As the rows of vines flitted past me, I thought to myself, “I am in Alsace the wine terrain and those luscious grapes creating a palette of purple, green and brown are invisible”. A sigh escaped my lips. I knew I was capturing moments just a month before the burst of spring. I knew February was the close of winter and neither the white sheets of snow would seduce me nor would the flowerbeds with dahlias & hollyhocks. But silly me was wasting too much time in such thoughts. As I entered the charming town of Colmar, the tiny cubes of doubt just melted away. If you want poetry in colors, waltz into this town and follow me into the villages along the wine trail.
TIMBER FRAMED & COBBLE STONED IN COLMAR
I’d say stay even a month or many more in the Alsace region. As an expanse in the North East of France, it is embraced by the Vosges Mountains in the West and the river Rhine in the East. Sharing borders with both Germany & Switzerland creates a mélange that’s delightful, as you’ll see. Colmar and the villages around it will inspire painters for sure but this unusual blend creates a pattern with half-timbered houses, German names in French land and mouth-watering treats called Kugelhopf.
(My short trip covered the town of Colmar & villages of Eguisheim, Kaysersberg, Riquewihr & Ribeauville. Marked here in BLUE. Map Source: www.winefolly.com)
Welcome to 4 N/5D in this fascinating part of the Alsatian countryside.
I was flying from Frankfurt to Basel & being just 1 ½ hours away from Colmar made this city the transit point. Since a taxi booking was already done online with Kiwi Taxi it was mighty easy. Basel (Switzerland) airport is in France, so be clear whether you have to exit on the French or Swiss side. A train from Basel to Colmar is way more inexpensive than the taxi hire of course (Comfort/1st Class Tickets on www.raileurope.com is about 23 Euros)
I was keen to stay in a place that felt like Colmar, so I picked the one closest to La Petite Venise (Little Venice). 4 nights in Le Colombier meant staying in one of those 18th century row houses converted into a modern hotel. All I needed to do was step out, turn right and my first tale of this town was right before me.
(Half Timbered houses/shops greet me as I step out of the hotel)
(A glimpse of La Petite Venise à Colmar…in fact the other side of the much pinned picture)
Since it was already 2.00 PM by the time I reached Colmar, I decided to head to a village that had mesmerized me with its pictures. Eguisheim was about 15-20 minutes drive from my hotel, so I quickly hopped into a taxi to start my Alsace experience.
My choice of traveling in the month of Feb hit me hard on this visit, as the village was super quiet, with hardly any one on the streets. The houses too seemed unfinished without the flower baskets, the wine growers weren’t accessible and I seemed to miss the bustle for a few minutes. But I had the village to myself, to discover. Its medieval urban architecture from 16th/17th century seen in the houses, fountains and churches made my day.
I get elaborate about the villages I visited around Colmar in another post-titled ‘Tracing the Wine Route of Alsace’, which I’ll share later. Here’s a glimpse from the pretty village that’s home to just 1600 residents.
I was torn when I left the village; confused whether it deserved a stay over for a night. How I wish I’d taken a long break.
A town with many hidden stories is magical, you’d agree. Colmar is full of that. With a Roman origin name it was crafted from ‘dovecote’, which meant a place where doves were bred. These days you have another bird, seen as a symbol of fertility, visiting the town and nearby villages often. The white stork of Alsace.
The pretty picture I had delicately painted, started for me at the bridge over the River Lauch. There are cafes and a heritage hotel Le Maréchal overlooking the narrow canal, adding to its allure. Not so much like Venice, but there is a quiet charm to it. Since the cold was still biting, the outdoor cafes by the waterway weren’t open.
Note to Self: I have to come back here for a summery flower beds view for sure.
(La Petite Venise in the month of Feb, with the rain clouds sending some drizzle for effect)
My first overwhelming experience here was of the half-timbered houses. They came in many designs & colors and since Christmas was still there in spirit, some houses and windows had the unmissable ornamentation. It seemed like the architects had a theme for this town. You see borrowed influences from some of the neighboring German towns in architecture style. And I can’t help but admire how it still keeps itself young. The older part of the town is where all the drama is. It will take you 2 days if you want to really explore some of it & also wish to lounge out sipping on your wine.
(Don’t miss the Darth Vader look)
Place de l’Ancienne Douane
Just get on to this street and there are many tiny tales loaded with history. The awesome bit about this town is that it’s a fab wine place (though the villages win for their vineyards), a visual treat & full of attractions that time left behind. So whatever you may love am sure you’ll find your sweet spot here. I have a ‘Must see things in Colmar’ coming up soon that will detail out attractions for a time traveler and art lover. As also the festivals for 2017.
(A glimpse of Koifhus, the old customs house from the 15th Century. I was particularly fascinated by the glazed tiles roofing)
(Baron Lazarus von Schwendi was an Austrian general in the army of the Roman Empire in the 1500s. Post his war with the Turks, he is said to have brought a grape variety from Tokay (Hungary) known for its white wines. In the statue created by Auguste Bartholdi he is holding a vine stock)
There are tons of bars & cafes all over this little town with almost 3-4 Michelin star restaurants. I needed my vegetarian fix and was grateful to find something to satiate my appetite. I must admit though that my veggie journey was quite basic but filling.
Rue des Marchands (& area around this street)
Here is where you find all that’s quaint about this town and the one church that I could access despite the season. It’s also the place I met a lovely old man who paused to tell me stories of all that was unmissable on the street. He was staying next door to the Bartholdi Museum & it seemed to explain why he enjoyed chatting up with travelers.
The Museum was closed but do visit to see the works of the man who designed the Statue of Liberty, that has forever been the memory of New York harbor. A few photo captures from this super historical area.
(St. Martin’s Church, a Gothic Monument of Colmar)
(Maison Pfister dating back to the 16th Century, is built with yellow sandstone and wood & is a prized attraction of Colmar for its art & detailing)
While enjoying the smell of freshly baked biscuits I happened to walk into this tiny makeshift market with mostly books on display. WOW! With a Kindle by my side, the books I have today are from times of yore. So it was nice to walk into a mini bookstore inadvertently.
There is so much more if you walk just 5 mins from here to the Rue des Têtes. The façade of La Maison des Têtes (House of Heads) for its quirkiness and the Musée Hansi (Hansi Museum) is a must see.
Rue des Tanneurs
Tanners District has homes from 17th Century and they are colorful and half timbered too. The tanners apparently used the open upper floors for drying out their skins . Today there are restaurants & shops with a ‘stop on your tracks’ kind of window display to keep the energy alive
(View of Le Marché couvert de Colmar i.e. the covered market, as you walk straight down from the Tanners District and just as Rue de Poissonnaire begins)
As you circle the town, walk on Rue des Tanneurs with many pauses and reach the Fishmongers’ District, another burst of colors makes you fall in love with the town.
Rue de la Poissonnerie
This street is where right up till the 20th Century fishermen sold their catch right on the quay front. The poisson (fish) was caught locally by the hard working folks who also lived on the street. Part of this became my view from my room and it was lovely to peek out and see a bit of the hues. There is the highly rated 2 Michelin star Restaurant JYS here. You may not want to miss it
(View of the street from my first floor room at Hotel Le Colombier)
Kaysersberg, Riquewhir & Ribeauville made me wish I had taken a much longer vacation. When I left the hotel that morning the mist brought an air of mystery & some drizzle too. The villages though were sunny & totally sparkling. If you have less time, you can discover these villages in about 2 days or crunch it to a day. But if you choose to stretch your afternoon meal or visit wine growers, then don’t count the days. I am writing about these villages in later posts. So I’m simply sharing a few pictures for now.
Kaysersberg looks familiar with the half-timbered façades, but has narrow streets with rooftops that seem to be almost sliding down. Colors jump at you, as does the gush of water that separates two streets. I had a gourmet feast here at a 2 Michelin star restaurant. That ‘4-Course Vegetarian meal’ fills up my afternoon thoughts even today.
(Magic of Chef Olivier Nasti at 64° Le Restaurant in Hotel Le Chambard, Kaysersberg)
Riquewihr & Ribeauville have so much life on the streets, windows, pathways, towers…and of course history. You can take a trip to the vineyards around these villages if you are there for more than a day and enjoy tasting wines, some of which are from oak barrels over a century old. WOW!
(I just loved the colors of Riquewihr)
(A tiny glimpse of Ribeauville)
I did this before I took the train back to Basel for my onward journey to Rothenburg in Germany. Day 5 can be spent deep diving into some of the things you really like. So I used the morning to visit the Unterlinden Museum. The Isenheim altarpiece & modern art (even some of Picasso’s work) got me there for my closing experience of Colmar.
A downloadable itinerary is coming soon. But for now here are some details on how to get to this pretty town.
HOW TO GET TO COLMAR
From Paris: The TGV train will reach you there in approx 2.5 hrs
From Zurich: You need to change two trains. The first is from Zurich to Basel & thereon to Colmar
From Frankfurt (my journey): I flew into Basel & took the car to Colmar (approx 1 hr)
HOW TO GET TO THE VILLAGES
From Colmar take a taxi or drive to Eguisheim. It takes barely 15-20 minutes. Taxis can be arranged for pick up and drop by the hotel itself.
I took the bus from Colmar to Kaysersberg (45 mins). The journey from there to Riquewihr & Ribeauville is via Colmar if you want to continue by bus, hence it’s advisable to hire a taxi or drive. (Detailed bus schedules are available at the Colmar tourism office. They are super efficient, friendly and the bus ride too is short & scenic)
BIG DRAW: You can see the vineyards through most of the journey
I know this post has been crazy long and I hope it inspires you to make this amazing region your destination. I do feel the pictures at the close of winter capture the magic of Colmar, differently from the summer colors. I loved it. My friends and I are planning a road trip from the Black Forest (Germany) to parts of Alsace (France), all the way down to Tuscany (Italy). Will inundate this Blog, Facebook and Instagram feeds with that soon.
HAPPY HOLIDAY PLANNING!
Merci beaucoup in tons to the lovely people at Colmar Tourism for being so helpful and full of smiles.