FRANCE Fast and fab­u­lous

The Jewish Chronicle - - TRAVEL -

pour into town on De­cem­ber week­ends from Ger­many and Switzer­land, as well as le tout France, bound for the fa­mous but tacky Christ­mas mar­ket.

It is the prox­im­ity to those borders which give Al­sace such dis­tinc­tive ar­chi­tec­ture. Yet in spite of the or­nate qual­ity — ev­ery avail­able sur­face seems to be carved or hand-painted — the ef­fect mirac­u­lously avoids twee­ness.

Some of the most spec­tac­u­lar carv­ing is on the fa­cade of the 16th-cen­tury cathe­dral, which took four cen­turies to com­plete. Its in­te­rior re­pays a noon visit to see the fab­u­lous as­tro­log­i­cal clock kick into life with its me­chan­i­cal pageant of re­li­gious sym­bol­ism.

Out­side, the in­tri­cate por­tal holds a fig­ure of Sy­n­a­goga, carved in 1230 as a highly prej­u­di­cial rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Ju­daism, though it was sev­eral decades be­fore ex­pul­sion hit the first-wave com­mu­nity.

Within a few hun­dred years, Jews were back and pros­per­ing, and a wealth of their arte­facts from the 18th and 19th cen­turies is on view at the Musée Al­sa­cien. A com­bi­na­tion vis­i­tor pass in­cludes ad­mis­sion to this and other mu­se­ums, the cathe­dral clock and tower and the bateaux mouches which pro­vide an ex­cel­lent ori­en­ta­tion to the city. From out­side the Palais Rohan, th­ese boats float through the heart of Pe­tite France with its an­cient wa­ter­mills, past the cov­ered bridges and into the Euro­pean Quar­ter to al­low a gasp of ad­mi­ra­tion at the daz­zling new Court of Hu­man Rights and Euro-par­lia­ment.

One of Stras­bourg’s great charms is its small ho­tels. One of the nicest is the Han­nong, near shops and cathe­dral and of­fer­ing el­e­gant rooms and good break­fast. Even closer to the shops and the rail­way sta­tion is Mai­son Rouge.

For din­ing, the win­stubs, warm, highly-dec­o­rated, pubby restau­rants serv­ing re­gional spe­cial­i­ties, are a must, and Finks­teubel in Pe­tite France gives any of the city’s Miche­lin-starred restau­rants a run for its money.

In the Old Town, Le Clou bat­tles it out with Chez Yvonne and while the ob­ser­vant may head to the city’s kosher restau­rants, a good lo­cal dish is cream and onion tart, while fresh fish abounds. The cui­sine and ar­chi­tec­ture may be some­what less dis­tinc­tive in the flat­lands of Cham­pagne, but it has the world’s most rated bub­bly and some fine pock­ets of cul­ture, par­tic­u­larly in Troyes, which re­cently cel­e­brated the 900th an­niver­sary of the death of Rashi.

Rashi, the Sting of his gen­er­a­tion, chose a dis­tinctly catchier name than the one he was born with (Schlomo ben Yit­shak) in 1040. A wine-maker be­fore pur­su­ing his vo­ca­tion, his com­men­taries on ev­ery­thing from women’s rights to mak­ing kosher wine have in­flu­enced Jewish learn­ing world­wide.

The city now has a mod­ern Rashi in­sti­tute and a few half-tim­bered houses of the Jewish quar­ter which sur­vived the fire of 1524 and though the syn­a­gogue is of­fi­cially in­ac­ces­si­ble, vis­i­tors might be ad­mit­ted if they ar­rive on Shab­bat. It would also be a shame to miss the city’s spec­tac­u­lar churches.

The Royal Ho­tel of­fers com­fort­able, well-priced lodg­ings on the edge of the walk­a­ble city cen­tre, and agree­able ea-

ter­ies in­clude L’Il­lus­trée, which has live jazz. Lo­cal del­i­ca­cies in­clude the mild Chaource cheese and Rose de Riceys plonk. But noth­ing is per­fect: there is no con­nec­tion be­tween Troyes and the new TGV-Est sta­tion near Reims, though trains run from Paris.

Reims it­self is a grand, slightly stuffy town dom­i­nated by a mag­nif­i­cent Gothic cathe­dral where the ma­jor wine-grow­ers are not quite as ac­ces­si­ble as those of the Al­sace. How- ever, small Cham­pagne pro­duc­ers are more wel­com­ing, and their wares can be a sur­pris­ing bar­gain. Many of the gran­des mar­ques, in­clud­ing Moet et Chan­don, are lo­cated in Eper­nay, where the doors are thrown open to vis­i­tors for a week­end in De­cem­ber with fire­works and a street pro­ces­sion on the mag­nif­i­cent Av­enue de Cham­pagne, as well as the chance to en­ter the grounds of the great houses and taste their rea­son­ably priced of­fer­ings.

Stras­bourg’s daz­zling new Court of Hu­man Rights and Euro-Par­lia­ment

The mag­nif­i­cent Gothic Cathe­dral that dom­i­nates the town of Reims

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