Since I was a kid, I was dreaming about the perfect vacation in France. Throughout the last five years, I had a chance to visit Paris and the South of France, but I knew this country had much more to offer.
Last summer, I decided to choose a less popular place on the French border with Switzerland and Germany.
Colmar – the commune where Renaissance is a lifestyle and wine is served at any time of the day. Through this life-changing experience, I saw France as I always imagined it – its smells, sights, sounds, tastes… everything fitted into place.
Colmar is a medieval border town in the North-East of France, settled between Strasbourg and Basel. This is the third-largest commune in the Alsace region, which is a famous center of wine production. I had seen this kind of natural landscape in images, but I always thought they were inflated with effects. The vivid nature was perfectly supplemented with colorful, playful architecture. There are no huge buildings and breathtaking monuments in this place; but I still felt like I was witnessing the greatest Renaissance architecture the world has seen. I had no need to rent a vehicle or take taxis in Colmar. The best way to explore this place was by wandering through its streets, especially around the old town.
Before I even arrived to Colmar, I knew which landmark I was going to see first – a wonderful wooden building called The House of Heads (Maison des Tȇtes). This is one of the oldest buildings in Colmar; it was built in 1609 and reconstructed in 2012. The facade is decorated with 106 heads that convey different characters and emotions. I spent hours and hours looking through the faces, trying to imagine the creator’s inspiration. The sculptures are symbolic; they represent the winds, Time, Fortune, or different muses.
Colmar is also home to many museums. I didn’t have time to visit all of them, but I couldn’t miss the Unterlinden Museum, which is positioned in a medieval monastery. Among the various exhibits (paintings, furniture, and silver jewelry), one attraction immediately caught my eye: the Isenheim Altarpiece that was sculptured and painted by the German artists Haguenau and Grunewald. I am not an art aficionado, but I was still amazed by the inventiveness of this piece. Although it was created in the 16th century, it looks unexpectedly contemporary. This museum also houses a great collection of Renoir and Picasso, who mesmerized me with their bold presence.
This place awakened many impressions, but this was the main one: love for life. The night walks were special. The magical storefronts lured me into getting more souvenirs than I needed, and the restaurants seduced me with the memorable tastes of traditional French wine and cuisine. The famous Kugelhopf cake seemed simple and uninviting at first, but I was amazed by the buttery, zesty taste of this sweet yeast bread. The romantic vibe of Colmar is completed with La Petite Venise (Little Venice) – the course of the Lauch in Colmar, with picturesque houses on both sides of the river. The 30-minute boat ride through Petite Venice was enough for me to realize that Colmar lives and breathes through romance.
After so many vacations in big cities and popular places, Colmar made me realize: the spirit of a country can’t be felt in the most attractive tourist destinations. This small commune pulsated through the smells, tastes, and sights of the France I always wanted to see. The architecture and art add sophistication to the place, but everything still feels natural and vibrant. In my memory, Colmar is carved as a testimonial of eternal love for life.
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