The final stop on our fall 2019 trip was Colmar, France, which we reached by taking the “scenic route” Alpine through southern Germany, the western edge of Austria, and Switzerland. Unfortunately the route disappointed due to heavy rain and fog, which obscured the views of the mountains and Lake Constance, and increased the traffic. Oh well, now we have a reason to return… At the very least, it was interesting crossing all of the borders – we had to buy a vignette to drive through Switzerland, and we got confused and bought it in Austria when we thought we were already in Switzerland. Good thing, though, as we avoided a long line at the Swiss border, which unlike the other borders we had crossed was manned with gates and military personnel.
After the whirlwind of Munich during Oktoberfest, the slower, off-season pace of the Alsace region was just what the doctor ordered. We stayed in an apartment found on Booking.com: Les Appartements Saint-Martin. Tucked away in a courtyard in the shadow of Eglise Saint-Martin, our room was comfortable and well-stocked. It was a bit of an adventure on narrow cobblestoned one-way streets finding the place, and then finding the free parking lot which was about 3/4 mile away, but the location couldn’t have been better for wandering Colmar’s timeworn avenues.
After 9 days traveling in Germany, we were looking forward to the change in cuisine from pork-and-potato heavy German food to the French-influenced Alsatian dishes and bakeries. Our first night in Colmar, we made our way to “Le Petite Venise”, a scenic neighborhood interspersed with canals, and were lucky to find a table at Brasserie Schwendi, a popular cafe. Here we tried the two house specialties:
Tarte Flambee is a flatbread made with ham, onions, and goat cheese, and Roasti with Pork, comes in a cast iron skillet and was, basically, pork-and-potatoes, but with cream and cheese to make it even more fattening. We weren’t complaining, it was delicious! Oo-la-la!
We had two full days to spend in Colmar before heading toward Frankfurt and our flight home. The first, a Saturday, was spent wandering the little town. It was chilly and rainy, so we took it pretty easy, but my activity app still says we clocked over 6 miles. We performed all the classic tourist Oo-la-la activities: shopping in the stylish French boutiques, stopping for coffee and pastry in a cute bakery, visiting the cheesy gift shops, exploring the church, trying out my very limited French, and taking photos of the quaint little town.
We also visited two wine tasting rooms – a great activity for a bad weather day when you aren’t driving! I can recommend both Domaine Martin Jund and Domaine Karcher. We actually ordered wine from Domaine Karcher and shipped it home to stock our wine room with excellent, well priced whites. The wines cost as little as $6/bottle, although shipping costs are high so it only makes sense to send a full case or two.
Although it was decidedly not Colmar’s peak season, it was a Saturday, and there seemed to be many visitors in the town, primarily French and German speaking. We didn’t have a dinner reservation – MISTAKE! – and were surprised that a number of restaurants were “Complet” – full and not accepting more diners, even if we were willing to wait. Some actually had signs on the door – don’t even bother asking. The better restaurants in Colmar don’t try to turn tables the way American restaurants do – they seem satisfied with one seating per table. After trying a number of places in the La Petite Venise area, we wandered back toward our apartment with the intention of finding dinner at a little Italian place just across the street. On the way, though, we discovered Le Maharajah, a small, family-run Indian restaurant on Grand Rue – what a find! Maybe we were just so tired of the pork-and-potatoes that the different cuisine woke up our taste buds, but we really enjoyed the food here. Online reviews of Le Maharajah (which doesn’t have a website) aren’t spectacular, but we are glad we ignored them.
On our second day in Colmar, a Sunday, all of the shops were closed as expected. So we took to the Route-des-vins, the Wine Road that winds through the lower Alsace region. We didn’t go as far as Strasbourg, which is the largest city in the area, because we were a little citied-out after Munich. We intended on visiting a chateau high above the little town of Riquewihr, but once again the weather daunted us, and the chateau was enveloped in clouds so we skipped it. We also tried to stop at the harvest Wine Festival in Eguisheim, but were unable to find parking within the tiny, walled city – it was raining again, and we didn’t want to be too far from the car – so we left in a bit of frustration. Here are a couple of photos from our drive:
That evening, we ended up back at Brasserie Schwendi – not very creative, but we seemed to hit a wall thanks to the bad weather. We enjoyed meeting a Chinese couple who spoke excellent English; they had been traveling for 23 days throughout France – these are always my favorite travel moments. I’m always jealous of those who can travel for such a long period of time.
Our 3 days and 2 nights in Colmar was dampened by, well, the damp … but we enjoyed it enough to want to return one day in sunnier, warmer weather! We both noticed the not-so-subtle change in culture from Germany to France: Germans are more precise; French are unhurried; Germans will gladly tell you what to do; French will laugh at your mistakes but allow you to make them; French clothing is more chic and polished. I have both German and French lineage and it became a joke that “my German was showing” every time I tried to rush Husband or dictate our next move. I’m not sure what happened to my French blood, because I am definitely not unhurried or stylish! I can’t even bake well. But, I do enjoy wine so… Oo-la-la!