5 must-visit places in Colmar
A trip to the French region of Alsace should include a stop in one of its major cities to be complete. While Strasbourg's big city vibes and international flair appeals to many visitors, the timeless charm of the city of Colmar is a powerful draw to numerous tourists as well.
The history of the third largest city in Alsace goes back hundreds of years. First mentioned under the reign of Charlemagne, Colmar became an imperial city within the Holy Roman Empire four hundred years before it was successively conquered by the Swedish army and the armies of the French Sun King, Louis XIV. Integrated to the German Empire in 1871, it would eventually return to French rule after the Second World War.
Beyond its rich historical heritage, Colmar's location on the Alsatian Wine Route plays a significant part in its appeal, the city being a self-proclaimed "capital of Alsatian wine". On top of its wine production, Colmar boasts a picturesque old town, famous for its museums as well as its small river running through ancient medieval houses. Its small size makes it easy to navigate the city by foot and explore its wonders in a day. Between scenic walks, tranquil boat rides and original discoveries, here is our top places to visit while in Colmar.
La Petite Venise
Many cities boast their own take of the iconic cityscape of Venice, from London to Amsterdam, but Colmar's Little Venice has to be one of the most charming. The name designated at first the course of the Lauch River but it later came to include the whole Krutenau area located in the southeastern part of the city's historical center. It now stretches from the Koïfhus building to the bridges of Turenne and Saint-Pierre.
The Little Venice was first inhabited by wine makers and market gardeners, whose easy access to the canals helped ship their products to the market down stream and thus bolster their trade. The district is now the single most visited area in the city, full of traditional winstub restaurants, cafés and bakeries, some of whom boast a terrace overlooking the river. Its well-preserved medieval architecture and cobblestone streets make for charming walks but the area can also be discovered in a more original fashion.
The Lauch River
If the best way to discover Venice is on a boat, the same goes for its Alsatian counterpart. Many companies offer rides on traditional wooden flat-bottom boats on the Lauch River to discover the city with a fresh perspective. Departing from the Saint-Pierre bridge, the boats navigate through the districts that used to be inhabited by market gardeners and fishermen.
A few different companies offer boat rides every thirty minutes, from March to October. They all include some commentary along the ride, so as to provide some architectural explanation as well as some insight into the life of yore in Colmar. You might therefore learn about the efficient yet slightly gross way locals used to dispose of their feces in the river or learn of the unusual way to make flat-bottom boats more resistant, by literally flooding them with water.
The Covered Market
Alsace takes its food seriously and so does Colmar. Ranked among the most beautiful in France, the local Christmas Market is a must-do if you're travelling there in December. If you're not, rest easy as the covered market will get you through the day throughout the year with twenty permanent merchants.
Located in a red-bricked building erected in 1865, the permanent terroir market is a feast for the eyes as well as for the stomach. It offers fresh and local products every day, except on Sunday afternoons and on Mondays. All kinds of cheese, fruits and vegetables are on the menu but also Alsatian specialties, from crispy and cheesy pretzels to typical mauricette sandwiches. You can also enjoy a traditional tarte flambée or Flammekueche on a terrace with a view on the river.
La Maison des Têtes
This historical landmark translates as House of the Heads in English. Don't be repelled by its slightly ominous nickname though as it is one of the most remarkable buildings in Colmar. It was commissioned in 1609 by wealthy merchant and stettmeister, the local version of a mayor, Anton Burger. Built in Renaissance style, the building owes to its name to the 106 stone-made human heads scattered on its façade. It is now a 5-star hotel and a gourmet restaurant but the façade can be admired for free.
Located across the street, the Hansi museum is an interesting visit to delve into the works of Alsatian artist and illustrator Jean-Jacques Waltz, known under the alias Hansi. Mainly known for its artworks depicting visions of an idealized Alsace, Hansi paid tribute to the traditions of his homeland throughout his career. The museum also displays period posters, caricatures and original sketches of the artist.
Musée du Jouet de Colmar
There are many museums in Colmar. The most famous is perhaps the Unterlinden Museum dedicated to the arts and displaying the poignant Isenheim altarpiece, depicting the crucifixion. If you're visiting with a child, chances are that a crucifixion painting isn't exactly what you're looking for. You might then turn towards another kind of museum, the Toy Museum of Colmar.
Across three levels, the museum displays more than 1000 toys dating from the 19th century to our present days. Beware, nostalgia incoming. From electric toy trains to teddy bears, Barbie dolls to jigsaw puzzles and video games, the museum offers a comprehensive view of the history of toys. Historical explanations also put into perspective the societal and educational values of toys as well as the industry's ever-changing trends. Long story short, the museum is a place for children but also for children at heart.
Alluring, serene, romantic, surprising too, Colmar is all that. As a day trip on the Alsatian Wine Route or as a base to explore the region further, Colmar is a must-visit in Alsace all the same.