Add a little bit of France, a bit more of Germany, with the city planning of Venice and help from a time machine and what do you get? The charming medieval city of Colmar. Located in the Alsace region of France, Colmar’s position close to the German border has long made the town a point of contention for the two nations. During WWII, Colmar was the final town to be liberated from the Germans and nowadays German and French are both spoken in the city, though the native dialect of Alsatian is a derivative of German.
What makes Colmar so special is its preserved medieval architecture and city-structure within the old town, the effect of which is a feeling of being transported in time when entering. This time of great building and subsequent preservation is due partly to the fact that in 1226, Colmar was granted the status of a free imperial city by the Holy Roman Empire. It wasn’t until the Thirty Years’ War that the city was once again conquered, this time by the Swedish in 1632 who held the city for two years. Colmar was once again conquered in 1697, but this time by King Louis XVI of France. To better emphasize the “caught in time” magic of Colmar, professional lighting designers were hired in 2006 to illuminate the city’s most famous architecture. The town is lit-up with blues, greens and amber from nightfall on Fridays and Saturdays and every evening during major events: the International Festival, Regional Alsace Wine Fair and Christmas in Colmar.
In most of our guides, we list addresses for all our sites but Colmar is one of the few places where that isn’t necessary. All of the major sites are within easy walking distance and concentrated around the Old Town. Spending a weekend in Colmar strolling the streets and discovering all the amazing buildings it holds if half the fun (plus, there are signs)
- Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads) – Built during the Renaissance in 1609 and decorated with, you guessed it, faces.
- Maison Pfister – Dating from 1537, this wooden house is one of the oldest in Colmar.
- Saint Martin Collegiate church – Construction began in 1235 and continued for more than a century. The church’s choir, made by Wilhelm von Marburg, was completed in the mid 14th century.
- Dominican Church – Built in 1346, here you will find the famous Schongauer alterpiece ‘Virgin in the Garden of Roses’. Schongauer was born in Colmar in 1448 and is well known for both his paintings and engravings.
- Unterlinden Museum – Housed in a medieval convent near the tourist information center, here you will find furniture, armour, paintings, knitted carpets, and silverware, but the highlight is the Isenheim altarpiece by Gruenewald, a revolutionary Alsatian Renaissance painter. The collection also includes paintings by Holbein the Elder, Renoir, and Picasso.
- Little Venice, A little corner of the city with small canals reminiscent of Venice, this area is often referred to as “Le Petite Venise.”
- Bartholdi High School, Dating back to 1698.
- Maison Adolph – A civic building dating from the second half of the 14th century.
- The Koïfhus (the old Customs House) -Completed in 1480, is the town’s oldest public building.
Colmar is called the “Capital of Alasace” and therefore the capital of Alsatian wine, which due to the area’s dryness, is perfect for growing grapes. Geurwertraminer (very dry) and Muscat (very sweet) are both from this region and there are winery tours that explore the “Routes des Vines.” A charming story about the enduring legacy of wine in the area tells that Hercules stopped here on the way back from the garden of Hesperides and after drinking large quanitities of the local wine, fell into a deep sleep to discover that the herd of sheep he was attending had run off. Hercules gave chase and in his haste, left his club behind. This the reason why a club adorns the city flag.
From May 18th to September 21st 2010, every Tuesday evening Colmar will host Alsatian folk music groups in the square in front of the Old Customs House.
November 25th until January 2nd, Colmar holds it’s famous Christmas markets, decorating the entire town in a winter wonderland.
Motorway and air links – Colmar is linked to the European motorway network. Rapid North/South and East/West access to all European capitals. Direct or connecting flights to all European capitals and the rest of the world: Strasbourg-Entzheim airport: 70 km from Colmar. Euroairport – Basel – Mulhouse – Freiburg airport: 70 km from Colmar
Rail Links – Colmar is linked to the largest French and European cities either directly or with change of train. From June 2007, the TGV Est European will offer a direct link between Colmar and Paris (2h50).
Distance from a few French and European cities: Bâle (Basel) : 60 km ; Brussels : 550 km ; Frankfurt : 350 km ; Fribourg (Freiburg/ Briesgau) : 45km ; Geneva : 280 km ; Milan : 450km ; Munich (München) : 600 km ; Luxembourg : 250 km ; Lyon : 375 km ; Paris : 500 km ; Zürich : 160 km
Distance from a few Alsacian cities: Guebwiller : 26 km ; Mulhouse : 49 km ; Munster : 19 km ; Neuf-Brisach : 18 km ; Obernai : 45 km ; Ribeauvillé : 19 km ; Sélestat : 22 km ; Strasbourg : 70 km.