This year marked the first time in my life that I didn’t go home for the holidays and it was bittersweet. On the one hand, my husband and I relished the peace and tranquility of a holiday season that was largely spent just the two of us. We ate oysters, drank bottles of white Burgundy and made many warm, comforting meals in our cozy apartment. We enjoyed decorating our pint-sized tree and starting some Christmas traditions of our own. On the other hand, I missed the socializing, the chaos and the sheer festiveness of the holidays with my family and friends in Portland, Oregon. After Christmas, I was still yearning for a bit more holiday cheer so we headed to Strasbourg to see the world famous Christmas markets.
The charming city on the border of France and Germany has canals, cobblestone streets, and an awe-inspiring medieval cathedral that looms over the skyline and was at one time the tallest building in Europe. Many of the Christmas stalls sit right at the base of the Notre Dame cathedral and sell piping hot cups of vin chaud (spiced wine), crêpes, and glittering christmas ornaments. When we were there, the first snow of the season blanketed the city making the festive, holiday atmosphere complete.
We were only there for three days, but in typical fashion, we pounded the snowy pavement hard and saw everything on our list, even braving the long, frigid wait outside the cathedral to see the towering astronomical clock, which chimes each day at 12:30pm. The pageantry lasts several minutes and includes an angel turning over an hour glass and the figure of death clanging a bell 12 times with a bone. We strolled the story-book like Petite France neighborhood and visited the 18th century Palais Rohan, a museum whose collection includes master Renaissance artworks like Raphael’s “Portrait of a Young Woman.” On our last day, we stood in awe as we viewed the world’s oldest wine, an Alsatian white from 1472, located in the historic wine caves of the Hospices of Strasbourg, a site that is free and delightfully uncrowded. All in all the visit served its purpose. We got our holiday fix, but it only wetted our appetite for more winter. Next up a ski trip to Austria.
The Christmas markets in Strasbourg are winding down, but it’s a beautiful place to visit anytime of year. It’s about a two hour train ride east of Paris.
If you go:
This elegant corner brasserie with large windows and parquet floors is located next to the University and serves a reliable breakfast of espresso, croissants, omelets and baguette with berry jam.
11 Place de L’Université
03 88 46 43 30
This small, lively restaurant with communal seating specializes in tarte flambée, basically thin-crust Alsatian pizza topped with fromage blanc and ingredients like munster cheese, lardons and mushrooms. They also have an excellent by the glass selection of local wines. Remember, Alsatians drink white!
6 rue du Tonnelet Rouge
03 88 13 47 73
Brasserie Les Haras
The team who designs Alain Ducasse’s restaurants is responsible for this two story brasserie in an 18th century former horse stable. It’s big and splashy but the warm color palette and exposed wood beams in the upstairs dining room lend it a warm, rustic ambience. The food is French comfort food at its finest– hearty but refined including beef with bordelaise sauce, pomme frites and winter vegetables and roasted poulet jaune, yellow chicken.
23 rue des Glacières
33 03 88 24 00 00
You’ll probably need a nap afterwards, but this family owned restaurant is where you should go to try traditional Alsatian dishes like choucroute garnie, sauerkraut with potatoes and sausages, and riesling and cream braised chicken. It’s incredibly rich and filling and will help you understand how locals survive the chilly winters. The buttery, onion tart is a must order.
26 rue Finkwiller
03 88 25 07 57
At this wine bar near Place St.-Nicolas-aux-Ondes, the chatty owners will help you figure out if you’re in the mood for fresh, dry riesling or honeyed gewürztraminer. They also have excellent cheese and charcuterie plates and a croque monsieur sandwich made with local ingredients.
3 rue des Planches
06 81 54 64 99
Tucked in a side street near the cathedral, dimly lit Code Bar serves expertly mixed cocktails like a dangerously smooth old-fashioned and earl grey infused tanqeuray gin with fresh mint and elderflower liquor.
39 rue de Vieil Hôpital
06 09 14 02 57
This affordable hotel near the train station offers simple rooms decorated by street artists. Breakfast can be added for 8 euros.
17 rue Déserte
33 03 88 24 98 40
Strasbourg’s former National Stud Farm, which is home to Les Haras Brasserie, is also a four star hotel offering contemporary rooms furnished with leather and wood to recall the world of horseback riding. Many rooms offer views of the lovely Haras courtyard, home to an ancient Saphora Japonica tree, and there’s a tearoom serving breakfast and a selection of pastries throughout the day.
23 rue des Glacières
33 03 90 20 50 00