humble camp, of which the ruins of fortification walls can still be found throughout the city today, Strasbourg grew into a bustling center of commerce, ideas, art, and architecture.
The very location of Strasbourg has seen to it that the city is no stranger to world affairs, drenching her in historical intrigue and character. The Cathedral of Strasbourg is perhaps the cities biggest attraction, and for good reason. Originally started in 1015 over the remains of a Roman temple on the very same spot, the cathedral didn’t open until 1439 due to the sheer magnitude of the building. It still stands as the 10th tallest cathedral in the world. Its gothic architecture is highlighted by the rust red of the facade and the intricate statues of the doorways leading inside. Perhaps the most breathtaking experience with the cathedral takes place in the warm summer months when the entire front and side of the church is lit up with a light show, first depicting what colors would have appeared on the statues and then moving into artistic shows of movement accompanied by music. To this day, the light show on the cathedral is the most mesmerizing event I have attended.
Moving away from the obvious attraction of Strasbourg, the city itself is a living memorial to the relationship between France and Germany over the last few hundred years. Strasbourg was a pivotal city in World War II and German occupation in France, changing hands several times before being held in permanence by France. Because of this, the city is known for its particular “Alsace” dialect, a mix of French and German tongues. Few people still speak it today, but most everyone at least knows someone who can still spout it off. Along with the particular dialect, Strasbourg’s melding of German and French culture is evident in their wood beamed architecture alongside ornate bridges, their sausage specialties served alongside crepes. With Germany just a bike ride away, visitors are able to explore the best of both countries all while calling Strasbourg home base.
While summer is an obvious popular travel time, Strasbourg’s appeal transcends the summer holidays. In the spring, flower shops offer visitors a real taste of the french countryside, cloaking the town in bright colors and aromatic draws. The winter months of November and December host the Christmas Festival that takes up downtown squares and streets. Handmade nutcrackers, wreaths, paintings, baked goods… anything and everything. If you’re lucky to visit during the Christmas festivals, you might even see the city blanketed in snow- a true winter wonderland fit for even a Hallmark movie.
While France offers a broad range of attractive destinations, Strasbourg should be at the top of your list. From the Cathedral to museums and festivals, it combines classics French and German culture into a truly unique experience. If you end up adding this beautiful city to your list of must- visits, I would love to hear from you.