The weekend of September 27th, we spent 2 nights in Colmar, France.  We had been hearing great things about it for a couple of years and finally decided to go.  It’s just under a 3-hour drive from where we live in Germany.

We left home just before noon on Friday as I was off work that day.  Colmar lies on what’s called Route des Vins d’Alsace or the Alsace Wine Route.  This route is just over 100 miles long.  We decided to stop at a couple of places on the route before arriving in Colmar.

Our first stop was in Mittelbergheim.  You may be thinking that this is a very German-sounding name and if you are, then you’re correct.  The Alsace region of France was part of Germany at one time. 

The official website of the Alsace Wine Route had listed Mittelbergheim as one of their 10 “don’t miss” places on the route.  It’s also listed as one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France.  I’ve capitalized those words because there is actually an association called Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.  Villages apply on their own to become part of the association and they have to meet certain criteria, including having a population of less than 2,000. 

While we found the town nice enough, there didn’t appear to be a whole lot to see or do, so we didn’t spend too much time there.  Plus, we went into an unlocked building that had an informational sign in front of it saying it was the old town hall or something and describing the interior but when we went to take a look we got scolded in both French and German.  Apparently we weren’t supposed to be in there.  One way to solve that would be to lock your doors or put up some kind of sign or something but what do I know.  Anyway, we did see lots of grape vines.

Our next stop was Ribeauvillé.  Just as we arrived in town, one of those cheesy little tourist trains was about to leave so we hopped on.  The train went to the little village of Hunawihr, where we saw this fortified church called Saint-Jacques-le-Majeur.  A fortified church is one that has built-in defenses, such as thick walls surrounding it, where villagers can go to be protected in case of attack. 

On the way back to Ribeauvillé, the train stopped at this viewpoint so we could take photos looking out over some vineyards. 

We had a late lunch/early dinner in Ribeauvillé.  Sean had escargot and, as you can see next to that, Quiche Lorraine.  I told him he was eating the quiche in the wrong place.  We visited a few towns in the Lorraine region of France earlier this year and he never had Quiche Lorraine in any of them, but now that we were in the neighboring Alsace region he decided to have it. 

I had Tarte a L’oignon, which is an onion tart and is a common Alsatian dish. 

In the hills above the town of Ribeauvillé are 3 fortified castles.  It was kind of a hazy day, but you should be able to make out one of the castles in the background of this photo.  This is the Château de Saint-Ulrich, which dates from the 11th century.

After the train ride we walked around town for a bit and we ran across this little black kitty.  This store had just turned their sign around.  You may be able to see it in the doorway window and it says Fermé, which means “Closed”.  The cat looked rather incredulous when the shopkeepers closed the door in its face and as you can see, it really doesn’t want to take no for an answer.

This is the Metzgerturm or “butcher’s tower”.  It was built in the 13th century and was originally a city gate.

You can’t get away from stork-themed things in Alsace.  You see stork nests all over the place and practically any souvenir you would want to buy has a stork on it.  A lot of houses and storefronts have a decorative stork out front with a creepy baby dangling from it, like this one.

Centuries ago, the lord of this area was also the “king of the pipers”, as in musical instruments.  In honor of this, you will find a lot of piper statues around town such as this one.

To this day, there is an annual Piper’s Day each year (we missed it by a few weeks), complete with parade, that attracts thousands of visitors.

After we left Ribeauvillé, we headed to our main destination of Colmar. 

We were greeted by this sight as we entered the town.

What the heck is a giant Statue of Liberty replica doing in Colmar, France you may ask?  Good question!  Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, sculptor of The Statue of Liberty, was born in Colmar.  Fun fact: The official name of The Statue of Liberty sculpture is Liberty Enlightening the World.  Another fun fact: Although the statue was a gift from France to America, America had to pay for the pedestal itself.  The American public was not very enthused about this and it took several years to raise the money to pay for the pedestal.  Eventually, though, just over $100,000 (equivalent to over 2 million dollars in today’s currency) was raised to fund it.

We headed on to check into the hotel, and as it was later in the evening we just tucked in for the night.

After breakfast at the hotel the next morning, we headed out to explore Colmar.

One of the first things we ran across was another statue by Bartholdi. 

This statue depicts someone named Lazare de Schwendi.  If you zoom in on the photo you can see that he’s holding the stem of a grapevine.  He supposedly brought the “tokay” grape to France with him from Hungary.  This grape was the forerunner of the pinot gris grape, one of the major grape varieties grown in the Alsace region.

Colmar is a very picturesque city.  Here you see the little canal running through the street, surrounded by beautiful flowers and plants.

This is the back of the Koifhus, which was the old customs house.  It dates from the 15th century and is the oldest public building in Colmar.  The ground floor used to be used both as a warehouse and as a place where taxes on both imported and exported goods were imposed. 

Our next stop was the Marché Couvert or Covered Market.  We’ve been to covered markets (basically like an indoor farmer’s market) in various other places and so I almost didn’t go into this one thinking “You’ve seen on Marché Couvert, you’ve seen them all.”  I’m glad I didn’t listen to myself.  Although it was much smaller than other markets we’ve seen, it was also very bright and clean and roomy and uncrowded and was recently renovated.  Some markets have an overpowering odor of fish or meat or cheese or some combination of these, but this market didn’t.  It was really a pleasant surprise.  Just check out these cheeses….

and these pastries….

and these pretzels (yes, those are all pretzels!)…

and these flowers….

and these vegetables….

and these breads and wines….

Those French really know how to live, don’t they?  I liked this little market so much that we sat and had some coffee drinks.

I had a mochacchino, which is basically a cappuccino with chocolate added.  That’s mine on the right.  Sean had a latte macchiato.  They were both delicious and the guy who was running the place and served us was such a happy, friendly guy.  Which brings me to a little sidebar.  I know sometimes the French have a bad reputation, especially for being rude to Americans.  I am here to tell you that we have been to numerous places in France and have never, ever, ever had a bad experience with anyone.  In fact it’s been just the opposite.  Everyone has been friendly, helpful and pleasant.  Well, except for the one woman I mentioned earlier in this post who didn’t want us in that building, but that’s it.  I love France. And here’s one reason why:

Even though it was only about 10:30 in the morning, this group next to us sat down with their food that they’d gotten elsewhere in the market and ordered wine to wash it down!

The coffee place did in fact serve wine, but right across from that was also a full-service bar.  We actually went back to the market later in the day to get lunch and the bar was in full swing with people watching some kind of sporting event and cheering. 

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, but here was my delicious sandwich that I got at the market for lunch:

And of course we had chocolate éclairs for dessert.

There are benches outside the market so we sat on one to enjoy our meal.

The building you see on the right-hand side of this photo is the back of the market.  This was a very popular spot for people to take photos as you can imagine.  It was really beautiful.

While we were standing there taking photos, we saw this little canal boat tour coming through.

To the right of the boat, you may be able to make out some stairs leading to a doorway in the market.  This was from the days when goods used to be delivered by boat.  The boats would just pull right up to the doorway.  You may also be able to make out one of Colmar’s cheesy tourist trains on the bridge behind the boat.  We did not do a boat tour while we were there but we did ride the cheesy tourist train at the end of the day and it was fun.  Don’t judge.

Here’s a view of the canal from another spot. 

This is the Maison Pfister, which was built in 1537.  It was the home of a rich merchant and the outside of it was intended to show his wealth.  “Pfister” was the name of the family who lived here in the 1800s. 

This area of Colmar is actually called Petite Venise (Little Venice) and it’s very pretty.  We ended up having dinner at the restaurant you see on the left.  We were lucky enough to snag one of the few outside tables that weren’t reserved.

This guy is on the outside of the building next to Maison Pfister.  The bar he’s holding was one of Colmar’s measures, equivalent to about one of today’s meters.

This was the home of the sculptor Bartholdi and is now a museum dedicated to him.

There are just more cute half-timbered houses in this town than you can shake a stick at.

You know I have to throw in a photo of some beautiful stained glass.  This is in the St. Martin Cathedral, built in the year 1235.

Here is a close-up of a section of a house called Maison des Têtes (House of Heads), built in 1609.  This was also originally the home of a rich merchant and former mayor.  There are over 100 faces and masks on the exterior of the house.  It now houses a restaurant.

Nice kitty enjoying its surroundings.

The information sign near this stunning Renaissance door frame said that the building was erected in 1626 and was originally the meeting place for the farmers’ corporation.  It was later used for Jewish religious services before the synagogue was built.  The sign stated that the building today is used as an “administrative canteen”, but it was clearly abandoned as of the day we visited.  In fact sadly, if you zoom in on the photo, you can see a bunch of trash behind the bottom of the door frame.

This is a copy of the famous Mannekin Pis statue.  The original is in Brussels, and this copy was a gift from that city to Colmar.  As you can see, the “fountain” part wasn’t working very well the day I took the photo.

After our daytime walk around Colmar, we took a drive to the nearby town of Eguisheim, which is also on the wine route.  This year, 2013, Eguisheim has the distinction of being the Village préféré des Français (Favorite French Village).  Pope Leo IX (birth name Bruno von Eguisheim-Dagsburg) was born here in the year 1002.

I don’t know what this little building is but there was a sign on there in French and as best as I could gather it pretty much said don’t go anywhere near the house or you’ll die. 

OK, maybe it wasn’t that bad but the word “mort” (death) was definitely on that sign somewhere.  Regardless, it was a pretty building. 

We walked up the street to the left of the building, which is rue du Rempart Sud (South Rampart Street).  The defensive walls of the town used to be here.  The street circles around the town and you end up back where you started.

The houses along this street are all very nicely decorated.  This is probably partly due to the fact that the owners get money from the government towards any work they do to the exteriors of the homes.  They get 15% of the cost of the work.

We have run across lots of stork nests in our travels, but this was the first time we’ve ever seen an actual stork in the nest.  Pretty cool.

I love translations.

This sign was in the parking lot and indicates the town’s services.  In this town of less than 2,000 residents, you can see there are 35 wine merchants.  They are serious about their wine in this area.

Speaking of wine, here is the wine I had with my dinner.  You’ll see Sean has nothing to drink in front of him but he was just waiting for his beer.  Notice the stork placemats.

This is the second time I’ve had onion soup like this in France.  They bring you a bowl of onion soup and on the side is 2 pieces of bread with melted cheese, plus a bowl of shredded cheese.  You just dump them all in the soup yourself.  It was delicious.

Sean with more escargot.  He can’t get enough of ‘em.

My salmon dinner was absolutely delicious.

I didn’t get a good photo of Sean’s pork knuckle dinner but he said it was the best pork knuckle he’d ever had.  Watch out, Germany.  Thems are fightin’ words.

We topped off the dinner with some yummy Irish coffee.

After we got back to the hotel I looked up the restaurant on Trip Advisor and saw that it was rated #79 of 157 restaurants in Colmar.  We both thought our meals were fabulous so if there are 78 restaurants in Colmar that are better, I can’t wait to go back and try some of them.

We left Colmar the next morning after breakfast at the hotel and on the way home we stopped in the town of Soufflenheim, France.

This town has been known for its pottery since the Bronze Age.  Soufflenheim is one of only two pottery towns left in the area and now has fewer 20 potteries. 

Here’s a sign for one of the potteries.

Notice the mix of French first name and German surname – Henri Siegfried.  You see this a lot in this area and it’s kind of amusing.

We ended up buying 2 pieces of pottery.

The casserole dish will be functional and the little pitcher with the storks on it will be decorative.

And finally I just have to share that I gave in to my urges to purchase the types of souvenirs that I desired as a kid.

I mean really, what’s better than a giant pencil and a snow globe?

We really enjoyed our visit to the Alsace wine route area and hope to go back again before we leave Germany.

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