The city of Colmar is beloved for its magical Christmas atmosphere. The Christmas Market held in Colmar is one of the most beautiful and visited across Europe. We decided to visit Colmar and two nearby charming villages – Riquewihr and Ribeauvillé – in November, to enjoy the colors of autumn, the sun and the silent streets before the big party begins. If you are thinking of a getaway in Alsace and need more insights, here you can find a list of activities to do in the area; tips on where to stay, where to park and other things that might be useful to you. By the way, this year The Christmas Market in Colmar opens on 26th November.
Visit Colmar, Alsace: travel options and pandemic formalities
The decision to visit Colmar was spontaneous and did not require much effort. Since we are currently in Marburg, we drove less than four hours. The fact that we are in Germany now has made our journey much easier. If you are coming from another European country and you intend to fly, check the ticket price for the nearest airport, in this case – Strasbourg. At the same time, check the conditions for traveling to France. The so-called „3G” rule (one should present the green certificate which proves that he/she is vaccinated, tested or recovered) are in place for restaurants, museums.
In addition, you need to complete a self-declaration stating that you have no symptoms of COVID-19. You can download it from the website of the French Ministry of the Interior. As we traveled by car, we were not stopped for routine checks or anything else. The crossing from Germany to France is as friendly and picturesque, over the river Rhine, on the bridge called “Pont de l’Europe”. The “Greenpass” was not checked at the accommodation (we had self check-in). But its better to make sure that you have it. When we visited France, the mask was not mandatory in open spaces, but you must wear it indoors.
Why is Colmar so special?
The baroque and gothic architecture of the German space determines us every time to stare at the buildings, without saying a word. Just simply to admire. These architectural styles are also to find in Colmar, the city being under German influence between 1871-1919 and then between 1940-1947. The famous Fachwerk style houses, with their colors and shapes so imperfect, but so spectacular are a reason to see this city. Colmar is the birthplace of the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi, the author of the famous Statue of Liberty in New York (with a copy, obviously, in Colmar). French culture and architecture did not yield to the Germanic influence and left impressive neoclassical and neo-baroque buildings to today’s generations. Here is a short list of what we think you must see if you decide to visit Colmar and nearby places:
– Admire the Fachwerk houses in the historic center
Fachwerkhäuser (from German) are constructions on wooden structures mounted horizontally, vertically and obliquely. These houses can be easily distinguished due to the fact that the wooden beams are visible in the facade. Depending on the region, the beams were painted and sculpted according to the specifics of the place. The preparation of the wood, its placement was an art in itself, as they were mounted without metal fasteners such as nails or screws. The space between the beams was filled with clay, stones or bricks.
This type of construction seems to be attested since the Middle Ages and was so used until the nineteenth century due to the availability of wood and ease of transport. Fachwerk type houses are found mostly in Germany, but also in regions of Switzerland, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Poland, the Czech Republic, Great Britain. There are also constructions with Fachwerk style elements in Romania: an example that you should know is Peles Castle in Sinaia:
With the great industrialization, this type of houses began to be despised. People were trying to cover the facades with other materials to hide the wood. With the recognition of wood as a romantic element and as an important rustic element, Fachwerk-style houses began to enjoy appreciation again. Although they are really imperfect, sloping, crooked, these houses are really very special. So be careful not to overlook them.
– Collegiate Church of Saint Martin of Colmar
Built between 1235 and 1365, the St. Martin’s religious building is an important example of Gothic architecture in Alsace. Although it is still called the Cathedral of Colmar by the people, it did not fulfill this role, except 10 years at the end of the 18th century. It has an altitude of 71 meters, and it’s strategic location makes it impossible to be neglected.
– La Maison des Tetes
This house, built in 1609 in the name of the merchant Anton Burger, is one of the best known in Colmar and has been classified as a historical monument since 1898. Anton Burger was a merchant and took an active part in the life of the city, first as a city councilor, then became mayor. At the end of the 16th century he was forced to flee to Basel, where he remained until the end of his days. The house was sold to another owner. However, the building is known to this day due to its unusual decoration, composed of an abundance of figurines, over 100 in number. There was a restaurant in the building, and following a major investment, there is a hotel with 21 rooms. On the building there is a statue dedicated to the barrel maker from Alsace, made by the sculptor Bartholdi in 1902. The statue took up position at the top of the gable, after building was used as the Colmar Bourse aux Vins (Wine Exchange).
– Pfister House
The Pfister House was built in 1537 for a wealthy hatter named Ludwig Schurer and, despite its medieval features, is the first example of architectural renaissance in Colmar. The name comes from the family that restored it and lived there between 1841 and 1892. The building became one of the symbols of the old Colmar, thanks to the wooden gallery, murals depicting biblical and secular scenes.
– The museums of Colmar
One of them is the Bartholdi Museum. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, it remains closed to visitors for an indefinite period of time. Tourists have access only to the courtyard. The museum is actually arranged in the building where the sculptor was born. The good part is that the Unterlinden Museum is open. For art lovers, Unterlinden is a must see. One good reason is the Altar of Isenheim – a masterpiece by the painter Matthias Grünewald from the early sixteenth century, that can be seen here.
A ticket for adults costs 13 euros, for students up to 30 years – 8 euros. For children the entrance is free. Tickets can also be booked online.
– Little Venice (well, let’s clarify that)
Little Venice is a picturesque neighborhood in the southern part of the Colmar city, which is crossed by the river Lauch. The comparison with Venice is, of course, a hyperbolization as a marketing technique, because there is no connection between the two. And that doesn’t make the small neighborhood on Lauch less appealing. On the contrary, it has it’s own specific charm, which cannot and should not be compared with any other city. The river is crossed by two charming bridges, from where you can admire the Fachwerk-style houses. Also in the area you can visit the covered market in Colmar. It is worth going there, because you will find a wide variety of local products. From the square, you have access to a nice terrace, right close to the canal. Short boat trips on the quays are available.
Now it’s time for the Alsacian Wine Road
The Alsace Wine Route stretches for 170 km, starting at the foot of the Vosges Mountains, through the vineyards of Alsace region, connecting Marlenheim in the north with Thann in the south. In the Ribeauvillé-Riquewihr region there are 11 wine villages that are crossed by the Alsace Wine Route.
The Riquewihr is only 14 km from Colmar and, to be honest, I liked it the most. It might be because I prefer small, compact villages and towns that convey emotion. And that is exactly that did Riquewihr to me. Even though many restaurants were closed due to the pandemic, the chairs were perched on top of each other, covered with rusty leaves, and the “Closed” sign was hanging on the gates, I couldn’t feel sad.
Because there is so much color, the locals are busy with a lot of work, because they keep the shops open, the tourists are also busy, even if it is cold and they hide under scarves and thick clothes. In the air there is a sweet, inviting smell of cakes, the wine shops are open, even if there are no more tastings, and the visitors smile, because at every step – from the buildings – teddy bears and all kinds of figurines hanging on the facades of colorful buildings “monitor” us.
Parking in Riquewihr costs 2.20 euros for an hour.
Ribeauvillé is just a few kilometers away. I found it somewhat neglected by tourists. Fewer stores were open, but I found it just as beautiful as Riquewihr. To give you an extra reason not to avoid it, know that here the prices for sweets and other snacks are much more affordable. Unfortunately, wine tastings were not possible during this period, but in order not to leave empty-handed, we took a wine with us, to enjoy it at home 🙂
I also recommend going to Saint-Ulrich Castle. It is “perched” on the highest point near the village (528 meters), as befits a castle. It is visible from the old buildings and narrow streets in Ribeauvillé, so you can’t miss it.
The list of charming villages on the Wine Road is much longer. If you visit Alsace in spring, summer or early autumn, don’t miss Kaysersberg, Eguisheim, Obernai or Thann.
Where to stay in Colmar?
We chose to stay at Les Appartements Saint Nicolas, a 4-star rated downtown location. The apartments are simply huge. We chose the attic apartment. We liked first of all the… price 😀 Two nights costed us 105 euros, we had self check-in, we had privacy aaaaaand great window-views. Now that the Christmas Fair is starting, prices may double, so plan your budget well. We had a kitchen equipped with everything, including a dishwasher and a cooking oven. Everything was clean, and in the bathroom – a huge bathtub 🙂
Where to park in Colmar
If you visit Colmar by car, you may have an extra hassle, because the prices here tend to be inaccessible even for the locals. But there are always solutions. We found (and recommend to you) a free car parking in Colmar and it has a good location – less than 1 kilometer from the city center. If you are still willing to pay for parking in the central area, there are several options. The parking near the Church of Saint-Martin is one of them. But you should know that on Thursdays and Saturdays there are Market-days. So don’t forget to find another park place, otherwise your car will be picked up by the police and this is something you would like to avoid.
Where to eat in Colmar
The simple answer is “In the kitchen” 😀
Colmar is not a cheap destination. So moving away from the center would be a great idea. Maybe even eat out of town. At Le Schlossberg Restaurant in Zellemberg you will find where to eat, but also to sleep 🙂 (they have rooms for rent). It is worth going there for a foie gras and a glass of Alsatian wine.
I hope we’ve inspired you for a getaway in Alsace 🙂
Do not hesitate to tell us about your experience in France.