In this new series of articles, American travel writer Richard Nahem, who lives in Paris, explores a great variety of destinations that are less than three hours from Paris by train.
In the Alsace region, in eastern France bordering Germany, is a very special village, Colmar.
We traveled to Colmar in July, one of the nicest months to visit weather wise, with comfortable temperatures in the mid-70s during the day.
A quick two- hour train ride on the TGV from Paris station Gare de l’Est whisked us to Strasbourg. We had a short stopover and boarded a local train to Colmar, which takes 30 minutes. The ride was quite scenic, passing the Vosges mountain range and the Alsace Wine Route, with vineyards specializing in growing grapes for Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines.
Colmar is sometimes described as the little Venice of France because of its many narrow canals. One of our first activities was a cruise in a flat bottom boat up one of the canals. The soothing, slow-paced ride gave us an opportunity to view the back of the half-timber houses with bountiful gardens and blooming flowerboxes. Part of the cruise glided by a wooded area with moss and ivy gilding the shoreline, reminiscent of an 18th century French landscape painting.
After our cruise, we worked up an appetite and went for lunch at Hotel Le Marechal, a lovely four-star hotel. Restaurant L’Echevin has chef Thierry Chefdeville, a veteran of the hotel for twenty years, preparing a host of Alsace regional dishes, such as foie gras with truffle infused with Gewurztraminer wine, terrine of rabbit and lobster perfumed with Muscat wine and stuffed farm-raised pigeon with mashed peas and apple.
Our table on the shaded veranda overlooked a canal as we dined on delicious daurade fish topped with seasonal, sautéed vegetables. We savored a rich, locally produced Munster cheese, a specialty of the region, accompanied with cumin and jam.
After our meal we took a tour of the hotel, which has been family owned for over 40 years. Constructed as a private home in 1565, Le Marcheal has 30 rooms, some with rustic décor, the others romantic and colorful, which have features such as Jacuzzi, free Wi-fi, flatscreen TV, mini-bar and air-conditioning.
Another hotel option is Quatorze, a four-star boutique hotel in a former pharmacy, hidden in a courtyard on a quiet street away from the tourist area. Decorated in mid-century style, it’s more of a hipster haven for Millennials, with a Zen-like spa offering Ayurvedic massages, modern rooms with up to the minute technology (mirror screens, iPod docking stations, LED Loewe TV) and a sexy lounge and bar area.
We ambled around the narrow streets of Colmar, discovering the half-timber houses painted in richly hues of periwinkle, orange, sunflower gold, soft pink, rust and pale green with shutters in complementary tones. Also in our travels, we found a series of Art Nouveau houses and buildings, along with some 18th century mansions turned into apartment buildings.
Colmar is the birthplace of Auguste Bartholdi (1834-1904), the sculptor and designer of the Statue of Liberty. The Bartholdi Museum, the home he grew up in, holds original models of the Statue of Liberty and the Lion of Belfort, along with his living quarters, family furniture and personal possessions.
Another treat was Saint Martins Church, a stunning classic Gothic church constructed in 1234 with beautiful red and green diamond patterned roof tiles, stone flying buttresses and red and golden stones on the outside. Inside we marveled at 13th-century stained glass windows depicting tales from the Bible, such as Abraham and Isaac, the Last Supper and the Ascension of Elijah.
At Christmas time, Colmar is transformed into a fairy tale village with oodles of lights and illuminations on the historic buildings, children singing Christmas carols on boats, ice skating rink and five Christmas markets. In 2017 the festivities are from November 25 to December 30 and open daily.
The voyage from Gare de l’Est station, Paris, to Strasbourg station takes two hours, and there are over 18 daily departures. Trains from Strasbourg to Colmar take 30 minutes and run every hour.
Go to https://en.voyages-sncf.com/en/train-ticket to buy tickets online. It’s best to book the Paris/Strasbourg, Strasbourg/Colmar separately. You can also buy tickets in Paris at any railroad station or SNCF boutique.
Hotel Le Marechal
4 Place des 6 Montagnes Noires, 68000
Phone: +33 (0) 3 89 41 60 32 http://www.hotel-le-marechal.com/en/luxury-hotel-colmar
14 Rue des Augustins, 68000
Phone: +33 (0) 3 89 20 45 20 http://www.hotelquatorze.com/en/