Last weekend Adam, Phil and I went to Strasbourg, France to celebrate our birthdays, and also just to take a trip together. Strasbourg was recommended to us by a friend who was charmed by the old timber-framed houses, numerous sidewalk cafes and excellent shopping options. Though it was a bit too chilly to dilly dally outside, Strasbourg truly was a beautiful place, especially around the holidays.
I didn’t fully realize that the city is commonly referred to as the Christmas Capital of the World, but once we arrived we realized how seriously Strasbourg takes that special distinction. Christmas markets popped up everywhere and lights were strung with almost careless abandoned. Every restaurant, shop and bar was fully outfitted and it would have bordered on the kitsch if it wasn’t so earnest. If you’re looking for the sweet nostalgia of Christmas, this is the place.
On Friday night we had dinner at Winstub S’Kaechele, a tiny nine-table restaurant near Le Petite France. Typically, a winstub serves traditional Alsatian food and wine in a warm, cozy atmosphere. Wood paneling, checked tablecloths, low-beamed ceilings and several variations on pork are all standard at these places. There are a few restaurants of note in Strasbourg, but the winstub will offer the most authentic and delicious experience, in my opinion.
The main specialty of the region is charcroute, pictured above. A large helping of homemade sauerkraut sits buried underneath at least five variations of pork and sausages, if not more. Boiled potatoes and a side of mustard accompany this dish, along with a hearty appetite. I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut but I was promised that this would have none of the vinegar-y tang that is usually so off-putting. This was sweet and almost creamy in its consistency and was a beautiful complement to the rich, fatty pork. The guys had potato gratin and pork shoulder; everything was so delicious. We’d highly recommend this place, but bookings are essential since it’s so small. There was a sign on the door turning away everyone who didn’t have a reservation.
^^^nothing wrong with a little post-meal burst mode session outside the restaurant
After dinner we walked around the town to check out lights and the giant Christmas tree that had been lit earlier in the evening. We stopped for a couple drinks along the way but really soaked up the Christmas spirit.
The next morning we woke up to find a farmers market right outside the apartment we were staying in. It was full of the usual suspects: fresh produce, stinky cheeses, warm bread and pungent seafood. It was fun to stroll through on our way into town.
We walked through a few of the Christmas markets and stopped for flammkuchen and coffee on our way to the cathedral. Once there we walked up over 300 steps to enjoy the view from the top.
We walked further through the markets and some of the shops in the more popular part of town, around the cathedral that is, before submitting to the cold and heading into a nearby bar. We had a deck of cards and played round after round of golf in La Mandragore, a very cool bar near the Galleries mall. It’s full of taxidermy and oddities and makes for a great place to relax and gear up for the next tour of markets.
That night we went to Restaurant Au Pont du Corbeau for dinner. It was another winstub-like place with dark wood walls and checked tablecloths. It too was completely booked for the evening so I would recommend reservations here. We shared wild boar, pork cheeks and salmon after devouring foie gras, escargot and quiche for starters. We were beyond stuffed but very happy indeed. Everything we ate was so, so good.
We visited Le Petite France to walk off dinner and see more Christmas lights. This is definitely the most picturesque part of town and I wish we could have seen it during the day. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that dates back to the 13th century.
On Sunday we visited the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. They had a couple of interesting exhibits and it was a nice place to stroll through on a quiet Sunday.
We headed home shortly after that. It was a quick trip, but a fun and festive one. It’s nice to get out of town every once in a while, especially when there are so many neat places easily accessible by train. This was our last trip of the year, besides our trip back to the States for Christmas. Nothing is exactly on the books for next year, but we’ve been brainstorming like mad and 2015 looks like another exciting year for travel. Visitors welcome and highly encouraged!