Experience the Sweet Charm of Alsace
Cruise past the crowds IN LITTLE VENICE, COLMAR
I’ve had Colmar, France – cute little Alsatian sweetheart – on my must-see list for a while. So when this summer’s grand European road trip from our home in Copenhagen to the south of France had some wiggle room, we added it to the itinerary. Apparently, so did everyone else visiting western Europe this year. Known as the setting inspiration for Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, there is good reason why everyone feels the need to see it for themselves. But how to ditch the masses and circumnavigate the selfie sticks in this pretty little Alsatian sweet spot? Step aboard a canal boat. For twenty-five minutes you are afforded a small-group guided tour of these canals chock full of charm.
FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF FAIRY-TALE FRANCE
We arrived late into Colmar, having booked an apartment right off the popular Quai de la Poissonnerie. With only one night to slurp up as much Alsace as we could muster, I prioritized to stay right in the middle of the pretty old part. It was a good call and we wandered the canals and cobblestoned alleys to a bit quieter scene in the evening. Just be forewarned, finding a spot that serves dinner past 10pm was not possible.
SUMMER IS PEAK SEASON IN ALSACE
If you have any opportunity to experience Colmar outside of summer, I would highly recommend you do so. We found the amount of tourists mid-July just too much. (I am very aware that we were part of the problem.) There were queues to take photos of the half-timbered cuteness along the iconic Quai de la Poissonneries from the bridge along Rue des Écoles. So you wait. Smile and nod. And then snap.
Covered Market Hall Colmar
Don’t want to wait? Step across the street and survey the delicacies available from the different merchants in the Marché Couvert de Colmar. The covered market. We sampled some Alsatian pretzels and perused the cheese counter. Oh French cheese, how I adore you. This area has a unique character even in France as it has traded hands between Germany and France many times over the years. If you can nab a spot on the terrace outside, it is a perfect place to take lunch or simply coffee and a probably pastry or two.
WANDER THE LITTLE LANES
Colmar actually has plenty of places to get away from the throngs and masses if you’re willing to wander a bit off the main squares. The details are are what do it here. Flower baskets seem to adorn every window and scrolled signage hangs over every door. Around every corner a new color palette sure to please and cause pause for more photos. Just me?
WHAT TO EAT and drink IN ALSACE
When exploring the area, you must try the wine. Colmar is part of the Alsatian wine trail and famous for Rieslings and Gewurtztraminers as well as Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. I loved the latter – crisp, dry and a little bit spiced – delicious. Perfectly paired with the region’s specialty, a tasty tarte flambée (or flammkuchen in German). Thin rolled dough classically topped with a French fromage blanc (a soft, creamy white cheese) and sliced onions and lardons (slivered bacon) is wood-fired until crispy. As my daughter is vegetarian, we took it sans lardons. Seriously delicious.
Alsace isn’t only about wine and if there is craft beer to be sampled, my husband can sniff it out. I have to give him the credit for finding Les 3 Singes on a side street off the hustle and bustle of the old town’s main squares. Service was helpful and the selection impressive with beers on tap and in bottle from Alsace, France, Germany, Belgium, Scotland and a few we recognized from the States. If you prefer taking your bottles to go – step across the street to Au Brin de Paille, a charming local gourmet market where you can find Alsatian specialties of all sorts.
Les 3 Singes (The 3 Monkeys)
70 Grand Rue, 68000 Colmar, France
+33 3 89 29 30 08
Au Brin de Paille
61 Grand Rue, 68000 Colmar, France
+33 3 89 23 35 36
CRUISE THE CANALS OF HISTORIC COLMAR
Bellies sated and thirst quenched, we set off to experience the city from the water. Below the flowery Saint Pierre bridge – a five-minute walk from our lunch stop – you’ll find Colmar au fil de l’eau, one of the two canal boat tours in town. Tours are offered almost every day (see details below) and are in regular rotation. Buy your tickets right from the dock and let them know the language you’d prefer for your tour. At peak tourist season, we waited less than 30 minutes for reference. A delightful little wooden boat putters through the canals and a guide shares the history and charming details of this fairy tale village. Besides the tarte and pinot, it was the highlight of our time here in Colmar. See a little more in the video below.
GOOD TO KNOW:
There are only two groups in town who offer canal tours, we used the following and can definitely recommend it.
Colmar au fil de l’eau
Promenade des Barques below the Saint-Pierre Bridge off Saint-Pierre Boulevard
+33 (0)3 89 41 01 94
Open every day* between 1 February – 31 December
(*NOTE: Closed 24 – 25 December, 31 August – 1 September)
Time slots are first come first served
Tickets: 6 € per person (sold at the dock)
Free for children under 10
Tour lasts 25 minutes and is offered in several languages.
WHERE TO STAY:
We stayed here:
Gîte Petite Venise Colmar
The apartment was nothing fancy but was clean, convenient and we appreciated the small well-equipped kitchen. And you can’t beat the location, literally around the corner from Quai de la Poissonnerie.
Or find your own spot here:
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For more from our grand European road trip read here:
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