Strasbourg: New Boutique Hotel Options

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Strasbourg Cathedral It was only after 1945, when Strasbourg was chosen as one of Europe’s two capitals as a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany, that the city emerged as a leisure destination.

Simultaneously grand and intimate, Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most appealing cities. Its most famous monument, the soaring Gothic cathedral built of dark pink sandstone quarried in the nearby Vosges Mountains, was the world’s tallest building for 227 years. In addition, the city charms with steep-roofed half-timbered houses, exceptional restaurants, animated wine bars and fascinating museums.

Strasbourg has long been one of the great destinations in France, but following the opening of new high-speed train routes, it has also become a convenient long weekend from Paris. (The TGV covers the 306 miles in two hours, 17 minutes.) It is also one of the relatively few European cities that is delightful year-round. Flowering chestnut and linden trees give it a soft beauty in spring; summer delights with window boxes of scarlet geraniums and lively café terraces; the first chill of fall makes culinary specialties such as choucroute garnie (sauerkraut with sausage and charcuterie) taste even better; and winter brings the renowned Christmas markets, the most famous of which, the Christkindelsmärik on Place Broglie, was founded in 1570. The only important heads-up about travel to Strasbourg is that its hotels are booked solid when the European Parliament is in session — Strasbourg is the twin capital of the European Union with Brussels — so reservations should be made far in advance.

For a city of such history and distinction, Strasbourg has surprisingly few hotels. The answer to this puzzle lies at the heart of the city’s identity. Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, France’s easternmost province, but Germany is just a few miles away across the Rhine. A frontier town, it has often been the focus of contention between the two powers. The city was occupied by the Germans for 48 years at the end of the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, and then again during World War II. So during the initial boom years of European travel, Strasbourg was stranded in an international no man’s land. It was only after 1945, when it was chosen as one of Europe’s two capitals as a symbol of reconciliation between France and Germany, that the city emerged as a leisure destination.

Hôtel Les Haras

Hôtel Les Haras - © Patrick BognerStringent zoning in the historic center has made it nearly impossible to build new structures, which explains why the creation of two recent four-star hotels, the 55-room Les Haras and the 57-room Cour du Corbeau, required the complicated and costly renovation of historic buildings. Hôtel Les Haras was designed by the Paris-based French team of Patrick Jouin and Sanjit Manku. (The pair often work for chef Alain Ducasse and were responsible for the new décor at his restaurant in the Hôtel Plaza Athénée.) Their brief stipulated that the 18th-century façades of a disused royal stable complex could not be altered and that all internal modifications could be dismantled later if required. The integrity of the structures had to be respected, even though many of the spaces were not easy to convert into hotel rooms.

On arrival, we found a cobblestone reception area containing an equestrian-themed mural by graphic artist Philippe David, which clearly referenced the buildings’ history. Waiting for our room to be ready, we sat in the calm of the hotel’s large private garden, which is dominated by a huge centuries-old chestnut tree. Regrettably, the property’s initial charm was compromised by the chilly, businesslike attitude of the young women at reception. But once we’d settled in, we liked our junior suite under the eaves very much indeed, with its solid oak floor and saddle-stitched headboard upholstered with tobacco-colored hide from Haas, the Alsatian saddlery company that supplies Hermès. The rest of the custom-made contemporary furniture was also understated and beautifully crafted. Though the windows were small — again, these are buildings that could not be altered for historical reasons — the room was well-lit, quiet, functional and unusual in the best sense of the word.

The hotel lacks a spa and gym, with its most notable amenity being Brasserie Les Haras, a restaurant and bar run by chef Marc Haeberlin of three-star L’Auberge de l’Ill, located 40 miles to the southwest in Illhaeusern. The menu at this popular spot runs to a mix of updated Alsatian classics such as a delicious pâté en croûte (a combination of four meats surrounding foie gras, all baked in pastry); sautéed pike-perch with horseradish cream, sauerkraut and steamed potatoes; and lighter modern dishes like a smoked-trout Caesar salad, and pork belly braised for 48 hours with white beans and thyme oil. Even if you’re not staying at the hotel, this restaurant is highly recommended. Overall, we liked Les Haras’ distinctively Alsatian personality, and this, along with its convenient location within an easy walk to nearly everything you might want to do or see, made our stay a considerable pleasure.

AT A GLANCE

LIKE: Intriguing and sophisticated renovation of historic royal stables; exceptional modern furniture in well-designed rooms.

DISLIKE: Distant young staff at the front desk.

GOOD TO KNOW: Rooms in the modern annex should be avoided, as they are devoid of charm. Brasserie Les Haras is extremely popular and should be booked well in advance.

Hôtel Les Haras 93 Deluxe Room, $240; Suite, $290. 23 rue des Glacières, Strasbourg. Tel. (33) 3-90-20-50-00.

Lobby at Hôtel Les Haras - Patrick Bogner
Bedroom at Hôtel Les Haras - Helen Hilaire
Bath at Hôtel Les Haras
Dining room and bar at Brasserie Les Haras  - Philippe Eranian
Beef tenderloin and crunchy vegetables at Brasserie Les Haras

Cour du Corbeau

The hotel is quiet and charming, with a steep roof, elaborate wooden galleries and exposed half-timbering.

Recent attempts by many of the world’s large hotel chains to create boutique-style properties have not always succeeded. But there are exceptions. Perhaps because it is working on its own turf, France’s Accor group has done well with a number of distinctive small hotels assembled within its infelicitously named MGallery collection. Corporate branding aside, the Cour du Corbeau is a delightful property in a renovated 16th-century coaching inn just across the river from the cathedral.

Despite its central location, the hotel is quiet and charming, with a steep roof, elaborate wooden galleries and exposed half-timbering. Given the generally medieval appearance of the structure, the accommodations proved a surprise, thanks to cool, clean contemporary décors that featured earth-tone color schemes, jewel-tone accents and reproduction Louis XV furniture. Our spacious suite delighted us with its original architectural detail, but also with its modern comfort, including a spacious and well-lit bath with separate tub and shower. Service was consistently impressive, too. Cour du Corbeau has no restaurant — 24-hour room service is a compensation — but several of my favorite winstubs are a short walk from the front door.

AT A GLANCE

LIKE: Excellent location; atmospheric public areas; exceptionally comfortable rooms.

DISLIKE: Noisy chambermaids; the lack of a restaurant, a minor inconvenience.

GOOD TO KNOW: The quietest rooms overlook the interior courtyard.

WHO SHOULD STAY: History buffs, couples and singles.

Cour du Corbeau 94 Deluxe Room, $290; Junior Suite, $340. 6-8 rue des Couples, Strasbourg. Tel. (33) 3-90-00-26-26.

Cour du Corbeau  - Giljean Klein
Lobby at Cour du Corbeau
Terrace at Cour du Corbeau
Bedroom at Cour du Corbeau
Bar at Cour du Corbeau
By Hideaway Report Editor Hideaway Report editors travel the world anonymously to give you the unvarnished truth about luxury hotels. Hotels have no idea who the editors are, so they are treated exactly as you might be.
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