Simultaneously grand and intimate, Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most appealing cities. Its most famous monument, the soaring Gothic cathedral built of dark pink sandstone quarried in the nearby Vosges Mountains, was the world’s tallest building for 227 years. In addition, the city charms with steep-roofed half-timbered houses, exceptional restaurants, animated wine bars and fascinating museums.
Strasbourg has long been one of the great destinations in France, but following the opening of new high-speed train routes, it has also become a convenient long weekend from Paris. (The TGV covers the 306 miles in two hours, 17 minutes.) It is also one of the relatively few European cities that is delightful year-round. Flowering chestnut and linden trees give it a soft beauty in spring; summer delights with window boxes of scarlet geraniums and lively café terraces; the first chill of fall makes culinary specialties such as choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with sausage and charcuterie) taste even better; and winter brings the renowned Christmas markets, the most famous of which, the Christkindelsmärik on Place Broglie, was founded in 1570. The only important heads-up about travel to Strasbourg is that its hotels are booked solid when the European Parliament is in session — Strasbourg is the twin capital of the European Union with Brussels — so reservations should be made far in advance.
For a city of such history and distinction, Strasbourg has surprisingly few hotels. The answer to this puzzle lies at the heart of the city’s identity. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, France’s easternmost province, but Germany is just a few miles away across the Rhine. A frontier town, it has often been the focus of contention between the two powers. The city was occupied by the Germans for 48 years at the end of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, and then again during World War II. So during the initial boom years of European travel, Strasbourg was stranded in an international no man’s land. It was only after 1945, when it was chosen as one of Europe’s two capitals as a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany, that the city emerged as a leisure destination.