When I think of a romantic getaway , one country comes to mind. Of course I’m talking about France. Mais oui. The food and wine, the ambiance, the history and architecture, the language… It’s the perfect recipe for romance. In fact, according to the Hotels.com Hotel Price Index ™ (HPI™), France is ranked the second most visited country by Canadian travellers for two years in a row. And rightly so.
I’ve been to France a few times and have explored Paris, the South (yes, I’ve even paparazzi’d at the Cannes film festival) and Lyon. This time, I chose a more unlikely destination: Strasbourg and the Alsace wine region. And I wasn’t disappointed.
WHAT TO DO IN STRASBOURG, FRANCE
Strasbourg is a city steeped in history. Not only is it the capital and largest city of the Grand Est region of France and the official seat of the European Parliament, but it’s also the home of the Strasbourg Cathedral that was made famous in the novel Pillars of the Earth. The historic city centre, the Grande Ile, was classified a World Heritage site by Unesco in 1988. Flip-flopping between German and French ownership throughout its history, the city is immersed in Franco-German culture and has been a cultural bridge across both countries for centuries.
All-in-all, if you’re a fan of historic architecture, quaint scenery, food, and wine, a visit to Strasbourg should be on the top of your list.
Where to Stay: Travellers to Strasbourg paid an average nightly room rate of $192 CAD, down by 4% in comparison to last year, making this city highly affordable for Europe, especially since it’s packed with charming boutique hotels. If you’re looking to be in the thick of the action, the Grande Ile area is historical eye candy. But, while it’s ideal for holding hands and strolling, it’s a pedestrian only district. If you’ve got luggage, you won’t appreciate hauling your bags across the cobblestones from the parking areas to your hotel.
Instead, choose Hotel Les Haras (from $187/night on Hotels.com), just a few blocks away on the edge of the Le Petit France district. This chic and luxurious hotel is a gorgeous blend of old and new and is located on the site of Strasbourg’s National Stud Farm which was built in the mid-18th century. Here, you’ll find the most comfortable bed you’ve ever slept in, luxe furnishings including a bathtub built for 2, heated towel rack, plush bathrobes, and spa quality amenities. The hotel boasts superior service from the moment the valet takes your car (9 euros for parking), including knowledgeable front desk staff who can recommend great places to eat and make your reservations for you.
Travellers Tip: Don’t forget to join them for a delicious European breakfast (10 euros per person). The spread of cheeses, meats, yogurts will tempt every palate. Ask for your eggs made to order while you enjoy a bowl of muesli and a steaming cup of coffee.
Where to Eat: If you’re looking for authentic Alsatian cuisine, you’ve come to the right place. Make sure you’ve got your eating pants on, because the portions are generous and the food hearty. Heads up: they eat the whole animal—especially pork—organs, knuckles, and all. We sampled a savoury creme brûlée featuring fois gras at Chez Yvonne, followed by an incredible venison steak. If you’d rather have authentic French cuisine, head to La Hache Bistro for a juicy steak frites. A not-miss brunch spot is La Corde de Ligne in the heart of Le Petit France and features every kind of spaetzle dish (an Alsatian staple), burgers, and more. Stroll the streets and pop into one of the many patisseries for a spice cake, meringue or other yummy pastry.
Where to Drink: Obviously, the answer here is wine. If you like white, local varietals are your best bet. But don’t fear, red wine drinkers, because this is France and there’s lots of choice for you too.
You’ll find traditional pubs along your travels, but wandering the streets late at night, we found the ultimate gem at Code Bar. Run by two bearded hipsters, this tiny joint has the best drinks and ambiance ever. Order off the menu or ask Arnaud to create something special for you. And watch the show, because this guy has the moves from Cocktail down pat. In cooler temps, pick up a cup of hot wine street side (about 2 euros).
Travellers Tip: Most of the restaurants have set hours and seatings, particularly for lunch. So, if you’re not hungry between 12-1:30, you’re out of luck. Ask at your hotel’s front desk for a spot —like La Corde de Ligne—that offers continuous service. Reservations are recommended for dinner to ensure you’re not turned away with a shrug and a ‘complet’.
What to See: Take to the streets and wander. That’s the best way to drink in the gorgeous architecture and bridges. Walk through Le Petit France and Grande Ile. Check out the shops for high-end clothing, wine, and the expected souvenirs. Walk around and through Strasbourg Cathedral and marvel at its grandeur. There are multiple tours available including guided boat tours through the canals.
If you’re really looking for something special to do, take an afternoon and rent a car to drive the Alsace Wine road. There’s a new town every 10 minutes, and you can sample wines, talk to the locals, and enjoy lunch along the way.
Travellers Tip: Don’t hit the wine road on a Sunday or else you’ll find yourself alone with your thoughts and hungry to boot.