I often got asked questions like, "Where is your favorite place?" or "Where would you go back to if you had a chance?" My answers tended to range among the noncommittal "Depends on what you wanna do." But truthfully, I did have a mental list places that tickled the memory cells just so, and the small Alsacian town of Colmar was on that list.
What made Colmar so special was its color. It was visually beautiful and filled with activity, hosting one of the largest pedestrian zones among any small town that I had visited. Virtually all the buildings along them were gorgeous -- either brightly painted or covered with flowers or other decor. It had a lively downtown, helped by the addition of several canals running through it.
I strongly recommend going directly to the Tourist Information Center upon arrival and using their city map. Their walking route was connect-the-dots simple and thorough, and it took me along every street and alley I'd have wanted to see.
After taking the walk from the train station, I arrived at the scene in the second photograph, the Unterlinden Museum, which happened to be #1 on the walking route. This Museum was located at the northwest corner of the downtown and overlooked a beautiful garden square loaded with bright flower arrangements (such as the musical notes made of red flowers in the background at right. A canal cut along one side of this garden, which was surrounded by beautiful cafés and restaurants. Also nearby was the fabulous Maison des Têtes (third photo), a 17th century hotel that appeared to be the only building on that row that survived intact the various wars of France. Judging from the crowd it seemed to attract and the prices on its billboard, the Maison was Colmar's premier black-tie restaurant.
As I followed the walking route, I passed by several impressive scenes like the beautifully flowered Swiss-chalet shops in the first photograph or the rainbow scene shown in the fourth. The latter was located at the Tanner's Quarter. The old tannery building was just off the photo to the left. It was converted into a modern art gallery, exhibition hall, and souvenir stand. When I went, the exhibition hall hosted an artisan festival, with craftsmen from all over Europe selling hand-made clothes, housewares, and decorative items for the interior. The Tanner's Quarter itself was laden with very nice yet not terribly expensive restaurants that offered Alsacian, Italian, and other cuisines.
Shopping was plentiful in Colmar. Nearly every alleyway was lined with shops, especially those specializing in Alsacian goods and souvenirs. Churches and other old buildings were plentiful as well. For example, the Pfister House was a beautiful old manor decorated with numerous murals on the outside. The Dominican Church, Stiftskirche St. Martin, St. Matthew's Church, and Colmar Cathedral were all beautiful.
Colmar also made good use of its canals, so much so that one district was known as "Pétit Venice", or Little Venice. A view of it is shown in the fifth photograph. The name Little Venice seemed appropriate, as this district only occupied one city block. But, while the half-timber architecture did not smack of Italian, the shallow-draft boats carrying tourists through the canals were clearly Venetian-inspired. The boats carried one dozen folks at a time up and down the main canal of the city. Little Venice had a number of riverside restaurants and shops, and as the final photo shows, it was quite picturesque. In the summertime, it seemed like bright red, purple, pink, and white flowers were everywhere in bunches, making everything seem cheerful.
There was more to see beyond the pedestrian zone. For example, Colmar had a huge park situated between the Unterlinden and the Prefecture house. The old water tower and several war memorials were nearby the park. But otherwise, is largely residential.
Getting to Colmar was really easy by train. It was only a twenty minute ride south from Strasbourg, and trains traveled between the two cities continuously. Also, there were a number of other picturesque towns in between which we would like to visit someday, not to mention the French Route de Vin (the equivalent of Germany's famous Wine Road) further to the west.
But I would readily consider just going back to Colmar. What a beautiful town!
Trip taken 31 July 2002 -- Page last updated 05 October 2006 -- (C) 2002 Tom Galvin