June 9, 2009
A river for all seasons
Walking along Ill River in Strasbourg is delightful and the French city has lovely cultural and architectural sites
By deepika shetty
The historic French city of Strasbourg is a Unesco World Heritage site replete with ancient cultural and architectural wonders, says Mr Pierre Buhler, 55, the French ambassador to Singapore.
He says his diplomatic job may have taken him around the world but the city which holds fond childhood memories for him will always be special to him.
Located 500km east of Paris, Strasbourg, the capital of the Alsace region of France, is also home to important European institutions such as the Council of Europe, European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament.
There are more than 350 historic monuments in Strasbourg, including three famous churches: Saint-Andre, Saint-Michel and Saint-Seurin.
Another historic highlight is the Cathedrale Notre Dame, which was built between 1176 and 1439, and is widely considered to be among the finest examples of Gothic architecture. Its 142m tower is the highest cathedral tower in France.
Located nearby is the Musee de l'Oeuvre Notre Dame, a splendid museum of mediaeval religious art related to the cathedral. The museum has several original sculptures, glass windows and even building plans of the Strasbourg Cathedral.
The best way to discover these places is by taking a guided tour which you can book through a travel agent or with the tourism office located on Place de la Cathedrale. It is open from 9am to 7pm.
Strasbourg has a 460km network of bicycle paths, which are also used by pedestrians. 'Whatever the season, walking along the banks of the Ill River is a pure moment of happiness,' says Mr Buhler.
Besides exploring the city on foot, visitors can take a boat ride around the city. This will take you past the picturesque Petite France, which is the name given to the small area between the rivers, just south of the Grande Ile. Here you will find some of Strasbourg's prettiest and most photogenic streets and buildings, with half-timbered townhouses leaning over narrow cobblestone streets.
There is a Marche aux Puces, or flea market, on Rue de Vieil-Hopital on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
For big brand names such as Dior, Chanel, Guerlain, Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Gucci, head to Galeries Lafayettes at Rue du 22 Novembre and Printemps at 1-5 Rue de la Haute Montee.
Strasbourg also has the oldest Christmas market in France. This has been around since 1570. It begins on the last Saturday of November and lasts till Dec 31.
Many charming winstubs, or wine bar-restaurants, in Strasbourg serve traditional French cuisine.
Apart from trying food at the many winstubs, Mr Buhler recommends a visit to Au Crocodile (10 Rue de l'Outre, tel: +33-3-8832-1302,www.au-crocodile.com). The two-Michelin-starred restaurant offers superb food, a long and well-chosen wine list and great service. Located near the cathedral, it is elegantly decorated in a classical style.
A meal for two there would cost €250 (S$505).
Alsace was the first beer-producing region of France, so Strasbourg has many breweries. The best-known ones are Kronenbourg and Fischer, whose factories conduct free tours and offer free drinks.
'Since this is France, you can't miss the wine. Gewurztraminer, Muscat, Pinot Blanc, Tokay Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Sylvaner are some of the world's most famous wines from the Alsace region,' says Mr Buhler.
He recommends a trip to some of the many vineyards here and especially the historic 14th-century cellar of the Civil Hospices.
Visit www.franceguide.com/sg for more information.