Strasbourg is a culturally rich and eclectic town. Sitting in the north east of France bordering Germany, it has been part of both countries throughout its long and varied history.
As the principal city of the Alsace region, the whole area is famed for the intricate blend of German and French customs. Alsace is that in-between place where the best of French and German traditions meet; both beer and wine are loved in equal measure, and bakeries offer the most delicate pastries alongside a selection of heavy baked breads and pretzels. If you listen closely as you wander the peaceful streets of any Alsatian town, you may even catch an older native speaking the local dialect heavily influenced by the language across the Rhine.
Among the many titles given to Strasbourg is ‘the European Capital’. Home to the European Court of Human rights, the European Parliament and the Council of Europe; Strasbourg plays host to some of the largest and most influential bodies in international government. Rightly so, when it so wonderfully embodies the values of the EU: the sharing of cultures, languages and the eradication of borders. One could easily walk around ‘la Petite France’ district and think you were in among the back streets of Paris. Equally as you stroll the cobbled streets around the infamous 500 year old cathedral, you may think yourself in medieval Germany. This is a sentiment echoed by UNESCO who named Strasbourg’s entire ‘Grand Ile’ city centre a world heritage site in 1988. The combination of all this will have you feeling as though you have stumbled into a Disney film; Beauty and the Beast to be more precise, since fair Belle grew up in Alsace.
Another title worn proudly by this unique city is that of ‘Capitale de Noël’. It is here in a town once plagued by territorial conflicts, that the spirit of Christmas truly comes alive. Strasbourg holds its title partially due to the sheer volume of Christmas Markets it unveils around the city (12 in 2012), and partially due to the profundity with which the city throws itself into all things Christmas.
The heart of the city, Place Kléber, sees a 98’ Christmas tree erected at its centre every year, while Christmas lights, both traditional and more inventive (last year’s selection included chandeliers in Perspex boxes) hang high and extravagantly around the city. To mark the auspicious occasion that is the start of the markets in November, there are a series of concerts and performances. Past performances have included a spectacular light show projected onto the city hall, and acrobatic dancers suspended above the audience; just in case you thought there was a limit to the opulence.
The markets themselves are rows upon rows of wooden huts (each big enough to house Mary, Joseph and several Wise Men quite comfortably) filled with enthusiastic staff and the most enticing array of Christmas gifts. From bespoke candles, colourful silk scarves and handmade gold jewellery; enough to make you feel transported to the markets of Agrabah. Be warned though that around two million visitors come to Strasbourg’s markets every year so it can get rather crowded as you browse. While some of the gifts may be out of touch with your average wish list in 2013 (less iPads, more gold, frankincense, and myrrh) it’s a great place to pick up your festive Christmas decorations; lights of every colour, tinsel by the yard and handmade glass ornaments for your tree. Dotted among them are huts serving traditional thick hot chocolate, mulled wine, spiced orange juice, crepes and waffles of every flavour which should be incentive enough.
Strasbourg at Christmas time is Europe’s very own Whoville. There is no escaping the Christmas cheer and it is surely enough to put childlike excitement into the hearts of even the most steadfast of Grinches.