There are two very good reasons to visit Colmar: to swoon over its picturesque canal views and to tantalise your taste buds.
Colmar has been included in Conde Nast’s list of the ten most beautiful towns in France. With its cobbled streets and pastel-hued, half-timbered medieval buildings lining small canals, it’s easy to see why. Some believe that the town was the inspiration for Belle’s village in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast.
Added to this, Colmar’s location in the Alsace region of France, close to the German border, has resulted in an enticing blend of German and French cuisine.
Due to its compact size, it is easy to explore Colmar in one day and to take the opportunity to sample delicious Alsace cuisine.
MORNING: A WALKING TOUR OF COLMAR
Let’s start your day in Colmar with a little walking tour. The town is perfect for just mooching around. But if you fancy something a little more structured, pick up a map from the friendly and helpful tourist information office. This has a suggested walking route with numbered key sights, many of which have adjacent information boards. Helpful little pavement plaques of the Statue of Liberty will point you in the right direction. These are a nod to Colmar’s most famous son, the sculptor Frédéric Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty.
La Petite Venise (Little Venice)
Start in La Petite Venise. This is the name given to the area crossed by canals of the River Launch and is one of the prettiest areas of town. But with beauty comes popularity, so my advice is to start early before crowds start building with the arrival of day-trippers.
Start on Rue Turenne and then turn onto Quai de la Poissonnerie. This is the old Fishmongers’ Quarter and, as the name suggests, was where the town’s fisherman and boatman lived and worked. The kaleidoscope of pastel-coloured buildings we see lining Colmar’s canals today is thanks to extensive restoration work that took place between 1979 and 1981.
This is also the best place to capture those images of the old town adorning many postcards of Colmar. Set your camera to stun on the bridge at Rue des Ecoles for those Instaworthy images.
The Tanners’ Quarter & Place de l’Ancienne Douane
From here, make your way to the Tanners’ Quarter, named after the tanners who used to live and work in this district. Half-timbered houses mostly dating from the 17th and 18th Century line Rue des Tanneurs at its epicentre
Now walk back to the Place de l’Ancienne Douane, the location of one of Colmar’s famous Christmas markets. This is also where you will find the Old Customs House (Koïfhus), dating back to 1480.
The Pfister House
Once you have admired the Old Customs House’s Renaissance-style exterior, turn down Rue des Marchands to take a look at the Pfister House. It is named after the family who restored it and lived there between 1841 and 1892.
Built in 1537 from soft Vosges sandstone, this Colmar landmark is known for its delicate mural paintings representing biblical and secular scenes. Look out also for the wooden oriel window adorned with medallions depicting emperors of the Roman Empire.
LUNCH AT COLMAR’S COVERED MARKET (MARCHÉ COUVERT)
By now you should have worked up a good appetite. To make you salivate more, check out the cheeses, fruit & vegetables and jars of mustard in Colmar’s airy 14th Century covered market. You will find entrances on Rue des Vignerons and Rue des Écoles.
Then stop by Légumez-Moi, in the centre of the market, for one of their delicious gratins, a glass of delicious local Reisling and quick service with a smile. Cheap too.
AFTERNOON: COLMAR’S CANALS AND CHURCHES
A boat ride along Colmar’s canals
Sated, it’s now time to take to the water. Six Euro of your hard-earned cash will buy you a 30-minute gentle journey along Colmar’s canalS. This allows you to get close up and personal to the town’s medieval buildings before venturing into a more verdant, residential area. Remember to duck your head when going under those stone bridges!
You can buy a boat ticket from La Krutenau restaurant where Rue Turenne meets Quai de la Poissonnerie. The embarkation point is adjacent to the restaurant.
Your boat trip over, it’s now time to check out a few churches.
Gawp at an artistic masterpiece in the Dominican Church (Église des Dominicains)
Dating mainly from the 14th Century, the Dominican Church’s airy interior is illuminated by sublime stained glass windows. However, its star turn is Martin Schongauer’s masterpiece, Madonna of the Rose Bush (1473).
You will find the church on Place des Dominicains. Entrance fee is €2.
Gaze upwards at the Gothic splendour of St Martin’s Church (Collégiale Saint-Martin)
From the Dominican Church, it’s a two-minute walk along Rue des Serruriers to St Martin’s Church.
Built between 1234 and 1365 from local pink limestone, locals may refer to it as a cathedral. However, it was a cathedral for less than a decade at the time of the French Revolution.
Its 71-meter high tower is notable for its lantern shape. Other noteworthy features are its extravagant Baroque organ and two exterior anti-Semitic images – Judensäue – that bear testament to the troubled history of Jews in Alsace.
Admission is free.
DINNER IN COLMAR
It is possible to visit Colmar on a day trip, and many people do. However, I recommend staying at least one night. This will give you the opportunity to enjoy the streets of Colmar in the evening light when they have emptied of the hordes of day-trippers. It also means that you will be able to sample excellent Alsace food and wine in one of Colmar’s many excellent restaurants.
My favourite place was the cosy and exceptionally friendly Le Soi at 17 Rue des Marchands. They only do one dish – Tarte Flambée – but they do it well. This is an “Alsace Pizza”, with cream ham and cheese topping a wafer-thin flatbread. Delicious washed down with a glass or two of local Resiling or Pinot Noir. I sat up at the counter, chatting to the other diners, and the owners let me polish off the bottle of excellent wine!
The perfect end to a perfect day in Colmar.