The car was speeding towards Colmar, a distance of about 555 kms from Paris. The silent yet beautiful winter landscape was a constant companion. When we passed small cities they seemed to be models that had been placed there – not a soul was visible in and around the neatly stacked houses.
“The landscape outside Paris and its outskirts is so different; unlike back home in India where the divide between the rural and urban is receding along the roads in so many places. Isn’t it?” My husband – the eternal observer – remarked.
A Bollywood number was playing inside the car, while we munched on some sandwiches we had picked up on the way.
“See the names of the towns now – they are distinctly German.” my son in law – the budding observer- pointed out. Colmar is a small touristy town in the Grand Est region of North Eastern France. It is near the German border, a mere 16 kms east of the Rhine river. It is on the Alsatian wine route, and is an important wine center. The city prides itself on being ‘capitale des vins d’Alsace‘ or capital of Alsace wines.
As we neared the town, the green fields had given way to a landscape of rows of grape trees, standing in waiting for spring. The immaculate rows were bare and were spread as far as the eye could see. Alsatian wine is mostly white wine – the taste and flavor mirrors the history of the region.
In 1673, Louis XIV of France took over the city of Colmar. It was taken by the Germans in 1871. It returned to France in 1919 as per the Treaty of Versailles. It was again taken by the Germans in 1940, and returned to France in 1945.
The wine and the city both reflect a beautiful mélange of the two cultures that alternated as the dominant one during the political changes. The town is filled with half-timbered colorful houses, small squares, pedestrian bridges, and canals, and often called “the little Venice“. The sculptor of New York City’s Statue of Liberty, Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi, was born in Colmar in 1834.
The day after Christmas is as festive and colorful, as the run up. Once we had parked the car, we followed the people as they walked in a particular direction. Google maps told us that the famous Old Town of Colmar was in the same direction!
The most spectacular thing about the old towns in the cities of Europe is that they retain their old world flavour while being completely integrated with the present. The buildings will be of another era, the roads cobbled, the lamp posts ancient, however the shops, offices and cafes would be all modern and functioning. This seamless meshing of time has been perfected in this part of the world.
The old town of Colmar is a fairy tale place. In the holiday season it is festive, charming and simply gorgeous. While strolling the lanes and by-lanes full of decorated and festooned buildings, half timbered houses painted in different colors, and small Christmas markets in small squares one actually feels like a child. It is a walk through a Disneyland of beauty and charm that swirls in a bygone past.
Near the famous St Martin Church there was a beautifully done up gourmet Christmas market. The children wanted to eat Bratwurst sausages, being near Germany, and so we stood in line to show our ‘passe sanitaire’. It was then that I realized that I had forgotten my phone in the car. It was parked quite a distance from where we were. We decided to let it go, and instead walked to a nearby café , sat under a canopy outside and had coffee.
Without the vaccination certificate one cannot enter any café, museum or public building. So we walked the quaint old town, which is a famous tourist destination during Christmas and New Year. It was cold, and the sun was hiding, but my daughter was holding my arm as we walked. we chatted and remembered our trip to Amsterdam as we saw the canals threading the buildings.
‘It’s different though Mom. It is prettier and more colorful than other small French towns I have seen. Must be the mix of the German and French that makes it so much more attractive and distinct!’
As we sat with a glass of Alsace wine in the setting sun that evening, the mixed flavour of the region tasted exquisite and refreshing. There is always something incredibly beautiful and new from mixing and meshing – be it of time, flavour or culture. Colmar is a collage that offers all of it on a platter.
Photos courtesy Dnyaneshwar Mulay and Pujya Priyadarshni.