STRASBOURG is famously known for its cathedral (Cathedrale Notre-Dame), a giant and imposing Gothic structure that is the city’s major drawcard.
But this lively French city, the capital of Alsace, is surrounded by wine villages and has a vibrant food and wine culture, tranquil canals, museums, galleries, wonderful shopping and history galore. It all adds up to cosmopolitan flair.
You will want to visit the famous cathedral first – it is the heart and soul of Strasbourg and the sixth tallest church in the world.
Its proud splendour – described as “a pinky red angel hovering over the city” – is totally captivating and you’ll strain your neck looking up the length of its red sandstone exterior.
The ugly gargoyles will sneer down at you, all part of the extraordinary facade with its profusion of sculpture and ornament, but lift your gaze higher to take in its imposing spire 142 metres way up in the sky.
Inside its vast and lofty interior, the stained-glass windows let the light in through their multi-colours, creating an ethereal, religious atmosphere.
When the cathedral’s astronomical clock strikes at 12.30pm, a series of figures showing the stages of the life of Jesus with his apostles, pop out with suitable pageantry.
Because of its immense size, no matter how large the crowds, there will always be plenty of room for everyone inside.
After you’ve paid your respects to this Strasbourg symbol of grandeur, take a ride in glass-domed bateau-mouche, a specially designed sightseeing boat.
You’ll glide slowly past half-timbered houses and green parks, past tangled narrow lanes, and through the historic quarter of Petite France where artisans, tanners and fishermen worked and sold their wares in the Middle Ages.
The river splits and branches out through this beautiful and ancient district, now packed with pretty flower-bedecked cafes and restaurants that perch prettily over the water.
Strasbourg is in eastern France, close to the border of Germany, and enjoys the best elements of both countries. One minute you feel as though you are in the midst of Germany with the pretty half-timbered houses, the next you are enveloped in France with its market produce and typical French restaurants.
Ours was a guided tour from our Avalon Waterways cruise ship, part cathedral, part boat ride, part free-time, and ended up at a delightful hotel restaurant, Ancienne Douane, with an accordionist playing Edith Piaf tunes while the German riesling flowed freely.
We ate what looked like pissaladiere (a French specialty of onion and anchovies on a pizza-like base) but turned out to be its German counterpart, flat bread with caramelised onions. The very best of two magical countries.
-Shopping north-west of the cathedral at Place Kleber will take you to department stores and upmarket boutiques.
-Window shoppers who like to stop for coffee or a drink will love the lanes north of the cathedral where antiques and jewellery stores will appeal.
-Shops are everywhere, serving kugelhopf – circular, semi-sweet cakes.
More information on river cruising at: avalonwaterways.com.au
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