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Colmar, France - Just across the Rhine

ColmarColmar is a city in Alsace, France. It was the last town in France to be freed after the second World War, on February 2nd, 1945.

Colmar lies between Basel (French: Bâle) and Strasbourg. There is a direct train connection from both cities. If you arrive from the German side, there is a bus leaving near the border at Breisach (to which there is a direct train from Freiburg). 

Colmar was once linked to Freiburg im Breisgau, in Germany and on the other side of the Rhine, by the Freiburg–Colmar international railway. However the railway bridge over the Rhine between Breisach and Neuf-Brisach was destroyed in 1945 and never replaced.

The bus-stop is located directly in front of Breisach train station. If you are visiting from Freiburg, it is cheaper to get a RegioElsassTicket, as it is valid for this bus, as well as the entire RVF (Regio-Verkehrsverbundes Freiburg) network.

If you arrive by plane you will probably use one of the closest airports: Euroairport at Basel (with a variety of low cost flights) or Strasbourg (with none). Other airports in the area are Baden Airport, Stuttgart, Zurich and Nancy.

All of Colmar's attractions are concentrated in its old town. For a medieval city, it is surprisingly big, but you can nonetheless get around on foot with no difficulty.
 
Please note that there is no luggage storage in the train station, nor anywhere else in town according to the Colmar Tourist Bureau.

Looking for a hotel in Colmar? Click here and take a look at what's available, choice is sadly somewhat limited.

Colmar

What to look out for

Colmar's old town is the main attraction if you come to Colmar. It is stunningly beautiful and well preserved. You should allow yourself a day to stroll along Colmar's old streets and many many shops.

Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads) - a Renaissance building decorated with faces, and the Pfister House, a marvellous old wooden house, one of the oldest in Colmar.

Dominican Church worth visitig only because of a famous Schongauer painting. It costs 4.50 euros (2006) to get in. The painting is very beautiful and so is the church, but skip this if you are pressed for time.

Église Saint-Martin (St. Martin Church) a large church entirely made of pink-coloured sandstone (see picture below). Built between 1234 and 1365, it is the largest church of Colmar and one of the largest in Haut-Rhin. Displays some early stained glass windows, several Gothic and Renaissance sculptures and altars, a grand Baroque organ case. The choir is surrounded by an ambulatory opening on a series of Gothic chapels, a unique feature in Alsacian churches.

Unterlinden Museum: It is a most interesting museum situated in a medieval convent near the tourist information center. Entrance costs 7 euros (2010), but this includes an excellent audio guide for many of the paintings. The museum exhibits objects of very different types e.g. furniture, armour, paintings, knitted carpets, and silverware, but its highlight is definitely the Isenheim altarpiece by Gruenewald, a revolutionary Alsatian Renaissance painter. Even if you are not much into art it is still shocking to see how modern and inventive this painter was.

The collection also includes paintings by Holbein the Elder, Renoir, and Picasso. The museum also shows some very interesting touring exhibits and also musical events. The locals are very proud of this museum and many people turn out for the openings of exhibits.

Colmar, France. Photo courtesy of Gryffindor

Bartholdi Museum: dedicated to the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty, who was native to Colmar.

Little Venice: enjoy this little corner of the city; with small canals reminiscent of Venice, Italy.

Bartholdi High School, near the Little Venice. Dating back to 1698, it is worth a sight. If you are brave enough to go inside, you will be able to see one of Auguste Bartholdi's original sculptures: "Genie funebre".

Make sure to keep an eye out for dates painted onto the side of buildings. Some of the oldest date back to the 1300's.

Wandering about Colmar's old streets is the best way to explore it. There is a variety of shops of different sorts. The Alsatian cuisine is also omnipresent (in restaurants as well as specialist stores).

Most recommended is to buy clothes and shoes in Colmar. The variety is satisfactory and the prices lower than in neighbouring Germany, Switzerland and even Strasbourg. Apart from these, you can find typical crafts which can be bought as souvenirs. Notable is the typical Alsatian pottery. It comes in a coloured variety, usually blue, green or cream coloured, and decorated with motifs of storks (the regional bird) and flowers. Pottery is also available in a pale blue style, but this type has a stronger German influence.

Typical wine glasses for the region are short glasses with green stems. Look for tablecloths, tinware and other such households reproduced with depictions of children and adults in typical Alsatian dress.

Food and wine are also major components of the Alsatian production, so look below for relevant tips.

Colmar

Food

Alsace is known for its pastries. Kugelhopf is a well-known cake similar in shape to the American Bundt cake and has raisins with powdered sugar on top. You can buy traditional ceramic Kugelhopf pans in any tourist shop with recipes to make at home. During Easter, small cakes molding from lamb-shaped pans are made. They are served with a ribbon around their necks and topped generously with powdered sugar.

Macarons are also found in specialty sweet shops and also in the frozen isle of the supermarket (try the Monoprix in the center of the town), which can be eaten straight from the box frozen. Note that they are not like American macaroons (coconut haystacks) but are the French version composed of two small, pastel colored cookies made from almond flour (which has a melt-in-your-mouth quality) with an icing in between.

In sweet shops you will also find Meringues, made from whipped egg whites and sugar, dyed in pastel colours and then baked. Make sure to try the tarte aux poires, which is a pear tart with an eggy custard filling with baked pears.

Tarte flambee (Flemkusch in Alsatian, or Flammkuchen in German) is the Alsatian equivalent of the Pizza, though extremely different. Traditionally, it is made of a thin layer of dough, covered with crème fraîche (light fresh cheese that doesn't truly have an American equivalent), cheese, onions, and bacon (lard in French). It is baked very quickly in an extremely hot oven so that it gets crispy. Legend has it that the dish was a solution to the extra scraps of dough left over from the bakers.

Other regional specialties include the Black Forest cake (strangely with raspberry instead of cherries, as well as the traditional cream and sponge) and quiche Lorraine.

Alsace is also famous for their Bretzels (pretzels in English). They are fresh baked and soft with generous amounts of salt. Sometimes you can find them with melted cheese on top accompanied by smoked salmon or ham.

Alsace is also famous for their Sauerkraut (or choucroute in French). This is pickled cabbaged served hot with boiled potatoes and a variety of meats. Choucroute aux Poissons (with fish) is becoming more widespread.

Drink

Alsace is a traditional area of wine production and its wine is widely esteemed in France and outside it. 

At Christmas time try the cooked orange juice with honey and spices and also the spiced (or mulled) wine served hot in many of the creperies or bars.

Alsatian wine is very unique and similar to some German wines. A popular tour is to take the Routes des Vines and sample the wineries along Alsace. Two well known wines that comes from Alsace are Geurwertraminer (very dry) and Muscat (very sweet). In any of the creperies, they will serve a apple cider, slightly alcoholic. Doux is the sweet version and Brut is the dry version. This is not an Alsation specialty, all of the ciders come from Brittany on the Northern Coast, but it seems all French people enjoy crepes and cider so authentic restaurants catering to these foods are widespread.

Eau de Vie is a very strong alcohol, similar to a vodka and lightly flavoured with fruits usually, originally produced by the monks of the region. Look for the Eau de Vie flavoured with Mirabelle, which is a regional plum unique to Alsace.

Climate

Colmar has a sunny microclimate and is the second driest city in France, with an annual precipitation of just 550 mm, making it ideal for Alsace wine. It is considered the capital of the Alsatian wine region.
 
The dryness results from the town's location next to mountains which force clouds arriving from the west to rise, and much of their moisture to condense and fall as precipitation over the higher ground, leaving the air warmed and dried by the time it reaches Colmar.

More facts and other information

Colmar shares the Université de Haute-Alsace with the neighbouring, larger city of Mulhouse. Of the approximately 8,000 students of the UHA, circa 1,500 study at the Institut universitaire de technologie (IUT) Colmar, at the Colmar branch of the Faculté des Sciences et Techniques and at the Unité de Formation et de Recherche Pluridisciplinaire d'Enseignement Professionalisé Supérieur (UFR P.E.P.S.).

Since 1980, Colmar is home to the international summer festival of classical music Festival de Colmar (also known as Festival international de musique classique de Colmar). In its first version (1980 to 1989), it was placed under the artistic direction of the German conductor Karl Münchinger. Since 1989, it is helmed by the Russian violinist and conductor Vladimir Spivakov.

Colmar is an affluent city whose primary economic strength lies in the flourishing tourist industry. But it is also the seat of several large companies: Timken (European seat), Liebherr (French seat), Leitz (French seat), Capsugel France (A division of Pfizer) ...
 
Every year since 1947, Colmar is host to what is now considered as the biggest annual commercial event as well as the largest festival in Alsace, the Foire aux vins d'Alsace (Alsacian wine fair).
 
When Air Alsace existed, its head office was on the grounds of Colmar Airport.

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