Strasbourg and Beyond, by Rich Paschall
For many years now Strasbourg has been a favorite vacation stop. It is not just because of the wonderful historic sites and amazing food and wine, but also because of the friends who live in the region. I am sure you will agree that any chance to visit one of your best friends is a good enough reason to head out on a new adventure.
In the northeast corner of France, right across the Rhine River from Germany, lies Strasbourg. It is the largest city in the Grand Est (East). The metropolitan region is home to almost a half-million residents. It is an important city in the European Union as the location of several EU institutions, including the European Parliament.
Despite the many visits to Strasbourg, I never really walked through the area known as “Petite France,” where they maintain the architecture of the Middle Ages. Known for the many white and black timber buildings, it is a lovely throwback to an era long past. Of course, we have seen many buildings like this throughout the city and the region.
In 1988 the city centre was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. This includes the famous cathedral, sitting on a foundation over a thousand years old.
Every visit to Strasbourg must include a stop at the grand Cathedral. Built on the foundation of a previous structure, the current church was built between 1176 and 1439. If you see the size and intricate detail of the building and then consider there was no modern building equipment, you will understand why it took centuries to complete.
The street leading up to the cathedral might be a bit “touristy” for some, but I must confess that we stopped in the shops and purchased some souvenirs along the way. I can never return home without the required refrigerator magnet, and my friend picked up several items to remember the occasion. We also stopped near the end of the street near the cathedral for lunch at an outdoor cafe.
Literally in the shadow of the Cathedral is the Palais Rohan. Built in the 1730s as the resident of the princes of the House of Rohan, French royalty who served as bishop and cardinal of the cathedral, it has been a museum in modern times. It was seized during the French Revolution and sold to the municipality where it served for a while as the town hall. Some of the original furniture and artwork were sold off or destroyed.
The site had been a bishop’s resident since 1262. The courtyard and the area between the palace and the cathedral have been the scene of archeological digs throughout modern times, including some of our visits. There they have found artifacts from ancient Roman times.
One of the joys of centering your trip in Strasbourg is being able to head off to regional sites of interest. Whether you are going to other towns or villages by train from Gare de Strasbourg-Ville, by tour bus or have a friend to drive, you will find much to see.
With my friend as driver, we always head to a wine producer for a taste of the local vintage. It might seem a bit odd on a Sunday morning, but we found Mosbach willing to open the shop and hand out samples. Alsace is famous for its white wines and my French guide selected a bottle for each of us.
There are many places to stop along the famous “wine road.” The region is filled with vineyards that climb up the side of the hills, and wine producers ready to welcome you.
From here we went to the popular Mont Ste. Odile, or Hohenburg Abbey, where Saint Odile (c. 660 to 720) served as abbess. Legend has it she was cured of blindness as a child. This is why she is known as the patron saint of the blind. She is also considered the patron of Alsace.
From atop this hill, Odile is said to look out over Alsace as protector of the region. When one enters the abbey, its church, and its chapels, one wonders how they built this many centuries ago. The modern-day road is narrow and winding and the hill has a dense forest. One is left to wonder how they were able to get all the materials used in the building to the top of the hill. The view is worth the trip.
Someday in the future, I hope I can make this trip again. There is a great value to the discoveries that travel will bring into your life. When you have a chance, hit the road for new adventures. They are not only educational but rejuvenating in ways that are hard to explain. As Rick Steves (PBS travel shows) will tell you, “Keep on traveling.”
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