As if by some miracle Nicola (my travel partner for the upcoming weekend) and I arrived at the airport at the ungodly time of 5a.m and managed to have remembered almost everything. Perhaps this needs some context. For the 2 weeks leading up to our Annual Christmas Market Trip 2016 every possible circumstance managed to go wrong. These things ranged from minor blips such as us being evacuated mid Fantastic Beasts because of a situation to more serious debacles but given all of the obstacles the last 2 weeks had thrown at us, we were here and we celebrated this life success with Starbucks (better chai lattes than Nero) before boarding our Air France flight to Paris. Given my utter hatred of Easyjet we had opted to not fly return to Paris and then catch a train to Strasbourg since a combo flight package was being offered with Air France/KLM for the same price once you factored in the expensive train fares. So this meant that on arrival into Paris, fresh from my one hour nap, we made our way to the train station to collect our pre-purchased tickets for our train to Strasbourg. Presumably the airline knows this is a popular destination at this time of year and so buys up cheaper tickets which means you can fly in style (relative to Easyjet) for good value.
We had an hour to kill before our train and so picked up a baguette at Brioche Doree to enjoy, when in France and all that. We boarded the train very nicely and again I pretty much napped for the entirety of the journey to Strasbourg, I had been up since 4a.m and had had a busy week of Christmas festivities so I think it’s justified. We arrived into the station and walked out of the old station into the glass bubble surrounding it. I have to say as we walked to our hotel, located right in the centre of the city on the island, I was a little underwhelmed, the buildings were kind of standard European affair and not particularly wow-worthy but as usual, never judge somewhere by first impressions. We checked into the Mercure Strasbourg Centre, which we had picked due to its fantastic location. The hotel itself was fine, a bit dated but with a modern lick here and there. As usual we dumped our bags and headed out to explore the city that hosted the first ever Christmas market all the way back in 1570.
As we wandered into the centre we started to see the traditional Alsatian architecture the town is famous for as well as a LOT of Christmas decorations. We soon realised that each and every establishment in Strasbourg, whether shop, bar or restaurant, all make a massive effort when decorating their shopfronts making the city an absolute dream to wander around at this time of year. We caught a glimpse of the famous Cathedrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg. It looked insane but we had food on our minds and so made directly for Flams- where they sell the regional specialty of flammekueche – a thin crispy pizza type item with a whole load of different toppings (but always cheese). It took us a few minutes to get a seat since they were so busy and I have to say if you are looking for stellar service this is not the place to be, however, their flammekueche was amazing, I had the original with extra cheese and mushrooms and Nicola went just for original which is basically cheese, ham and onion. We washed it down with a Christmas beer (more of a novelty but surprisingly tasty, even for non-beer drinkers) and some local Alsatian wine – Edelzwicker which is used to designate a blend from the region. It was tasty enough and light so went well with the cheesy snack. The restaurant also cleverly served each one in half and then when we had finished brought the second half, which meant they were always lovely and warm. Very reasonably priced and a good budget option in the centre of town.
We had some time before the 4.30p.m walking tour and so decided to check out what we were here for – the Christmas Markets! There are over 12 different Christmas market locations spread across the city but one of the biggest is the one surrounding in a huge U shape, the cathedral. After staring for quite some time in wonderment at the cathedral, it was once the tallest in the whole of Europe and has some beautiful carvings and detail adorning it, we started our Christmas Market trip with the regional mulled specialty – vin chaud. The French version of mulled wine it was lovely and tasty and warm and perfect for sipping on whilst wandering around the vast markets. Our of every Christmas market I have visited I have to say these ones were the first where I have thought they had reasonable things I would actually consider buying. There were some beautiful Christmas decorations and glasswork and a lot of food! One lady had some amazing smelling hot Christmas muffins which sadly the lady was only selling in HUGE bags which we thought might be slightly excessive given our large lunch. After heading back to the vin chaud stand for a strawberry flavoured version (much sweeter) we made our way to the cathedral entrance to meet our walking tour guide. A walking tour is the one thing I always recommend to those visiting a European city to do when they arrive to give them some info about a city and help them get acquainted with the layout and top things to see and eat. However, after wandering aimlessly around the cathedral for 20 minutes after the 4.30 meeting time advertised on the Happy Strasbourg website the guide was nowhere to be seen. We even asked in the tourist information who assured us the tours meet outside the main entrance but they weren’t sure of timings. We eventually admitted defeat, our curse had obviously followed us to Strasbourg in one form or another, and we headed off to explore the other Christmas markets of the city.
Our final market was the Petit France one on the way to Unami – a Japanese and French style restaurant. Petit France is the old traditional part of the city along the river where you find the pretty timbered houses. The market was nice and we enjoyed some more mulled wine, this time opting to sample the white variety, while wandering the stalls. Unfortunately, as we wandered along to Unami just in time for opening at 7 we caught a glimpse of a notice on the door explaining they were full. This was a tad disappointing, especially given that their website had prevented reservations for December, but we were in Strasbourg after all, a culinary city packed full of fantastic eateries. So we took a look at my trusty Lonely Planet and found to our utter dismay the other few places in the area were also full. With this in mind we decided to wander in the hope we would stumble across somewhere and thankfully luck was shining upon us.
As we were wandering down the beautiful streets we came across Maison de Tanneurs which was one of the beautifully beamed buildings so typical of the area. We chanced our luck and they had a table! The restaurant was upstairs and very traditional. We sat at a small table in the centre and ordered a Riesling Brandluft which the waiter recommended. It was lovely with lots of minerality with the perfect balance of dry and sweetness. A fun fact is that Alsace is the only wine producing region in France which names their wine by grape variety (in line with the rest of the world) and not by winery. This makes ordering a LOT easier. We were then treated to our first experience or a mini starter, a foie gras crème brulee (this seemed to be a thing in Strasbourg and we loved it). It was really yummy, with the sweet hard top working really well against the smooth creamy centre. After our palate was suitably cleansed I had some garlic snails which went very well with the minerality of the wine and Nicola had probably one of the nicest quiche lorraine’s I have ever tasted. Our mains lived up to the high bar with me opting for the coq au Riesling which was served with tagliatelle and Nicola opting for the Schnitzel. It was very touristy but also very regional and an utterly outstanding meal. We both wandered home happy before falling into a deep, food-induced sleep. What a day!