The Jewel of Alsace
That’s what I felt, anyway. That Colmar is the jewel in the crown that is Alsace. Incidentally it is also widely considered to be the capital of Alsatian wine region and plays host to the yearly Alsatian Wine Fair, the largest festival in Alsace. Apt handle ay?
Wines aside, enchanting Colmar is also famed as a town with a very beautiful old town called La Petit de Venise (Little Venice of Alsace). Photographs of colourful, well-preserved Disney-worthy half-timbered houses by the little river called Lauch are what most of us living in other parts of the world know Colmar for. And if you’d watch Studio Ghibli’s movies, you might find Colmar familiar-looking too. That’s because Howl’s Moving Castle (my all-time favourite!) was inspired by this beautiful town!
This trip’s itinerary was planned around 2 destinations that I must visit – one was Hallstatt, and the other Colmar. Despite a rather bad experience at Strasbourg railway station while trying to purchase train tickets to Colmar, I refused to allow my mood be dampened.
Gare de Colmar is an adorable little railway station with a striking exterior. Apparently it has a twin (the identical kind, heh) in Poland, where the same design was used. But the station was not the highlight. We had to walk about 1.5km to get to Little Venice, where the beautiful scene in Howl’s Moving Castle can be found, and experienced.
The good thing about visiting such tourist attractions in low season is a quieter atmosphere – no crowd to jostle with, and a much shorter or no waiting time to get the prime photo spot. Christmas is clearly celebrated in a big way in Colmar. We were there on 10th day of Christmas, and some shop owners were just about to remove their Christmas decorations ahead of Epiphany. We got to see some rather bizarre decorations… like a polar bear on the roof. Had a good laugh over the cuteness of it.
As we walked along River Lauch to explore the old town on foot, I was reminded a little of both Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Burano. The former for the half-timbered houses that screams German in all aspects, and the latter for the vibrant colours the houses were painted in. I wonder if the colours of the houses were also assigned, like Burano’s.
This was a scene out of Howl’s Moving Castle when Sophie Hatter the protagonist left her home and was headed towards the marketplace. The resemblance between the houses in the movie and the ones actually found in Little Venice is uncanny because well… the movie was indeed directly inspired by Little Venice in Colmar.
The most beautiful stretch of houses in Little Venice requires a little walking in, to Quie de la Poissonnerie (or the Fishmongers’ District). According to my research, the fishmongers and boatmen lived in this area and they formed a powerful corporation. I have done quite a bit of research for photography spots prior to the trip, and I will say this: Quie de la Poissonnerie is easily the most photographed district in Little Venice, and it isn’t difficult to see why.
Along the way, we spotted a miniature version of the Alsatian half-timbered houses, and a church as the centrepiece. So adorable! I couldn’t resist taking pictures of it…
In a good mood again, hence another wefie at Little Venice. Perhaps it’s time for us to invest in a selfie stick. I promise we will use it in such a way that it will not be invasive or dangerous. 😆
Every nook and cranny of Colmar is picture-ready, if you give it an opportunity and explore beyond Little Venice. While walking to Unterlinden Museum, we walked into this street completely void of foot traffic. I found this residential street very alluring in its own quiet, regal way.
Colmar is home to Auguste Bartholdi, the designer of the Statue of Liberty standing in New York. There is a replica of the statue that can be seen if one travels the road towards Strasbourg. We took the train, hence missed the opportunity to see it. We also did not stop by Bartholdi Museum to see more of his variety of works although it was very close by our next destination – St. Martin’s Church (Eglise Saint-Martin).
St. Martin’s Church is built in gothic style but within the church, two other earlier churches’ archaeological remains were found. This third church built on the same foundation was initially devoted to the cult of Martin of Tours but is now a Roman-Catholic Church. Reminds me a little of the Cathedral-Mosque of Cordoba (with a mosque within a church) although strictly speaking this St. Martin’s Church unquestionably led to much less disputes and unhappiness.
I usually make it a point to enter every Roman-Catholic Church that we come by, but I was not inclined to the day we visited Colmar. Could be the result of a full bladder. I was in a hurry to return to the railway station.
If we’d visited in warmer weather we might have been able to enjoy a 30-minute ride on a flat-bottomed boat around Little Venice but in winter, the boat rides are not available because no one in the right mind wants to partake in one with the frigid temperatures looming. It’s a trade-off I suppose. We couldn’t enjoy a boat ride but had time to admire the old town in an unharried manner, which I reckon would not be possible in Spring when hordes of tourists are to be expected.