Strasbourg: “The Capital of Christmas”
It’s impossible for words to capture the feeling and quality of the beautiful Christmas Markets in Strasbourg, France. What’s exceptional and unique is the dramatic, over-the-top, décor on the buildings, in the shops, and draped across the streets. Every corner you turn offers a new visual treat, always something cuter, bigger, brighter or more fanciful. Day and night it’s amazing, and I’m glad I came back. It remains my favorite of the Christmas Markets.
Of course this year, things are just a bit different. France has heightened security due to the terrorist attacks a few weeks ago in Paris. They cancelled many public events as well as the Children’s and Three Magi Markets, blocked traffic into the inner city during market hours, cancelled tram stops within the market areas, and literally have police and gun-toting military everywhere. I don’t think we went five minutes (max) without seeing police. One fellow U.S. visitor witnessed them frisking a Santa yesterday, and today, we were blocked from getting back into our charming hotel, because police found an unattended shopping bag on the street. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm, and we were comforted they were so vigilant.
Our hotel, the Cour du Corbeau, was built in the 1500s and welcomed kings, emperors and princes throughout the years. Since the Alsace region flipped back and forth between French and German rule, the area is a wonderful mixture of cultures and now home to the European Parliament. To learn a little of the interesting local history, we took a boat cruise on the L’ill River which runs right through the city, creating an island where the old city is today.
We walked and walked, and then walked some more, visiting Petite France with its half-timbered houses (originally for those with syphilis) and all nine existing markets. The main market is at the Place de la Cathédrale with the backdrop of the beautiful Notre Dame.
The Cathedral Market is really fairly basic, with other, smaller markets featuring more elegant products, the guest country of Luxembourg, local charities, trees along with everything you could possibly need for decorating, and gourmet specialties of the area such as truffles, foie gras, cheese, wine, and pastries.
At night, we did it all again to see the lights. And what a spectacle. Every street different, with thousands and thousands of lights, stars, rings, snowflakes, gingerbread men, balls of color, angels and more. One street features nine Baccarat chandeliers, another can’t run lights across the street because of the electric trams, so they just lit every building in color, and those colors and patterns change continuously.
Weather-wise, it’s been brisk (30s and 40s), but dry.
I can truly say, for this Floridian, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.