Christmas is now long gone, but since last year’s holidays season has brought its fair share of magic in our lives, I thought I’d share our experience here. For the first time in forty years of existence, my husband and I had decided to spend Christmas away from home and have fun while seeing something outstanding.
He had been dreaming of seeing Strasbourg and the Christmas Markets in Alsace since he’s been a child, and I love Alsace region and have sweet memories of childhood summer holidays with my parents, so I granted him this trip though I am usually not a huge fan of everything-Christmas – just a normal fan.
Now I realize that before our trip I had no real idea of what we were going to see and the atmosphere we were going to experience. Being Europeans, obviously we are used to mingling among people in busy Christmas markets a bit everywhere we are or everywhere we go during the holidays season. But Strasbourg is nowhere close to hosting a simple Christmas market. Neither is the whole region of Alsace. Strasbourg is the Capital of Christmas.
Indeed, it’s not only about the markets. Entire cities and entire villages are decorated, they give it all to make everyone feel the holidays season spirit and get in the mood. Every building’s front wall, every shop’s window, every little square, every stall at the markets, every park, every restaurant and every hotel is decorated from up to bottom. All the local people sincerely share their will to contribute making these places look as beautiful as in a fairytale. And even though there obviously is some commerce involved, well it does not quite feel like it as locals know how to best serve their visitors, and truth be told, we were even happy to pay them for all that they served us everywhere. There was magic in the air. And up in the air we were watching at all times, as from everywhere in Strasbourg the famous, huge and massive Cathedral was imposing on us.
We stayed 3 days in Strasbourg, including 2 days visiting the city and 1 day that was dedicated to touring the region of Alsace, especially the small town of Colmar and two villages named Riquewihr and Kaysersberg. We spent Christmas eve in Strasbourg before flying back to Nice on Christmas day. With a good organization (as always) and a couple pre-bookings for our daytime activities, we thought that 3 days were intense though good enough to enjoy our time without rushing from one place to the next.
We also had friends to meet in Strasbourg, and had a really nice time sharing Laura and Greg’s experience of the city over a nice meal at their place. They live on Avenue des Vosges, a really nice tree-lined avenue located just by the river that surrounds Strasbourg’s main district of “La Grande Île” (the big island), as the city center is indeed an island surrounded by the Ill river. From their building to downtown, it’s a 5 minutes walk through a little park with no less than a rotonde around which stand the National Theater and the National Library. And right before crossing the bridge, there is this strange face coming out from a fountain pool. To make curious people wonder…
Exactly across Avenue des Vosges through La Grande Ile, there is the famous district of La Petite France. It is said to be especially nice during Spring and Summer when flowers have blossomed and birds are chirping; however, I must say that the houses architecture makes it beautiful all year round. The district is filled with tiny coffee shops and small restaurants along canals that serve delicious snacks and foods, and when the streets are lit up at night fall, it simply turns magical.
When hitting Strasbourg city center’s Christmas market, one founds out that there’s not just one market but plenty of them all over town. For biscuits lovers, walk South of the island to the Place du Vieux Marché au Poisson (Old Fish Market square) that sells no fish at all anymore but biscuits instead, especially along the docks. For cheese stuffed food, local Munster cheese melted over local spaetzles pasta / baguette bread / you name it, go North-East of the island to Place Broglie. For knacks (German sausages) and choucroute (local Alsacian specialty of fermented cabbage with potato, sausage and meat), there are large stalls at Place Gutenberg and Place de la Cathédrale. We don’t eat pork so we thought we won’t have choucroute at all, but in a restaurant duck choucroute was on the menu so it was our luck, and it tasted delicious!
Everywhere you also can find delicious and tender large Bretzels as well as the famous local Gingerbread Man. For Christmas spiced warm wine, just go anywhere in town, there are stalls every 5 meters, and it’s really nice and balanced! And comforting too, because outdoors are really cold in this season. And of course, stroll about in the streets and go by Place Kleber to see the gigantic Christmas tree!
Other food specialties of Alsace include dishes that sound like German but are written in the Alsacian dialect: the Flammekuech (delicious thin flamed tart with only a couple toppings), the Baeckhoff (pork stew with potatoes simmered several hours and baked in the oven in special ceramic dishes), Munster cheese based dishes of all sorts, the Bibeleskäss (thick yogurt based dish served with potatoes, condiments, cheese and cured meats), and finally the Kouglhopf (a delicious light and puffy brioche with a bit of raisins and almonds, topped with ice sugar).
Oh, and more bretzels!!!!
Beside Strasbourg, we dedicated a full day to a day-tour in Alsace, along the worldwide known “Route des Vins”, aka Alsace Wines Route. If you are a wine aficionado/a, please do yourself a favor and look it up on the internet (and plan a trip there). I highly recommend drinking Crémant d’Alsace, a lightly sparkling white wine between dry white wine and Champagne. So good! As it was full winter, the vineyards were dry, but be aware that if you visit during summertime, you would have in front of you one of the best sights ever of vineyards of your life.
From Strasbourg, we took a train to the small town of Colmar, and from there we bought a cheap ticket and rode a shuttle bus specially arranged for the holidays season by the region to transport tourists to the best villages. We made a first stop in Riquewirh where we had lunch in a great Winstub (local traditional restaurant). We then visited the shop “la Féérie de Noël”, that sold all sorts of old fashioned and wooden Christmas decorations in the world. We had a quick walk in the village, but it was so overcrowded with tourists like us that we slowly walked back to the shuttle bus and went on our journey towards the next village.
We then reached Kaysersberg, which I have longed to see for a couple years, since it has been elected French people’s Favorite Village in 2017. I have not been disappointed. This village simply was fabulous. Its architecture and colors were even emphasized by the Christmas decorations, and I found the simplicity and the beauty of this village just stunning.
We stopped in the middle of the afternoon for tea and a local pastry. I had a kouglhopf while Jerome had a Brie au Kirsch, another delicious pastry with a light touch of alcohol in it, that has been the shop’s specialty dessert for more than 40 years. That’s all we needed to recover from all the walking, and we then hopped on the bus again to go back to Colmar.
We visited Colmar for just 2 hours as the rain sadly came our way, but we did enjoy nice sights, especially in the park where lots of people were having fun on the ice rink or at the bar that was set inside an old Carrousel.
On our last day, we enjoyed a quiet day visiting Strasbourg again, eating delicious foods on the markets, but not too much as the evening dinner was the Christmas eve dinner, and we had booked a fancy restaurant for both of us to put an end to this amazing Christmas holiday.
Created and Written by Sophie Rebibo-Halimi. © 2019 All Rights Reserved.