Strasbourg, France, a 2,000-year-old city on the Rhine River in Alsace-Lorraine, offers an intriguing blend of cultures. It is the legislative and democratic capital of the European Union as well as being the home to a number of other international institutions.
The town is famous for its beautiful, unfinished Gothic cathedral, its charming town center, called Petite France, and its timbered houses dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
Locals speak the dialect of Alsatian, a blend of French and German that has given names to many streets in the city. Strasbourg's strategic location on the Rhine has made it a contested spot throughout history, trading possession between Germany and France. Much of the heritage of Strasbourg and the province at large derives from its time as a part of Germany.
Any excursion in Strasbourg, which was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 1988, will revolve around the iconic cathedral, which dominates the city center.
Near the cathedral are several excellent museums, including Rohan Palace, the adjoining fine-arts museum (14th- to 19th-century paintings), the modern-art museum and the Museum of Decorative Arts.
The other hot spot is the riverfront pedestrian area of La Petite France, with its timbered houses, shops and cafes, located within easy walking distance of the cathedral square. This area is where craftsmen plied their trades from the Middle Ages and continue to do so today. In the summer, scarlet geraniums spill out of window boxes and in the winter sparkling lights decorate the streets.
Another historic quarter is Grande Ile, in the shadow of the towering cathedral. It is an island bordered by the River Ill, and is a UNESCO World Heritage site. The picturesque alleys are full of old timber-framed houses in an array of sherbet colors.
Visitors can see the sights in Strasbourg a number of ways, but for anyone with average mobility, this is a city easily explored on foot.
Because of the city's size, even day trippers can take in the main sights in a day.
A historic wine cellar—said to contain the world's oldest barrel, dating from 1472—and the art-nouveau buildings in the German Imperial district are also worth a visit.
The best way to go sightseeing is with the three-day Strasbourg Pass, which offers free and discounted admission to attractions throughout the city.
To Colmar. This small city is about 48 mi south of Strasbourg. It has a wonderfully preserved old city center with half-timbered houses and several interesting museums, most notably the Unterlinden Museum of Medieval and Renaissance Art, located in a 13th-century convent.
In addition, this part of Alsace produces some of the best white wines in the world, and many of the wineries scattered through the foothills of the nearby Vosge Mountains are open to the public. Colmar was the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty in New York. His home is now a museum.
To Riquewihr. This flower-filled Alsatian town is nearby and worth a stop if it's harvest time. The little town has several nice 12th-century houses. Ungersheim, which sits about 20 mi south of Colmar, is a town noted primarily for its Ecomuseum—a village made up of 50 or so houses, shops and churches from the 15th-18th centuries that were relocated to Ungersheim in the 20th century. Stop by and see blacksmiths and other period artisans at work.
To Besancon. If you continue another 30 mi southwest of Colmar you'll reach this picturesque city dramatically set in a bend of the Doubs River. Besancon has many claims to fame: It was a city of ancient Rome, novelist Victor Hugo was born there, and its fine-arts museum is the oldest in France. Also in town are the Renaissance Palais Granvelle, St. Jean Cathedral (which has a wonderful astronomical clock) and Vauban Citadel (now a World War II museum with a great view of the area).
Besancon is known for the particular color of stone used on the facades of the buildings, la Pierre de Chailluz-calcaire. The stone has been extracted in the region since 1569 and creates a uniformity in the look of the homes, all of which are colored gray-blue or beige-gold, with pointed roofs.
The region is famed for its white wines, including Riesling, Silvaner and Edelzwicker. Many restaurants in tourist areas, especially around the cathedral, dole out medium quality food at high prices—seek out the traditional winstubs, which serve excellent local fare. You'll find wine in pitchers on the table there instead of bottles, harkening back to the advent of these restaurants as meeting places for winemakers.
Passport/Visa Requirements: Citizens of Australia, Canada, the U.K. and the U.S. need a passport. Children must travel on separate passports. Reconfirm travel document requirements with your carrier before departure.
Languages: French, German.
Time Zone: Daylight Saving Time is not observed.
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Courtesy of: Darla Logsdon
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