Colmar, the quintessence of Alsace

Little Venice, Unterlinden Museum, the House of heads, the tanning district, Bartholdi Museum, Pfister House – we could spend all day enumerating enchanting sites in the seat of the Haut Rhin département. But we have better to do – take you round, for example.

An eminently rewarding city, it impossible to leave Colmar without that which you came for, be it a wealth of snapshots or thankful taste buds. Make sure you look out for the incredible House of heads, whose distinctive Renaissance façade features no less than 106 human heads carved out of stone. The Unterlinden Museum is another highlight. This former convent of the canonesses of the Order of Dominicans is now home to the Museum of Fine Art. After admiring the splendid Issenheim altarpiece and the exquisite collection of Rhenish Primitive art, pause in the cloisters and enjoy the refreshing garden in hot summer weather.

Did you know that Colmar is the birthplace of the Statue of Liberty, or rather of its creator Auguste Bartholdi, born here in 1834? His home, now a museum devoted to his work, will acquaint you with all sorts of interesting miscellany, such as the fact that the famous copper lady who has greeted so many immigrants arriving in America was actually a second-hand gift! She was in initially made for the Suez Canal, but after receiving a frosty welcome from Egypt, Bartholdi adapted her so that she could become a gift to celebrate the centenary of American Independence.

Just next door to Colmar Cathedral (armed with a pair of binoculars or good eyesight, you should be able to see the storks that nest on its rooftop), is the oldest house in Colmar, Pfister House. Built out of soft Vosges sandstone, it is adorned with delicate mural frescoes and an eye-catching wooden oriel corner window decorated with medallions depicting the emperors of the Holy Roman Empire.

Colmar has however not always been the picturesque little town it is today, that seems to have stepped straight out of a Walt Disney cartoon. Take Ancienne Douane Square for example. It was far from the prettiest square in Colmar when the canal that runs through its centre was little more than an open-air sewage channel, into which the butchers and tanners of the district used to blatantly tip their waste and detritus, despite the disapproving glare of Lazarus of Schwendi, diplomat and general to Charles V and Maximilian II. The old tanning district, not far away, was built on the edge of the old town precisely so as to minimise the unpleasant odours for the inhabitants of Colmar.

Little Venice is without question the town’s most picturesque district. While lacking the Bridge of Sighs or gondolas, the watery landscape is unmistakably reminiscent of that of its Italian namesake. The tradesmen used to offload their fresh produce onto the quaysides for the fruit and vegetable markets in former times.

Finally, let’s not forget that Colmar is also the capital of Alsace wine. Gewurztraminer, pinot gris, pinot noir, pinot blanc, riesling, muscat... – the list will make wine lovers’ taste buds tingle. We recommend the Martin Jund estate in the town centre. This wine-growing family business has been established in Colmar for four generations. The owners will be delighted to let you taste one of the wines produced on their 36-acre wine estate.

Useful information

Visit the Colmar Tourist Office website

The author

Arthur Bacry

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The tourist attractions mentioned

Old town of Colmar Old town of Colmar
Old town of Colmar
Maison des Têtes (House of the Heads) Maison des Têtes (House of the Heads)
Maison des Têtes (House of the Heads)
Musée Unterlinden Musée Unterlinden
Musée Unterlinden
Bartholdi Museum Bartholdi Museum
Bartholdi Museum
Pfister house Pfister house
Pfister house
The Old Customs House Square The Old Customs House Square
The Old Customs House Square
Tanners' quarter Tanners' quarter
Tanners' quarter
Little Venice Little Venice
Little Venice