I have a personal rule that each holiday should be enjoyed and savored in its moment. It's why I was upset that the Starbucks in France decided to do away with pumpkin spice lattes on Halloween instead of allowing them to stick around through Thanksgiving. It also explains why my husband waits for me to start listening to Christmas music each year. (I may or may not have accused him for "ruining Christmas" on a car ride one November years ago.)
This year Thanksgiving seemed to fall so late that it's been especially hard to hold back my excitement for Christmas. But at last I can tell you all about one of the most festive places you can go this holiday season: Strasbourg, France.
Strasbourg is a small town in the Alsace region of France, which borders Germany. It is a fusion of the two countries in many ways. You can order some German-style sauerkraut by asking for it in French as choucroute. Though French in many ways, a heavy German influence is distinctly present which makes the Christmas festivities that much better.
Strasbourg has had a Christmas market since 1570. Many consider it to have the best Christmas markets in France. With over 300 stands this year throughout the city, the tradition is certainly still alive and well.
The city of Strasbourg is dominated by its Cathedral of Notre-Dame. This gothic cathedral towers above one of the many Christmas markets throughout the city.
I visited Strasbourg last December (2012) over a weekend, which seemed like the perfect amount of time to get to enjoy the festive atmosphere and still have plenty to do and see.
There are two things to know about Christmas markets. One is that when you get cold (I say when because you undoubtedly will), head for the glühwein (vin chaud en français). Mulled wine uses either red or white wine. I generally prefer red wine although here I opted for white since Alsace is known for its white wines. Christmas markets throughout Europe charge a 1-2 euro deposit on top of the price of the drink and give a real mug. You can choose to return the mug at any stand selling wine and recoup the deposit, or take it home as a souvenir.
The other thing to know is that there are some really artistic craftspeople selling their wares from all over the world. My third take-away is that you can trust Hungarian potters to deliver vases on request back to Paris after paying in full and shaking hands that next time he can make it to Paris, the vase will come too...but that is a whole other story for another time.
If you can't tell already, Strasbourg was decorated from head to toe for the holidays. Every street had lights up, every store window was festive. Day or night felt like a walk in a winter wonderland.
One thing that I really loved about Strasbourg is that besides the markets, there were a lot of events going on. One of my favorite moments of the weekend was attending a sing-along at the Eglise du Temple Neuf. Being in a packed sanctuary getting to sing Christmas hymns in French and German reminded me how big God is and how He is praised in so many languages around the world.
While you can certainly find plenty of food from street vendors at the markets, I wanted to sit down, relax, and be warm during dinner. If this is your sentiment too, you absolutely must make reservations in advance. The city gets swamped with tourists and every restaurant we passed had signs that they were fully booked.
Our picks for some traditional Alsatian food were Chez Yvonne and Le Clou Winstub. I would recommend both - details at the bottom of the post.
The last thing you should put on the to-do list is a walk through the section of town called La Petite France. This picturesque part of town is right on the water and features lots of half-timbered houses from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Linking up with #AllAboutFrance!