The French seem to radiate holiday warmth as the temperatures drop and Noël draws nearer. Believe it or not, this country of wine, cheese and on average, rather little snow may contain Santa’s Workshop itself. Strasbourg, the self-proclaimed “Capital of Christmas,” certainly convinced me that Christmas magic is from here, amongst its incredible Gothic cathedral and superb Alsatian eateries.
A two-hour, fifteen minute train ride outside of central Paris, Strasbourg offers the stuff of Christmas fairytales for parents and children of all ages: gingerbread men, snow-covered “cabins” filled with Christmas crafts, hot-spiced wine, or vin chaud, and of course caroling quartets, Santa, and Christmas concerts performed in the city’s infamous gothic Cathedral.
Strasbourg is located directly on the Franco-German border. It is the capital of the Alsace region of France, a territory that fluctuated between French and German patronage for better part of the 19th and 20th centuries. The city has now become a symbol of European unity and is home to the European Parliament. Thus, there are few better examples of modern and traditional Alsatian architecture. Boat tours of the city’s canals take visitors by both the parliament building and the Maison de Tanneurs, one of the most famous Alsatian homes.
Christmas in Strasbourg
During the Christmas season one would be hard-pressed to find a single dark street in the downtown area. Les Marchés de Noël, little huts constructed to resemble open-faced log cabins line streets and surround the cathedral. Each vendor offers a unique take on Christmas goods. The city draws craftspeople with an incredible array of wares, bakers, butchers and local farmers. Parents beware: candies such as boules de neige (a stupefyingly delicious chocolate-covered marshmallow confection), hot spiced wine and crêpes are available in lethal quantities. Families can also ice skate at the foot of the cathedral, take a sleigh ride through town and dine on exquisite regional specialties such as silky foie gras, sauerkraut and, for adults, suburb Gewurztraminer and Riesling. For a family of four, round trip tickets can still be found for under 350 .
In case leaving Paris isn’t in the cards, never fear…In Paris, les marchés de Noël appear in the traditional hotspots for shopping. These little Christmas villages surround the Église Saint-Germain and line the wooded stretch of the Champs-Élysées from the Place de la Concorde toward the Arc de Triomphe. Those in the chic and pricy quartier Saint-Germain offer a more affordable and crafty choice of gifts that range from hand-embroidered linens to a variety of cocktail rings and shawls, hats, scarves and gloves. The markets along the Champs, meanwhile, include gigantic animatronic Polar bears that stand above crêperies, a wide array of ornaments, and Santa and snowmen figurines. Fantastic ice-sculptures peek out from between booths and the entire street is peppered with displays of holiday lights.
It is not too late to experience the 12 days of Christmas, as most markets are open past New Year’s.
For online-ticking information (available in English!)