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DETOUR TO COLMAR
A tiny gem in the heart of the Alsace region, Colmar is too easily bypassed but with its unique medieval charm, cobblestone streets, and vibrant culinary scene, the rewards of what you'll discover make the detour worthwhile.
Unique Cultural Mix
There's little doubt that Colmar has earned that grace from history through which the town has been conquered, annexed, lost and won again since it was founded in the 9th century. In short, Colmar has been in the Holy Roman Empire, adopted Protestant Reformation, and even had a spell under Swedish rule during the Thirty Years' War. And through it all, Germany and France volleyed their claim with the tenacity of a Wimbledon championship.
Vive La Histoire
Its architecture alone is a pressed together collection of imposing Gothic churches with magnificent stained glass windows; lavishly decorated merchants' houses, and entire neighborhoods that still celebrate the region's early economies.
Examples include the 15th century Koïfhus, a complex of buildings that was once the heart of the town's economic and political administration. Although the Slaughterhouse, metal depository, Corn and Salt exchanges have long gone, the oldest building - the Place du L'Ancienne Douane (Customs House) still stands. Its arcaded ground floor bustles with bistro activity while above is a decorative balcony, ornamental windows and brightly tiled roof. Look too, for the 17th century Maison de Tete (House of Heads), so named for the profusion animal heads, faces and grimacing masks carved into the walls, onto the doorway, oriel, jambs and mullions.
The Rue de Tanneurs (Tanners Street) is a highlight. It runs along the waterway that has long shed its 'tanner's ditch' faculty for the more prestigious nickname of, Little Venice. The restored 18th century houses here are typical of that era. Very tall and narrow, they have no basements but rest on a high stonewall with upper stories built of half-timbered cob walls made from a mixture of straw and clay. The extensive roofs often have openings at several different levels set back relative to others, thus enabling the tanners to dry their skins.
Colmar also pays homage to one of its most famous children, Auguste Bartholdi, creator of the Statue of Liberty in New York. While you will find many of the sculptor's works in courtyards, fountains and even as a gable capping, most are at the Musee Bartholdi, located off a small and elegant courtyard. And yes, you'll see the original resin model cast for Madam Liberty as well as an entire room devoted to reduced-scale models of The Lion of Belfort, France's iconic sculpture that stands at Belfort Castle, 11 meters (33ft) high and twice that from nose to tail.
Taste the Vitality
Alsatian wines tend to be heavier - even spicier that you might expect, but they are masterfully paired with the region's signature dishes: German inspired Sausages and Sauerkraut, Kugelhopft (a kind of Bundt cake), fresh baked pretzels, and tarte flambee, a French-influenced, and very superior Alsatian answer to pizza.
Although Colmar is off the beaten track by car, do check into train schedules because invariably, they'll turn a visit into an easy day or overnight trip. However you travel there, take note. Once in Old Town, many of the one-way, winding streets can be confusing to navigate so dump the car, pick up a map from the Visitor's Centre and remember to leave the stilettos at home.
IF YOU GO:
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