Difference between revisions of "Colmar"
Revision as of 19:15, 28 February 2007
Colmar lies between Basle 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 boarder at Breisach (to which there is a direct train from Freiburg). Driving the car to Colmar will lead you along the same route. Even the comfortablity of the journey is comparable to that of public transport: There is a motorway connecting Basle and Strasbourg but only a normal road from Freiburg.
If you arrive by plane you will probably use one of the closest airports: Euroairport at Basle (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.
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.
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 Comar's old streets is the best way to explore it. There is a variety of shops of differnet sorts. The Alsatian cousine 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 neighbour Germany, Switzerland and even Strasbourg. Apart from these you could find typical crafts which can be bought as souvenirs. Notable is the typical Alsation 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.
Alsace is known for its pastries. Kugelhopf is a well-known cake similar in shape to the American Bundt cake and has raisons 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. Macaroons 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 coloured cookies made from almond flour (which has a melt-in-your-mouth quality) with an icing in between. In sweet shop 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 (or Flemkusch in Alsatian) is an Alsatian concurrence to the Pizza, though extremely different. Traditionally, it is made of a thin layer of dough, covered with cream fraiche (light fresh cheese that doesnt truely have an American equivilent), 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 specialities include the Black Forest cake (with raspberry, 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 Sauer Kraut (or chou croute in French). This is pickled cabbaged served hot with boiled potatoes and a variety of meats. Chou Croute aux Poissons (with fish) is becoming more widespread.
Alsace is a traditional area of wine production and its wine is widely esteemed in France and outside it. In 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 Brittagne 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.
Although Colmar was French for most of its modern history (as all of Alsace & also Lorraine), it has changed nationalities many times over history between France and German. During WWII Hitler reclaimed Alsace (it was annexed to France after Germany lost WWI) and it is quite shocking to see photographs from the time with Nazi flags hanging through the streets. Cultural supression of local culture led to the francification of Alsace (and Colmar with it). Notwithstanding, you will still hear a lot of German spoken in Colmar, some because of the numerous tourists from neighbouring Germany and Switzerland, but some spoken by native Alsacians, also speak German. Alsatian is the native language of the residents, although it is dying out because many young generations do not speak it. Alsatian is NOT German, although it shares many similiarities and sounds similiar. In some parts of the city, and on streets signs in Strasbourg, streetsigns will be written in French and Alsation underneath. Among the minority languages of France, Alsacian is the most prosperous one nowadays, and many Alsatians will be delighted to be adressed in Alsatian rather than in French (though not all of them). If you do not speak French, German will always be the next preference. English is unfortunately not widely spoken, however if you politely address someone in French they may make an effort to help you.
You can use it as your starting point for travels in Alsace.