Crossing into the neighborhood of Petite France in Strasbourg is like entering an illustration from a fairytale or perhaps Belle’s provincial town from Beauty and the Beast. Timber homes with exposed woodwork line the streets where Alsatian eateries and specialty shops have claimed their quarters. The aesthetic feels warm and inviting, so when my husband and I arrived here in search of lunch on our day trip to Strasbourg, we immediately felt at ease and cheery.
We didn’t have much of a plan for this day, so we quickly decided on a restaurant with an Alsatian menu and outdoor seating called Le Baeckeoffe d’Alsace. I had a chicken dish with a rich, creamy sauce and a side of spätzle and Jay had a plate of mixed sausages, ham, and sauerkraut. My wine was served in a unique glass with a thin, green stem (which I later realized is a common design choice for the area) and the plates had painted flowers and idyllic cottage scenes.
After lunch, we explored Petite France a little more by soaking up the quaintness of the afternoon. Many shops were closed because it was Sunday, but we were delighted to find a Christmas shop stocked to the brim with glittering trinkets and dazzling ornaments. Strasbourg is famed for its extravagant Christmas décor and world-class Christmas markets, so being able to have a taste of the season added to the jolliness of our day.
While La Petite France is a must-see in Strasbourg, the rest of the city carries over the Alsatian charm through a mix of Alsatian and modern French architecture styles. We mapped out a path to see the Cathédrale Notre Dame de Strasbourg but by no means followed that path directly. If we saw an attractive side street, we chose to wander on it. By doing so, we discovered a small but historic church (Protestant Church of St. Peter the Elder) with rainbows of stained glass, a pastry shop with mouthwatering macaroons, and a small plaza with many outdoor bars to sip on a few aperitifs.
However, the main cathedral was the real showstopper and much more massive and beautiful than I had expected. The narrow spires and columns gave the church the illusion that it was lifting itself to the heavens and the intricate details gave the eye much to explore. After basking in the shadow of the main façade, we walked along the sides of it and found that it stretched for several blocks.
For dinner, we ate at a restaurant near the cathedral called Brasserie Au Dauphin. This restaurant had a pleasant courtyard with green foliage and strings of lights, and we were able to see the main spire of the cathedral from our table. I enjoyed the radish soup, a dish I had never tried before, and I also loved Jay’s Alsatian Meat Stew because the beef was melt-in-your-mouth tender and flavorful. Sitting in the romantic courtyard and admiring the spire of the grandiose church over good wine and even better food was the perfect way to spend an evening in France.
After leaving the restaurant, we stumbled upon a large crowd on the right side of the cathedral waiting for a light show. After chatting with some British tourists while waiting, we learned that this particular showing was the last of the summer season, so we felt lucky we came across it just in time. The projections of light were captivating kaleidoscopes of shapes and colors with inspiring music that pulled the viewer into a thought-provoking, metaphysical world. I found it wholly wondrous.
My husband and I were impressed with Strasbourg. Our only taste of France at the time had been a trip to Paris, and we found the atmosphere of Strasbourg to be more charming and quaint than the City of Light. It was so endearing, in fact, that we are even considering going back to explore a little deeper. Only one day in this city didn’t feel like enough.