Strasbourg, the self-proclaimed French “capital of Christmas”, draws 2.5 million visitors to its world-famous marché de Noël. This year, efforts to make the yuletide fun more eco-friendly are in tune with other city-wide initiatives, such as the 373 miles (600km) of bike paths that saw it crowned “cycling capital of France”. This means those Christmas lights won’t be switched on until sundown and will go off at 11pm (when previously they were on 24/7).
There are festive markets in almost every square, overlooked by a 30-meter Christmas tree (the tallest in France). Chalets here sell crafts, food and drinks in aid of various local and national charities. In March 2022, French law banned outdoor heaters in public spaces, such as restaurants’ pavement terraces, and this means markets too. Deputy mayor Guillaume Libsig says: “Even the most conservative or unconforming people now realize they need to make these efforts. We have to operate in a more environment-friendly way – we need to protect the change of the seasons.”
There is also a stage for music and a beer tent, where people are scoffing the local speciality, tarte flambée, a fine, pizza-like tart topped with creme fraiche, onions and lardons. A vegan option on the tarte flambée menu at Mama Bubbele can be found, but it is perhaps a little soon for veganism to catch on in this land of the baeckeoffe meat stew and pork-laden choucroute garnie. However, many of the local chefs are committed to using very local suppliers, thus reducing the food miles.
Nearby Hotel Tandem is perhaps the most eco-friendly place to stay Manager Carole Geneau explains how the breakfasts are all made with local products, which means no orange juice (though they make an exception for coffee). There are no coffee machines in the 70 rooms though (only kettles and tea), nor minibars, and there’s a water fountain for refilling glass water bottles. Single-use plastic is banned, while the chemical-free cleaning is done with dry steam and savon noir (natural black soap), and the restaurant’s Mediterranean-inspired menu is all locally sourced and meat-free.
As the daylight fades on my final afternoon, the queue starts and shuffles into the cathedral – its 142-metre, 15th-century spire looming above – and gaze at the soaring arches, flickering candles and bright tapestries. There’s a huge nativity scene depicting Bethlehem 2,000 years ago. Who knows where we will be in another 2,000 years – but it’s comforting to know that Strasbourg is taking steps to lighten its carbon footprint and make Christmas in the city (and, indeed, the whole year) a greener experience.
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