When I travel I try to ensure the activities I enjoy have a positive social impact, so last week I joined the Strasbourg Discovery Tour: Local Art & Culture through Visit.Org to get an introduction to the work of local Alsatian artisans, gain insight into the city’s unique history and culture, and provide a community benefit.
As a Visit.Org Ambassador, I’m always keen to check out any of the tours offered through their platform, which aims to link travellers up with opportunities for socially-conscious travel. So, when I got the opportunity to visit Strasbourg, I jumped at the chance to join the Strasbourg Discovery Tour and explore some of the local art and culture of the Alsace region.
A social impact organisation
The Strasbourg Discovery Tour is promoted by YFD Innovation Forme et Design Boutique (YFD), a social enterprise that works with Artisans Solidaires to support young professional craftsmen around the world. The mission of YFD is to promote local production and entrepreneurship in Alsace, France. They have a boutique in Strasbourg, which helps local artisans get their products to market.
They are also involved in various international projects. These include supporting the Batik Femmes Solidaires Project in Sénégal, which empowers rural women through a fabric dyeing cooperative.
YFD has also supported the production of short films and documentaries raising awareness about the realities of life in different countries, such as homeless youth in the Democratic Republic of the Congo or juvenile prisoners in Madagascar.
Strasbourg Discovery Tour: Art & Culture
The tour begins with a visit to the YFD Innovation Forme et Design Boutique on rue de la Division Leclerc, where you can discover more than 30 different traditional Alsatian crafts.
The shop is full of beautiful products. I enjoyed perusing the items on display, asking questions about the various techniques, how the products are sourced and the support of Artisans Solidaires.
Boutique manager Yamina Sutter was on hand to provide a warm welcome and answer any questions, as well as introducing a specialty of the Alsace region: kugelhopf. This sweet raisin-filled yeast bread is often served for breakfast or brunch. It is traditionally baked in a tall, decorative ring mold, which gives the cake its characteristic ridged pattern. Delicious!
Next up was a 2-hour guided tour of the stunning old city of Strasbourg, including the Palais Rohan, the Notre-Dame Cathedral and the city’s historic Petite France quarter. This is a great opportunity to immerse yourself in the rich culture of Alsace and gain an insight into the city’s unique history.
The tour is available in German or English language. We were joined by ex-Belgian army general Eddie, who was our English-speaking guide with a gift for story-telling. I won’t share his tales here, as it might spoil the tour for others. But needless to say, it was fascinating.
The construction of this awe-inspiring masterpiece of intricate architecture took over two hundred years to complete. It is no wonder when you observe the sheer scale of the sandstone construction thrusting upwards to 142 meters high, or the amazing detail in the stone work.
The main Western frontage features three large doors, elaborately decorated with numerous sculptures. The arch over the central door depicts the passion of Christ.
Above the north door (to the left side) there is a depiction of ‘virtues overcoming vices’, and above the south door (to the right side) are the ‘wise and foolish virgins’. In terms of sculptural richness these doors are quite exceptional.
Another prominent feature on the main frontage is the Rose Window, featuring 32 ears of corn, which is most impressive when viewed from the inside with the light shining through. Above that there is a depiction of the 12 Apostles standing in line.
Inside the cathedral, you can see the Great Organ which is colossal in size and still in working order. There is an intricate stone pulpit where the priests would stand to preach from on high. If you look carefully at the entrance to the pulpit there is a little stone dog. Be sure to make a wish and give him a pat.
At the far end of the Cathedral you will find the Sixteenth Century Astronomical Clock with its intricate Renaissance decoration.
Its mechanism is quite unique. When it springs in to life it features a parade of the Apostles.
According to folklore the clock-maker who designed it had his eyes gauged out to ensure he could not replicate it elsewhere.
Beside the clock is the Angel Pillar which features twelve magnificent sculptures, with Christ at the top. Don’t forget to stop and toss a coin into the large metal grate in the floor to make a wish!
La Petite France Quarter
During the Strasbourg Discovery Tour, you will also visit the most famous district of Strasbourg, La Petite France, which is best known for its unique architectural heritage.
Here the River Ill splits into several channels and cascades through an area once home to the city’s tanners, millers and fishermen. Petite France forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île, which was designated in 1988.
In the past, this was one of the poorest areas of Strasbourg, largely ignored by the wider population. Today it is one of Strasbourg’s main tourist attractions. The name Petite-France (‘Little France’) comes from the hospice of the syphilitic, which was built in the late fifteenth century here, to cure people with syphilis, then called Franzosenkrankheit (or French disease) in German!
Today it is a charming area to explore on foot. It is difficult not to be enchanted by the pretty houses with their dark timbers and white frontages, well-kept and decorated with cascades of flowers. Most impressive of all is the Tanners House in Benjamin-Zix Square.
In the area around the Cathedral several notable buildings were pointed out as we toured the narrow cobbled streets and alleys. Much of this area is closed to traffic, making it pleasant to explore.
We visited the church of St. Thomas, also known as the Protestant Cathedral or the ‘Old Lady’; the only example of a hall church in the Alsace region, featuring an imposing marble mausoleum.
Other highlights of the Strasbourg Discovery Tour included a walk along the river to see the three large square watch towers of the Ponts-Couverts.
These are some of the last remaining features of the wall that surrounded the city in the Middle Ages. Here the river splits into branches and you see Vauban’s Dam, built during the reign of Louis the Fourteenth to strengthen the city’s defences.
We also saw the Old Customs House, dating to the Fourteenth Century but rebuilt after the Second World War. The little openings in the roof hint at its former role as a storehouse for river traffic. Nearby is Pont du Corbeau where people were punished during the Middle Ages by being plunged into the water in a metal box!
A further highlight was the Palais Rohan, which we viewed from the quayside. This imposing sandstone building is the former residence of the prince-bishops and cardinals of the House of Rohan. Considered a masterpiece of French Baroque architecture, it gives some indication of the princely lifestyle of its Eighteenth Century inhabitants.
Strasbourg Discovery Tour – Fact File
The Strasbourg Discovery Tour takes approximately 2 hours and can be booked through Visit.Org. The tour is available Monday-Saturday by appointment only. 100% of host revenue is invested back into the community through various projects. The Strasbourg Discovery Tour is one of 16 tours available through Visit.Org in France.
As a Visit.Org Ambassador, I was sponsored by Innovation Forme et Design Boutique and Visit.Org during this tour. But as always all views expressed are my own.
I’ve used affiliate links on this page. Please note that if you buy a tour via these links I will receive a small commission, at no extra cost to you. This helps cover the costs of running the blog.