|La Petite France, Strasbourg, France|
|This charming section of Strasbourg contains many historic houses.|
La Petite France, on the western end of the Grand Île (Strasbourg town center) is a lovely place to visit by boat or on foot.
This historic area is surrounded by water, the River Ill and various canals cutting through the middle of it. Seeing its many historic half-timbered homes reflected in the water is a lovely sight.
It wasn't always that way. Historically, La Petite France was a poor section of the city, occupied by mills and tanneries, both of which depended on the river and its downward flowing branches to support their work.
The area also served as a port, transporting Alsatian wine and other cargo.
For many years it was just a dirty, smelly place, until the industrial age came along and things changed. Since the middle of the 20th century, La Petite France has been transformed into a charming tourist destination, with its many 16th and 17th century houses preserved.
One of the most famous is the Maison des Tanneurs, the House of the Tanners, which dates from 1572.
Today it is a restaurant, famous for its choucroute (sauerkraut). Surrounded by other beautiful houses and many restaurants, it is a center of La Petite France.
Make sure to stroll farther away from the center, though, down colorfully named narrow streets like the Rue des Dentelles (laces) or the Rue Bain-aux-Plantes (plant bath).
Also explore the narrow strips of land between the branches of the river. You'll see three towers in the distance. These are what's known as the covered bridges, or ponts couverts. The only thing is, the bridges are no longer covered. Built around 1300 for defense, the bridges were rebuilt in the 19th century from stone...but they're still known as the covered bridges. The towers are all that remain of the defensive wall that surrounded the city in the Middle Ages.
Along the quais you'll find a park, with children and adults playing and enjoying a fine afternoon. There are also a number of restaurants right on the water, where you can sample Alsatian cuisine or enjoy a cool drink.
You can also see the locks through which the boat tours pass, and watch the water rising (or lowering) to facilitate passage.
At the far end, beyond the towers and covered bridges, is the Barrage Vauban, or Vauban Dam. Designed by the noted French military engineer Vauban, it was built in 1681 as a defensive structure: the flood gates could be closed, flooding the southern part of the city and protecting it from attack. A second level was added in the 19th century and a panoramic terrace in the mid 20th century.
You can easily walk to La Petite France from the cathedral or other central parts of Strasbourg. You'll cross over the lovely Pont Saint-Martin, which marks the entry to La Petite France. Also look for the Pont du Faisan, an interesting revolving bridge.