The 16th-century Renaissance astronomical clock inside the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Photo by Yang Di
OFFERING traditional treats, a unique atmosphere and strong cultural identity, all the more magical under recent festive lights, Alsace in northeastern France is an ideal destination for a winter holiday. You can be sure that a short break in the historic cities of Strasbourg and Colmar will provide a feast for the eyes, and indeed the palate.
The streets, houses, church facades, windows and balconies shine with a thousand lights and colors starting from the first Sunday of Advent until the first week of January. The delicious smell of cakes, traditional Bredele cookies and the fine aromas of vin chaud (hot wine) pervades.
The magical atmosphere seems to rub off on the area and its people around this time; winter is the season of traditional Alsace.
Despite the border region's turbulent history as a battleground over the centuries and most recently its tribulations during the German occupation during World War II, Alsace exudes a charm that attracts tourists from all over the world.
To the east of Alsace is the German region of Baden Wurttemberg, while to the south lies the Swiss city of Basel. The combined region shares a long history of political and cultural ties that are apparent in Alsace today.
A fascinating mix of French and German history, architecture, music, language, culture and food defines the region.
Local people speak both French and Alsatian - a German dialect - and the region has maintained its own local legislation, applying specific customs and laws on certain issues due to historical reasons, despite being part of France.
Alsace's attractions are many: from the treasures of its medieval architecture, the picturesque streets of its historic cities and the crown jewels of its historic places of worship in Strasbourg and Colmar; to its famed wines and rich heritage in cuisine.
The region offers plenty to keep visitors occupied and enchanted by its traditional charms.
The rich history of Strasbourg makes a trip to the regional capital a must-do on any trip to Alsace. Founded by the Romans in 12 BC on an existing Celtic township, Strasbourg occupies a strategic position in Europe, at a meeting point of north-south and east-west routes.
The choice of Strasbourg as the European capital following World War II is no accident. The city stands as a symbol of reconciliation between peoples and of the future of Europe. It is the official seat of the European Parliament and several other European institutions.
Thanks to the richness of its heritage sites, the town center of Strasbourg was listed as UNESCO World Heritage in 1988.
It is rare for an entire town center to receive this distinction and Strasbourg was the first place in France to receive such an honor.
The environs of the Strasbourg Cathedral and the neighborhood of Petite France are natural tourist attractions.
An outstanding masterpiece of Gothic art, majestic in scope with its ample proportions watching over the city, the cathedral was described as "a skillful combination of monumental size and delicateness" by writer Victor Hugo and is known as one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in Europe.
With a 142-meter tower, it was considered the tallest building in the Christian world until the 19th century.
Inside the cathedral, the 16th-century Renaissance astronomical clock is a masterpiece in its own right. Little wooden figures revolve to mark the passage of time, ringing bells every 15 minutes. Every hour the figure of Christ chases away the skeletal image of Death.
The area around the cathedral is the city's oldest and the star of the Cathedral Square is without a doubt the famous Kammerzell House.
This 15th- and 16th-century Renaissance house has the most richly decorated half-timbered panels in the city and today features a restaurant and a three-star hotel.