If you love all things Alsace and enjoy venturing off the beaten tourist path, here are some New Year’s resolutions that won’t be hard to keep:
1. Eat Better (Try the Best Tarte Flambée)
Without snubbing the many excellent tarte flambée restaurants in the center of Strasbourg, it goes without saying that in the touristy downtown area, prices are high for anything-goes quality of this regional specialty, also called flammekeuche in the Alsatian dialect. For a real, authentic Alsatian experience that assures high quality at a reasonable price, try the Auberge du Pont de la Zorn in the country town of Weyersheim, 15 minutes by car from Strasbourg (or 20 minutes by train). The tarte flambée is heavenly: crispy on the edges with perfect mixes of herbs and meat spread evenly over the just-soft-enough-without-being-mushy dough and topped with melt-in-your-mouth cheese of the best quality around (I highly reccommend the Munster variety). The atmosphere and decor mixed with the woody smells of the stone flammekeuche oven will wisk you away from the crowds and noise of your afternoon tour in the Strasbourg center and into an authentic winstub (“wine room” or traditional Alsatian bistro) inside of a typical 1717 house with dark wooden crossbeams, green shutters and a slanting red tile roof. The red-and-white checkered tablecloths, dim lighting and light yellow walls decorated with wooden clocks, tapestries of Alsatian embroidery, old wooden farm tools and framed photos of landscapes add to the ambiance but don’t suffocate you with clichés. This award-winning restaurant, which was recently named a Restaurant de Qualité by the Collège Culinaire de France, is often highly noted for its service and my visit confirmed the presence of a polite, professional and efficient wait staff.
For more information: Auberge du Pont de la Zorn, 2 Rue de la République, 67720 Weyersheim, France 03 88 51 36 87
You can visit their Facebook page by clicking here.
2. Increase Intellect (Find the Best Reading Spot)
If you’re like me and adhere to the theory that the place in which you read can impact a book’s spiritual effects, the Jardin de l’Orangerie (Orangerie Garden) in the northeast of the city is the place to go. Choose from several spots- on the edge of small lake, its waterfall and fountain that erupts in rainbows on sunny days; an old stone bench etched with family names long forgotten and hidden among a cove of trees; or a vine-covered walkway colored with many shades of green and yellow. If reading isn’t your thing, bring a picnic and lazy away the afternoon watching the elegant white swans splashing around on the edge of the lake.
3. Be More Adventurous (Explore Hidden Wine Cellars)
What if you were stuck in a hospital for a few weeks, feeling a bit down, and I told you that underneath the building was a huge stock of wine barrels filled with the finest Alsatian vintages? If you’re attracted to France for its wine, your hospital stay might end on high note with a visit to the underground wine cellars of the Hôpital Civil of Strasbourg– doctor’s permission permitting, of course!
The main attraction, hidden behind iron bars, are three dusty old wine barrels. The smaller two hold wine that has been maturing there since 1519 and 1525. The largest contains the masterpiece: 300 liters of wine produced in 1472, the oldest barrel of wine in the world. It has only been served 3 times: in 1576 to thank the army from Zurich who came to the aid of the city, in 1718 to celebrate the reconstruction of the hospital after a fire, and in 1944 to thank General Philippe Leclerc de Hautecloque for liberating Strasbourg from the Germans.
How is it possible that such an old wine is still in existence today? The 1200 square-meter cellar was built in 1395, when the hospital was a religious institution that also provided room and board to travellers and pilgrims from all over Europe. To finance these activities, it relied on the inheritance of vineyards and their wines: sometimes, hospital fees were paid by a donation of land or a share in the grape harvest, usually by landowners hoping assure a spot in Heaven with a generous gift to the Church. The hospital thus stored its wines in their cellar and even provided it to patients to ease their pain, a practice that slowly died out beginning in the 17th century as medicine became more advanced. Due to financial restructuring and heavy competition, the wine cellar could have disappeared in 1995, which was prevented by turning it into a storage area for local wine growers and a wine shop that also provides wine tastings and other events, such as an open house with local winegrowers. However, the site remains one of Strasbourg’s best-kept secrets, a site reserved for the most passionate wine-loving tourists and locals. It stocks the best of the region’s Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Muscat, Pinot Gris, crémants and much more. Not only are its wines a marvel, but the barrels that hold them are works of art in themselves with beautiful carvings in their sturdy oak covers.
You can visit Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. and 1:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. as well as Saturday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. For more information and a map, click here.
4. Exercise! (Outdoor Swimming with an Excellent View)
I was a bit skeptical last year when my friend invited me to join her for a swim in an outdoor pool… in December. But thanks to a great heating system, we stayed nice and warm as we swam a few 50-meter laps through the steam-covered water and enjoyed a nice view of the European Parliament at the Piscine de Wacken, a state-of-the-art pool located near the stop “Wacken” of the B tram. It is handicap accessible and provides outdoor swimming year-round at a very reasonable price thanks to governement subsidies (3,80 euros for adults or 1,90 euros for students and children) as well as several other activities in the summer: a massage parlor, a children’s pool and play area, volleyball courts, ping-pong tables, water aerobics and other classes, a concession stand, picnic tables, and lots of grassy areas for a cool-down stretch or to lay out in the sun after a hard work-out. And if you forget your goggles or even your swimsuit- no worries. A vending machine at the entrance provides for all of your swimming needs.