Christmas Markets (Marché de Noël)
Last weekend, we did the most quintessential Christmas thing we could think of and went to Strasbourg to check out the Christmas markets (Marche de Noel) and experience Alsatian holiday traditions in the self-proclaimed capital of Christmas.
Strasbourg sits on the eastern border of France with Germany, and thus enjoys a blend of Franco-German culture. There are about 10 markets spread out across the city, selling food, crafts, and decorations, etc. Each year, they also have a guest country that sets up stalls and sells their traditional crafts and foods. This year is Portugal.
From the weather (overcast, cold) to the abundant lights and decorations, the happy vendors to the hot beverages, and the random moments where you look up and see a balcony packed full of Santas…this place breathes Christmas.
Sip and Stroll
The basic SOP to enjoying this place is pretty simple.
First, you bundle up and stroll through the markets while sipping hot beverages (once you buy the first decorative cup, you can keep it for refills at the other stalls) and snacking on crêpes and bretzels. We tried almost every hot liquid we could – vin chaud blanc and rouge (aka Glühwein), hot apple juice, hot cider, hot chocolate, and wait for it…hot beer!? Surprisingly good.
Once it gets dark, when the city is aglow in lights, visit the huge Christmas tree in Place Kléber – the central square of Strasbourg. Night is really the best time to experience this city – it’s 2 parts magical and 1 part creepy. Hopefully, the pictures give you a sense of this.
And then finally, when you get to that point that you can’t remember when you last felt your toes, you head inside a warm, cozy restaurant for comfort food and Alsatian wines. We tried several specialties of the region – Coq au Riesling (the whiter, creamier cousin of Coq au Vin), Choucroute Garnie (sauerkraut and a variety of meats), escargot, and spaetzle (tiny egg dumplings/noodles). And our first evening there, we found this fabulous, tiny wine bar that serves Tarte flambée (aka Flammkuchen, basically Alsatian pizza) almost exclusively – and alongside really good Alsatian wines.
This mix of Franco-German culture was perfect for us because I lean toward French cuisine and he digs dishes like Choucroute garnie. I don’t know. I really can’t get that excited about a big plate of cabbage and meat. Visually, it’s not very appealing and I think it tastes pretty much how it looks.
Aside from the markets, there are a couple of other interesting places to check out.
We visited the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg – a towering, gothic church that seems like it can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. It also has an astronomical clock that is fairly interesting.
And last, but not least, we walked around Petite France – the picturesque and historic area in the southwestern part of the city. This area is full of those small, half-timbered gingerbread-like houses built alongside canals. There is a great viewpoint of Petite France from the Barrage Vauban, an old stone bridge dam that has a rooftop terrace. From there, you can see the stone towers of Ponts Couverts (bridges that were previously covered a long time ago), the canals, cute buildings, and of course, the cathedral off in the distance.