By Nicky Gardner and Susanne Kries—
Strasbourg is one of those places that is so easily missed. Fast trains pause there, but Strasbourg deserves at least a day or two. And the Alsace city is at its best in the run-up to Christmas as the German fad for Christmas markets spills over the border and onto the streets of Strasbourg’s historic city centre.
The city is one of those difficult-to-place communities. France with a twist, you might say. We knew just that when we wandered the streets of Strasbourg last week and found the Rue de L’Ail (“Garlic Street”) cheek by jowl with the Rue Martin Luther. France and Germany colliding, as it were.
The great thing about Strasbourg is that it is easy to reach, easy to explore on foot, and–if you choose your moment carefully–it won’t break the bank. The city is home to the European Parliament, but if you can visit at a time when the parliament is not in session, then you’ll get great deals on hotels.
The crossroads of Europe
The fast rail routes from Paris to Munich and Brussels to Zürich cross at Strasbourg. Even Milan and London are both less than six hours away by fast train, Marseille and Berlin less than seven.
So no surprise perhaps that Strasbourg styles itself “Le carrefour de l’Europe”–the crossroads of Europe. Yet despite having a nodal position in Europe’s transport networks, the city is relaxed and unhurried, a place to chill out for a few days.
Strasbourg’s Old Town
Wander the streets of “Petite France,” the old part of town just a five minute walk from the main railway station, where the street names tell of the local industries that brought wealth to medieval Strasbourg: lace-making, milling and tanneries. There are heaps of little cafés and restaurants in this part of town, which features on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
One of our favorites is the unfussy “La Petite Alsace,” which is a place to relax over a jug of the local Gewürztraminer, the aromatic slightly oily white wine which is the very essence of Alsace. Try it once and you’ll be smitten. There are hints of lychees in this not-quite-dry wine that is the perfect partner for choucroute garnie, Strasbourg’s signature dish. Choucroute is not grand cuisine, but good hearty winter fare, as unpretentious as Strasbourg itself.
Strasbourg makes the perfect one-night stop on long journeys by train across Europe. Come out of the station, with its assertively modern armadillo-like frontage, and you are spoiled for choice for hotels jostling for your euro.
Our advice is to ignore them all, but just head over to Rue Kuhn, a three-minute walk, where the Hotel Monopole Métropole is a classic French family-run hotel. It has a chic reception area with bar and coffee shop, and a really lovely lounge. Faded, but comfortable, and a place to linger on rainy days. We love this kind of hotel, which combines all creature comforts in the rooms with lashings of local character.
Three generations of the Siegel family have presided over the Monopole Métropole. Rooms for double occupancy from about €70. This rate is usually restricted to weekends, but it is always worth checking. You can make bookings direct with the hotel or via www.bestwestern.com.