Happy Valentine’s Day from Strasbourg: My French Love

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Cycling into beautiful Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg, the largest city in eastern France’s Alsace region, was another “rest” stop on our three-week cycling trip in Germany and France. I fell in love fast and hard. The dedicated bike lane with excellent signage that brought us to the busy city center was like the ultimate welcome mat. Over the next few days we gaped in awe at the behemoth that is Strasbourg Cathedral,  marvelled at the flower-lined canals and charming half-timbered dwellings and lingered in romantic cafes. We were enchanted by a place that’s been tossed around like a ping pong ball between Germany and France, yet has an undeniably strong identity and proud people.

Strasbourg Cathedral: It’s impossible to miss

I’ve seen a lot of gorgeous churches in my day and Strasbourg’s Gothic style cathedral tops my current list. Its incredible size is amplified by the fact that it is wedged in among narrow streets and busy squares lined with low-rise shops and restaurants. It appears to have been dropped into its tight space from the heavens.  The soaring cathedral tower—the world’s tallest structure from 1647-1874—is not just impressive but makes a handy navigation tool. The facade is covered with incredible sculptures that told stories of good and evil to the illiterate masses of the Middle Ages and inspire wonder today.

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Majestic Strasbourg Cathedral

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The massive cathedral wedged in between narrow streets

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Its towering presence is everywhere

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Intricate sculptures decorate the entrance

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The canals of Strasbourg: Take a cruise or walk

Strasbourg’s old town and historic centre is an island – the Grande Île, a UNESCO Heritage Site – encircled by canals and the River Ill. There are loads of tourist boats that cruise along the canals. It’s probably a great activity, but the boats were jam-packed when we were there on a sunny autumn weekend. We opted for a walk. The old town is super compact with many pedestrian-only zones  and there are plenty of bridges for glorious photo ops.

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Strasbourg is surrounded by canals and waterways

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Short boat trips are a popular attraction

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Cafes, restaurants and hotels line the canals

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The many bridges provide great photo ops

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Petite France: A romantic place with a surprisingly distasteful past

Petite France is Strasbourg’s scenic historic heart located at the western end of the Grand Île. Although it’s busy with tourists it is utterly charming and romantic. The gorgeous half-timbered houses were originally occupied by tanners, millers and fisherman. Now, many of them house gift shops, restaurants and cafes. Ironically, this delightful area is not a place one would have wanted to be in the 15th century when Petite France was used to contain syphilis carriers.

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Maison des Tanneurs (House of Tanners) built in 1572

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Gorgeous half-timbered houses adorned with flower boxes

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One of the best views of Petite-France is from the terrace on top of the Vauban Dam, built in the 17th century based on designs by Louis XIV’s military engineer Vauban.  From there you  get a wonderful view of the 14th century towers that were built to protect the city and the Strasbourg Cathedral in the distance.

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View from Vaubam Dam

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Discovering the essence of Alsace

As compelling as Strasbourg’s beauty, is its sense of identity and Alsatian heritage. It does not feel particularly French, nor does it feel completely German. This isn’t surprising given Strasbourg has flipped between German and French rule numerous times up until the end of WWII. Our tour guide Leo told us his grandfather had lived in the city his entire life and changed nationalities four times!

This German/French history has produced a unique blend of culture, architecture, food and even language. Some say, it’s the best of both countries. While French is the official language, many people, especially the older generation, speak Alsatian, a Germanic dialect with adaptations of some French words. Leo, and other people we met are very proud to speak the language of their forefathers. All the street signs in the historic part of Strasbourg are written in both French and Alsatian.

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Street name in French, and below in Alsatian (Money Street)

One of the most poignant symbols of Strasbourg’s tumultuous history is a statue in the Plaza de la République  (Kaiserplatz). It depicts a mother holding two dead sons, one who fought for France, the other for Germany. She grieves equally for both. They are naked and holding hands symbolizing reconciliation and that we are all one people.

Leo stressed the strong relationship between Strasbourg and her German neighbours just minutes away. It seems fitting that Strasbourg is the official seat of the European Parliament and one of the capitals of the European Union.

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Statue to the fallen soldiers, French and German

During our city tours with Leo and Mathias from Happy Free Walking Tours—something I highly recommend—they enthusiastically told us about Strasbourg’s famous Christmas Market. Little did any of us know that just a few months later it would be the scene of a mass shooting where five people were killed and dozens more wounded. I’m so sad about the tragedy of December 11, 2018. Despite this terrible event I intend to return to the city I fell in love with and experience its beautiful Christmas Market.

There’ll be no ending on a sad note…

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If you find yourself in Strasbourg looking for an afternoon break, stop in at Patisserie Christian. The cakes are delicious and the ambiance elegant. Don’t leave town without sampling a few Alsatian Rieslings, and my favourite, a sparkling Crémant d’Alsace. Happy Valentine’s from my French love, Strasbourg!

Next post: The postcard-perfect towns along the Alsace Wine Route (by bike).

Categories: Biking, France | Tags: , , , , , | 41 Comments

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41 thoughts on “Happy Valentine’s Day from Strasbourg: My French Love

  1. Pingback: Cycling the Deutsche Weinstraße: Pig’s Stomach, Donald Trump and Wine | Writes of Passage

  2. Pingback: Cycle Touring in Germany and France: The 10 Things I Enjoyed Most | Writes of Passage

  3. What fabulous photos of a beautiful and exciting city that has a right blend of German and French history influence. We were also fortunate to spend time here a few years ago. On foot not by cycle!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: Cycling the Alsace Wine Route: From One Beau Village to the Next | Writes of Passage

  5. Love your snapshots along the river.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. A charming city and a most beautiful cathedral. Beautifully written as always. Thanks for sharing Caroline. TT

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Based on your photos I think the whole town must be worthy of a postcard! I love the half-timbered architecture and the canals! So beautiful.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s incredible isn’t it! We are still in awe of how many postcard-perfect towns and cities we visited in Germany and France. My next post will show even more of these charming towns.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’ve seen photos of Strasbourg before, but wow, the city does look beautiful and peaceful from your photos! I love the flowers decorating the half-timbered houses, the bridges, and the railings on the banks of the canals. And the cathedral… What a magnificent architectural wonder!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is interesting that somehow despite its busy tourist center Strasbourg does still feel peaceful. I certainly felt this. I’m sure it has something to do with all those lovely flowers!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Caroline, great to read about your discovery of Strasbourg. Even though I was born and raised in Paris, I often advocate for visitors to France to spread their wings and go outside of Paris to see what magnificent architecture lies beyond. Your photos of Strasbourg are beautiful and make me want to go back there for a visit at the nearest opportunity. The combo of criss-cross “colombage” facades, pedestrian streets and surrounding river does paint the picture of a great destination.

    My only gasping moment: what? no CHOUCROUTE?? Strasbourg is famous for sauerkraut and sausage and I would venture to say that most French visitors would head to the nearest restaurant to get a fix of choucroute before going to visit the cathedral, no matter how gorgeous the cathedral is. A priority indeed when in Strasbourg! Hope you did not leave Strasbourg without indulging!

    One other tidbit worth mentioning: Strasbourg is one of two centers of power in the European Community. Brussels is the epicenter of the EU, but Strasbourg also hosts a large community of European technocrats who shuttle in and out of the city on a weekly basis. Nice place to work, isn’t it?!

    Thank you for this tour of Strasbourg, really enjoyed it, as did Peta

    Ben

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ahhh, CHOUCROUTE, indeed a glaring omission, thank you Ben! My mother served a lot of sauerkraut in her day but it was nothing like this hearty Alsatian dish. Mike and I couldn’t get over the portion size—huge piles of sauerkraut covered with sausage and often all sorts of other salted/smoked meats. We were so impressed that we recently had an Alsatian/German dinner party where we served choucroute and zwiebelkuchen, washed down with a good Alsatian Riesling—definitely over the top.

      Your comment about visitors spreading their wings to go outside Paris is so true and having visited this little pocket of eastern France has us yearning to see more. We also found that being on bikes forced us to slow down and explore great little towns we might otherwise have bypassed. The entire experience was amazing.

      Glad you enjoyed our tour of Strasbourg. Hope you get to visit again soon and indulge in choucroute. Caroline

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  10. Mike Hohmann

    Strasbourg -another great post, Caroline -replete with wonderful photos! I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of your posts describing your cycling tour of Germany and France… what a trip. I know I’d greatly enjoy visiting the Strasbourg Cathedral, the canals, shops and restaurants. Thanks for the tour!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mike—yes, the entire cycling trip was really great. We had so much fun, we’re thinking we might head back to Europe in fall and try another cycling route. Glad you enjoyed Strasbourg!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I have not been to Strasbourg but your gorgeous photos and descriptions have me keen to travel there soon. I am surprised at the pretty canals and wow to the cathedral!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know you guys like to cycle so Strasbourg and the Alsace Wine Cycle Route might be a fun trip for you. My next post will have more info about the cycling route heading south to Colmar (another city with pretty canals).

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  12. how absolutely beautiful and majestic does this city look! some day i must get there. i don’t think i knew about the mass shooting at Xmas. how horrifying! i am so sad to hear that. hope your February is going well. cheers sherry

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What an absolutely gorgeous-looking place. And that cathedral. Wow!

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Hi Caroline, I agree with the comment further up – Strasbourg was not my radar at all. What a beautiful city. You as always done a great job of describing it. The photos along the canal with flowers are lovely. I need to go and read about your bike adventure. Hope you are well. Louise

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Seriously impressed that you undertook a three-week cycling trip! And what lovely roads you traveled upon.

    The vertical framing of Strasbourg Cathedral truly captures its soaring height. And the follow-up images of its placement on the streets gives such a different perspective. I can see why you fell in love with the place! It is truly magnificent.

    Every one of your canal photos have me wanting to drop what I am doing (preparing for a long offshore passage) and hop on a plane to Strasbourg. Like something out of a fairytale. Lots of oohs and ahhs as I slowly meander through your post!

    The tragedy that visited this place in December is even more heartbreaking now that I have walked its idyllic streets with you here. The ‘unthinkable’ is sadly becoming a trend in our world today.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well Lisa, we’ll have to be in the mutual admiration club. Just the other night I was showing my husband some of your posts and we are both in awe of your sailing adventures (3 weeks cycling on terra firma is pretty tame).
      Strasbourg somehow got under my skin. It really is stunning, and its history and uniqueness make it all the more appealing. I also like the size of the city…big enough to make it vibrant but small enough to be manageable. It’s so easy to walk or ride a bike to visit all the major sights. It has one of the best cycling networks in all of Europe.
      Having just been to Strasbourg, the tragedy hit me even harder than others like this, which as you say are becoming a sad trend in the world.
      By the way, I tried to comment on one of your Sri Lanka posts but couldn’t find the new comment button. I’ll try again. We are going next month!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ha! Funny that you find 3 weeks of cycling anywhere to be pretty tame :-). Thank you so much for sharing my posts with your hubby! am THRILLED to hear you are headed to Sri Lanka. It is almost a year since we sailed there from Phuket (time flies) and we LOVED it. Really excited to visit there again through your lens. (Sorted out the comment issue – a default setting reappeared on its own closing comments on posts automatically after 28 days. I have turned it off once again).

        Liked by 1 person

  16. Totally not on my radar before, and now very much on it! Absolutely beautiful place.

    Liked by 2 people

    • As I mentioned to Louise, it appears to be especially off the radars of non-Europeans…perhaps a good thing given what’s happening in popular places like Venice. It’s a wonderful spot and also makes a great base to visit the entire Alsace region, which I’ll be talking about in my next post…think more awesome wine, lovely villages, wonderful cycling….

      Liked by 1 person

  17. Brian Foster

    Wow, had no idea it was that gorgeous never mind interesting. It will certainly be on our dance card at the next France/Germany prom. Al always well told and great pics.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Brian. I remember loving this city eons ago when my parents first took me and my sister there. It was even more enchanting this time. You guys would love it.

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  18. How utterly lovely to read this since we were there for the Christmas markets! I want the laptop screen to be my portal into Strasbourg, Caroline. If only. Your photographs of the city are gorgeous, mine were the evening views. It was so bleak the day we were there. You seemed to have had a day of liquid sunshine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was thinking about you in Strasbourg over the Christmas holidays. Have you done a post on it? I hope I haven’t missed it. I have such romantic notions about the Christmas Market. I’m sure it must have been magical even in the bleakness. The weather certainly makes a difference and we were lucky to have such a nice stretch into October.

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      • I have not yet got around to a post on Strasbourg yet, Caroline. I am so slow. It was rather lovely. Once it was evening, it became even better. I will put up my photos soon! 🙂 You were lucky. It was frigid but the hot wine was divine. xx

        Liked by 1 person

        • No No, you are not slow. I still have posts I want to do about places we visited last summer. I don’t think I’ll ever catch up and I’m not going to stress about it. I’ll look forward to seeing your Strasbourg post whenever it comes😊!

          Liked by 1 person

  19. Tim Rooney

    Hi Caroline – I love following your blog, you have a real knack for bringing your readers along for the ride. Elaine and I loved spending weekends in Strasbourg when we lived across the river in Freiburg. Your description of the city and its beautiful architecture has brought back a lot of wonderful memories for me.
    I hope your doing well!

    Tim

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Tim, that’s so nice of you to say! I’m glad the post brought back good memories. I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of travelling but I envy you guys for having lived in different countries…such a wonderful life experience. Freiburg is a lovely city. My grandmother was from there. Unfortunately, on this trip we didn’t spent any time there (only at the train station for an onward trip to Baden-Baden after a long cycling day). I hope to get back to both Freiburg and Strasbourg and….
      I’m doing well and looking forward to a trip to Sri Lanka in a few weeks. If your travels take you to Vancouver it would be great to catch up with you. Caroline

      Like

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