Half A Day In Strasbourg
We’d half considered staying in Strasbourg for this 4-day leg of our France road-trip when we were in the planning stages, but as you know, we settled on Colmar instead (Part 1 & Part 2 here). So, a day trip to Strasbourg had been eagerly anticipated by the two of us! We knew it had a big church, lots of colourful Tudor-style buildings on a river and something called Kugelhopf, but that was about the limit to our knowledge. We had decided to throw caution to the wind and fly by the seat of our pants for the day – which was very unlike us I have to say! And maybe that’s why I ended up leaving a few hours later pretty much non-the-wiser : the information we’d picked up on our little jaunt to Strasbourg could easily fit on a small post-it note written in a chunky sharpie pen. Let that be a lesson to us – you don’t get a real feel for a place unless you read up on its history a bit beforehand.
Still, if I’m honest, no amount of pre-search could have prepared us for the absolute gargantuan edifice that was Strasbourg’s cathedral parked smack-bang in the middle of Place du Chateau. I have never seen a church so massive! In order to see it in its entirety, you need a partner to stand behind you ready to catch you as your twisted neck puts so much pressure on your carotid artery you inevitably pass out. Do not enter Place du Chateau without a fainting-buddy – you have been warned. I have since learned that 227 years ago in the middle-ages it was the largest building in the world, and according to Strasbourg Cathedral, the most beautiful. A little biased perhaps, but it’s definitely nothing short of impressive!
We knew Strasbourg had passed between the French and Germans several times over the years and we were quite keen to see how German efficiency would blend with the fanciness of France. So, leaving the cathedral behind we set off to find the area that cropped up on so many Strasbourg postcards – Petite France – absolutely not getting distracted at all by the most beautiful biscuit shop, La Cure Gourmande. We definitely didn’t spend ten minutes pretending to be interested in biscuit varieties, I promise. Besides, I’d take a packet of chocolate digestives any day over a €20 box of teeth-breaking Bredeles from Alsace. (That said, later on our France road trip, we discovered the butter biscuits of Brittany – now those I would steal from a small child)
Petite France is wonderful. It is the source of most advertising content for the Alsace region and a darn good reason to visit Strasbourg. A network of canals split like a bunch of arteries from the nearby Rhine River which divides France from Germany. Half-timbered rainbow houses line the waterways of an ancient Tanners district and pretty little bridges and locks connect the walkways. But, what is today’s most picture-postcard is yesterdays smelliest neighbourhood. And, even its name is a residue of its ancient bad reputation; Germany believed that the disease syphilis was caused by those filthy French folk and when a hospital was built to tackle The Pox right on these Strasbourg canals, they deemed it Little France! Still, you’ll forget all of Strasbourg’s dirty laundry when you take a stroll along Quai des Moulins.
Once we were happy we’d got our daily quota of hanging baskets and lovely little bridges, all that was left on our tick-list was the Kugelhopf. Think upside-down muffin without its paper case – a naked muffin if you will. But rather than a cakey texture, it’s the fluffiest kind of sweet bread, impregnated with juicy currants, dusted in sugar. I mean, officially it’s a bread so you can totally pass it off as a lunch item, but the perfect level of sweetness (not too much) meant I felt like a winner in the midday-meal department – and one of your five a day too! (Pains Westermann on Rue des Orfevres is one of the best boulangeries in Strasbourg and does a fine Kugelhopf)
Replete and ready to cross the border into Germany, we headed back to the car. Although not before we saw the pretty shopping street in Strasbourg’s Cathedrale Quarter – a row of decorated shops that probably stole as much time from us as the rest of Strasbourg on its own. A world-famous cheese shop, patisseries full of impossibly perfect flans and tartes, more than a handful of jewellery shops and exclusive gift shops and all with hand-painted iron signs hanging above the doors – my photo really doesn’t do it justice. The walk along the river wasn’t an eyesore either. Strasbourg you were pleasant, if a little alluring as to your identity (I must remember to look up its autobiography sometime).
Half A Day In The Black Forest, Germany
So the second half of the day was mainly just a quest in search of the original 80’s desert – the Black Forest Gateaux. I had visions of chocolate gateaus with legs running through the forest undergrowth, dropping cherries as they evaded the Gateaux-Catchers. In fact, most of my pre-thoughts about the Black Forest area in general were imaginings of shadowed landscapes ensconced by lofty firs and dark vista’s. In fact, I wasn’t too bothered about going myself, but the boss had said it would be worth it, and if nothing else would add another country to our summer road trip. There was the prospect of cake too, so I was game.
Oh how wrong my imaginings were! For starters, the 20-minute drive from Strasbourg to the start of the forest was bland enough that I could type in ‘what is the Black Forest region known for’ and actually, the results made it sound pretty interesting. The Black Forest is home to the Cuckoo-Clock, Grimm Brother’s fairy tales and world-renowned thermal spa’s. But it turns out that once you are well into the forest the roads thin-out and journey’s are slow, so we would just have to make do with just a little scenic drive this time. Still, I wasn’t expecting the views that were about to unfold. It wasn’t a drive through thick forest, with nothing in your sights but trees – it was rolling hills dotted with huge wooden chalets interspersed by clumps of blue/black fir forests and highland cows enjoying the scenery as they munch. Yes, highland cows!
Apparently the huge homes are inhabited by whole families – grandparents, cousins and all. And, in a Walton’s kind of way, they cultivate their generous plot of land and are pretty self-sufficient. Needless to say, we didn’t pass a single supermarket or restaurant, just community halls and ship-lap churches a lá small-town America (but then, where did I think German-American communities get their ideas from, if not their ancestors of these lands!?)
Still in need of a chocolate gateau and a Stein for hubby we battled on with the prettiest of all driving routes and made our way to the German town of Freiburg im Breisgau. We’d picked this town for no other reason than that it would undoubtedly serve Steins (those HUGE German beers) and the roads were as such that we could quickly make an about-turn; We’d planned to get back to Colmar before the indoor food-market closed at 7pm.
Freiburg im Breisgau
Freiburg is so cute! It manages to blend a young vibe simultaneously with an ancient feel. You can tell it’s a university town from the minute you get there – you know, that youthful buzz which oozes energy but equally makes you feel so old, in one fell swoop!
Medieval streets and grand German architecture colourfully represent this little German town, which apparently is one of the greenest (as in eco-friendly, not the colour green!) in the world and also one of the most temperate in terms of climate too. What a lovely place it must be to live.
Still, we had only really come for the beer and the wursts so we parked ourselves in the main Münsterplatz surrounding the foreboding Freiburg Minster. Sharing the biggest stein we could order we settled down for an entertaining stint of people watching and took it in turns to go wandering amongst the market stalls and taking photos. The sun was shining properly for the first time on our France road trip (maybe we should have chosen Germany instead!?) and it was easy to just soak up the rays and feel the alcohol erase the tensions (and also cause me to forget about some gateau!). Germany you have been wonderful.
We made it back in time for an evening in Colmar, drank from many a green stemmed glass across the town and feasted on the Alsation delicacy – Choucroute (although, there is nothing delicate about a giant plate of Saurkraut and MEAT, lots of meat). Apart from the wasps which persistently tried to spoil our moment, this had been the most perfect of days, just minus the cake.
If you want to read more posts about our France road trip, we’ve covered Luxembourg and the Alsace region so far. Keep checking back for part 4 coming soon! Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to leave me a comment.
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