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19 January, 2019 01:23:36 PM

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Colmar, an Alsatian wonderland which you must visit

Colmar was the inspiration for the village in Disney’s film, Beauty and the Beast (2017).
Independent Online Desk/ Hindustan Times
Colmar, an Alsatian wonderland which you must visit
After several years of the Swedish rule in the 17th century, Colmar joined the Kingdom of France. But, after 1871 (with the defeat of Napolean III), the city returned to Germany until World War I.

One must have an acute weakness for towns or cities with canals — Amsterdam (Netherlands), Venice (Italy), Copenhagen (Denmark). But one of my all-time favourites is Colmar in France’s Alsace region.

This quaint town is perched on the edge of the Rhine river. This is where France meets Germany and these two distinct cultures intertwine to create a unique experience that is Colmar.

History buffs might have heard the name Alsace Lorraine as the disputed region, which switched hands between Germany and France repeatedly and also partly contributed to both the World Wars. For those who haven’t, let me elaborate. After several years of the Swedish rule in the 17th century, Colmar joined the Kingdom of France. But, after 1871 (with the defeat of Napolean III), the city returned to Germany until World War I. It was then reoccupied by the Germans during World War II. It was the last town in France to be liberated at the end of the war and it’s been French ever since. Owing to its swinging past, the locals switch between German and French languages effortlessly. It is no surprise that one will notice the German influence on Colmar’s architecture — overflowing with half-timbered medieval buildings and flower-lined canals.

Walking on the streets of Colmar, I could see my childhood fairytales come to life. There’s a wooden bell tower just perfect for Rapunzel to have let her hair down, tiny cottages that would make the perfect home for the Gingerbread man and a candy coloured bakery that Hansel and Gretel would have frequented. Any direction you look, there are pastel waterside houses, balconies overflowing with blooms, windows with heart cutouts.

The weekend was cold and it was a bit overcast, which added to the chill. However, that didn’t stop me from walking around the town as I wrapped myself in my coat. I finally reached the peak of prettiness in the area near the Quai de Poissonniers nicknamed Petit Venice. A walk along Petit Venice led me to St Peter’s Bridge where the view was a picture-perfect row of half-timbered houses by the canals. Some houses even date back to the 17th century, unscathed by the wars. Also, known as the merchants’ quarters, this is where the butchers, fishermen, pastry chefs, tanners (people who tan animal hides) lived back in the day.

Having stopped at a nearby cheese and sausage stall, the owner shared a very likeable fact about Petit Venice. If he is to be believed then, the variety of colours the buildings adorned has a story to tell. Back in the day, the different colours were used to display the types of businesses — so for example, if you were a baker, your house would be pink or a fisherman would have a red house.

One cannot just come to Colmar and not take a canal tour. I decided to take one and see a different side of the town from the boat. The 30-minute boat tour slowly glided over the shallow water and passed through the residential district, the covered market and the city centre. The man who was rowing mentioned that these boats were originally used by the market gardeners to transport their vegetables to the markets.

Once, I got off the boat tour, I walked into the Colmar Cathedral. The impressive spire of St Martin’s Church can be seen from many points around town, but it is definitely worth a look up close — both the ornate facade and the beautifully decorated interior. However, St Martin’s Church is not a cathedral (as it is not under the control of a bishop) and is only called so due to its massive structure.

Since I passed by the covered markets on the boat, I thought why not see how it looked from the inside. Markets are my happy place. A red building on the edge of the Petit Venice, designed in 1865, is home to merchants providing the best olive oil, smelly cheese and all other perfect produce you would expect for a French city.

Another great activity you could do is to rent a bicycle and ride part of the Alsatian wine route. It is a great way to explore Colmar’s countryside or another beautiful village nearby called Eguisheim.

Alternatively, you could also visit the Unterlinden Museum which covers nearly 7000 years of history. From prehistoric times to contemporary works, there’s not much the museum doesn’t touch on. The primary area of the museum is the one that houses the Isenheim Altarpiece dating back to 1515. It is a two-sided painting done on hinged panels that the priests could move depending on the season.

Looking back, my weekend was mainly popping into street side shops, sampling some traditional Alsatian biscuits and local charcuterie. This indeed is the most picturesque setting in all of France.

Colmar trivia

Colmar was the inspiration for the village in Disney’s film, Beauty and the Beast (2017).

It is the home town of the famous sculptor Frederic Bartholdi, who designed the Statue of Liberty, USA. There is a miniature Status of Liberty as you enter the town in memory of Bartholdi.

It is the driest city in France and this makes it ideal for the production of Alsatian wines.

BK

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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman

Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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