The capital of the Alsace wine region, Colmar is renowned for its pastel-coloured, half-timbered houses and bridge-laced canals that will have you thinking that you have stepped into a fairytale. Here is our insider’s guide to the main attractions, restaurants and property in Colmar
Founded in the 9th century, Colmar nestles on the Alsatian Wine Route and is considered to be the capital of Alsace wine with local vineyards specialising in Riesling and Gewürztraminer varieties. The charming town attracts tourists from France, Britain and beyond, all eager to snap photos of the picture-perfect cobblestone streets lined with half-timbered, medieval and early Renaissance buildings. Colmar is also a great place to try the tasty local Alsatian cuisine with popular dishes here including baeckeoffe (a type of casserole), flammekueche (Alsace’s answer to pizza) and choucroute (sauerkraut).
WHAT TO SEE AND DO IN COLMAR
Colmar is a place that looks as if it’s been taken straight out of a story book and its old town is best explored on foot. Dating back to the middle ages, Colmar’s historic centre is a maze of winding cobblestone streets lined with rows of colourful, timer-framed buildings.
But if you only had time for one thing in pretty Colmar, make it La Petite Venise. Straddling the river Lauch, this corner of the old town is the stuff of Instagram – impeccably restored, half-timbered houses, many of which come ablaze with geraniums in the summer months, line the river’s edge creating an indelible image.
Nearby lies the Quai de la Poissonnerie, which is equally photogenic. For further examples of the town’s beauty, don’t miss the Quartier des Tanneurs, a network of pretty canals and yet more half-timbered houses. This where tanners once created their leather products, but today the star attractions are the buildings, including the Hôtel des Chevaliers de Saint-Jean, noted for being built in the style of a venetian palace.
In addition to its picture-perfect streets, are fascinating museums. The Musée Unterlinden, housed in a 13th-century religious convent, is the home of a large collection of local, national and international artworks from prehistoric times to the present day. Its most prized possession is the Isenheim Altarpiece, produced by German renaissance painter Matthias Grünewald.
The town’s other main museum is the Musée Bartholdi, which is dedicated to Colmar-born French sculptor, Auguste Bartholdi. He is best known for designing the Statue of Liberty, and here you can find displays retracing his life with the main highlight being a full-size plaster model of Lady Liberty’s left ear.
EATING OUT IN COLMAR
A great place for a delicious French meal is La Table du Brocanteur on Rue d’Alspach (menus from €12) where you can tuck into dishes such as scallop carpaccio, magret de canard with oranges and cumquats, all served with fruity Alsatian wines.
For something more sophisticated, try l’Atelier du Peintre on Rue Schongauer. This Michelin-starred bistro (menus from €25), with its art-filled walls, serves up seasonal dishes such as roast quail breast fillet with hazelnut cream and fricassee of wild mushrooms with quince, salsify and oregano jus.
HOTELS IN COLMAR
Budget: Hôtel Turenne is a charming hotel located at the entrance to Colmar’s old quarter, with 56 well-appointed rooms, some with views over the historic centre. Doubles from €99.
Mid-range: Best Western Grand Hôtel Bristol is situated right next to the town’s TGV station, and comes with 57 nicely furnished rooms, a fitness centre and a spa. There is also a brasserie serving traditional Alsace dishes accompanied by regional wines. Doubles from €149.
LIVING IN COLMAR
If living in a medium-sized French town within an idyllic vineyard setting sounds appealing, then Colmar is the town for you.
The capital of the Alsace Wine Route, Colmar has a population totalling just 67,000 inhabitants and retains a strong ‘country town’ atmosphere. It is located just half an hour away from Germany and Switzerland and boasts excellent rail links to both these countries and other parts of France.
Perhaps the town’s greatest calling card is its climate. Sheltered by the neighbouring Vosges Mountains, Colmar enjoys an extremely dry microclimate, and it is the second driest town in France with just 550mm of rainfall per year.
BUYING PROPERTY IN COLMAR
The good news is that property is cheaper than the French national average. However, like many other French towns and villages, properties located in the historic centre will be more expensive. In Colmar’s fairytale old centre you can find quaint, little houses starting from €250,000. If you like the idea of more space and the beautiful Alsatian vineyards as your backdrop, then head to the suburbs where the average house price is €210,000.