Sitting quite comfortably on the border between western Germany and eastern France, the city of Strabourg (Stra▀burg) is at once full of contradictions and curious affinities. Shaped, broken, and rebuilt by a series of settlers including the Celts, Franks, Romans, and the German Empire, Strasbourg bears the scars of constant tussles between France and Germany. Despite these conflicts, or perhaps even as a result of the constant identity changes, multiculturalism is part of the very fabric of Strasbourg and the Alsace region.
History has left its mark on the city, with road names presented simultaneously in German and French, the imposing and grand Notre Dame Gothic cathedral juxtaposed with rustic medieval French half-timbered houses in Petite France, and a mix of regional foods on offer in traditional Alsatian taverns. This combining of cultures makes for a truly unique taste of Western Europe, and there is a wealth of discoveries to be made, and sights to see in this charming city.
The Dancing Plague of Strasbourg
Strasbourg is rich in history and folklore, and perhaps the most curious historical event to have taken place in the city was the terrible Dancing Plague of 1518. It is recorded to have started with the hysterical dancing of one woman, who danced in the streets of Strasbourg's Old Town until she died of exhaustion 3 days later. The hysterical dancing seemed to have been contagious, as by the end of the month, around 400 townsfolk were dancing uncontrollably in the town square. In stark contrast to such old tales of strange phenomena, the city is the seat of the European Parliament and is considered the centre of European relations.
A Serene Cultural Hub
Today, crossing the border into France by road is mostly unremarkable, with an imperceptible change in landscape, customary EU signage, and then bilingual road signs. Cultures coexist without drawing attention to differences, contributing to the unique charm of the Alsace region. The jewel of Strasbourg is certainly the Old Town, with its beautifully preserved medieval half-timbered houses, narrow cobblestoned streets, and the massive Notre Dame cathedral that forms the focal point of the sky line. The Ill River winds through the city, flanked by French Baroque style houses that give the riverside streets a decidedly Parisian feel. Petite-France is the medieval centre of French Strasbourg, with its exquisitely beautiful half-timbered houses, an abundance of flowers spilling out of window-boxes, and the network of canals that guide the river around the Grand Ile.
Discover Strasbourg on Your Own Accord
A Strasbourg car rental will give you unrestricted access to the expansive charms of the entire area, but the city is also easily explored on foot or by hired city bike; visit in spring or summer to experience the true beauty of the lush French countryside. There's something to suit every traveller in this unique city, from wine tasting, architecture, and fine cuisine to history, folklore, and contemporary culture. It's great for a long weekend away, or a border stop-over on a Europe road trip. Strasbourg is what you make of it, whether you arrive with a detailed itinerary or simply open expectations and a yearning for exploration.