STRASBOURG owes both its Germanic name – "the City of the Roads" – and its wealth to its strategic position on the west bank of the Rhine. Self-styled le Carrefour de l'Europe ("Europe's Crossroads"), it is geographically closer to Frankfurt, Zurich and even Milan than to Paris, although the much-awaited TGV has placed the French capital within two and a half hours' reach. Strasbourg's medieval commercial pre-eminence was damaged by its involvement in the religious struggles of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, but recovered with its absorption into France in 1681. Along with the rest of Alsace, the city was annexed by Germany from 1871 to the end of World War I and again from 1940 to 1944.
Today, old animosities have been submerged in the European Union, with Strasbourg the seat of the Council of Europe, the European Court of Human Rights and the European Parliament. Prosperous, beautiful and easy to get around, Strasbourg has a metropolitan air without being in the least overwhelming. Boasting one of the loveliest cathedrals in France and one of the oldest and most active universities, it is a leading destination in its own right.