Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Little Town, It's a Quiet Village

Colmar, France might have been the prettiest town I've ever seen.

Actually, Colmar WAS the prettiest town I've ever seen, and was the third stop on my parents' and my February trip. My grandparents have always mentioned Alsace-Lorraine as one of our ancestors' hometowns, but I never really knew much about it. I also remember hearing that though our last name (Streisel, pronounced St-rice-l) sounded German, it was actually a French name, once pronounced St-rice-él. Well, Alsace-Lorraine is an area composed of the French Alsace and German Lorraine regions, and has been passed back and forth and fought over for centuries. Today, though Colmar is technically in France, you can see and hear Germany's influence in the German-style architecture and Alsatian dialect's German roots. 

While puttering around on Pinterest, I saw the most gorgeous picture, and was shocked to see the word "Alsace" in the caption- I had somehow never thought to look up the region, and was so excited to learn that some of my ancestors came from such a beautiful place (though we are such mutts, we've got ancestors spread out all over the place); I had to go! With Mom and Dad equally excited, we booked our hotel for a post-Germany-France-stop.

We arrived in time for a late dinner, and were immediately overwhelmed by our hotel and the restaurant we visited.

Rickety old stairs, half-timbered houses and shops, vibrant colors despite the darkness of the night. Oh my gosh, so stunning! Our hotel was rose colored and oozed charm even from the outside. On the way up to our room, we kept noticing that the carpeted stairs were slightly slanted, and the hallways more narrow than your typical hotel. The original layout of the Hotel Maréchel, dating back to 1565, had been maintained. To us it seemed like a building marvel- how had the managed to build a modern bathroom (complete with jacuzzi tub) in such a strange shaped, sloped-ceiling space?! The room picture is from the hotel website; it doesn't capture how lovely our room was, but you can see all the little nooks that we found so charming! We were also right next to Petite Venise, the tiny Venice-like canal district of the town.

The next day we had the opportunity to see the sweet little town in all it's glory. 

You know how much I love Disney? This was literally Belle's "poor provincial town" from Beauty and the Beast. I felt like any minute a herd of sheep was going to start following us around! I read somewhere that the illustrator for Beauty and the Beast got their inspiration from the Alsace region, and spent time in Colmar for their research, but of course now that I'm looking for my source, all I can find is others speculating and sharing the 'rumor.' But just one look at the little town should be enough to convince anyone. Winding cobblestones streets, the bright splashes of color no matter where you look, bridges over tiny canals, buildings dating back to the 14th century... the words "Ye" and "Olde" with an "e" would not be out of place here. Though we had one rainy day during our stay, even that wasn't enough to detract from the beauty or make the charming little town seem gloomy. Even the shingles were incredible; some buildings, like the Gothic St. Martin church (sometimes mistaken for a cathedral), had these amazing green patterned shingles that reminded me of a chameleon. So stunning!

Though Colmar buzzes with tourists during the flower-filled summer season, as well as during their extravagant Christmas markets, we had the streets to ourselves most days, and were able to enjoy leisurely strolls through the quaint shops and quiet restaurants. We loved spotting little pieces of history, like the Beauty and the Beast fountain featuring a man holding renowned Alsatian grapes. It was created by Colmar's own Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, who is known for being the designer of the Statue of Liberty! The wrought iron signs decorating shopfronts were also a glimpse back to a time were much of Colmar's residents were illiterate, and needed a creative way to advertise their shops'  services. 

How have I made it this long without mentioning food!?

While dining in those sweet, candlelit little restaurants, I fell completely in love with Tarte Flambée, a typical Alsatian dish that was like France's answer to pizza. Imagine a flaky, doughy, crepe-like, thin crust pizza, but in place of tomato and mozzarella there's  crème fraîche or fromage blanc, thinly sliced onions, and smoked bacon. Oh my gosh. I found a recipe, but have yet to try it myself- but I will! It is absolutely heavenly, especially with a glass of local wine; Alsatian wine is supposedly very good, and Colmar considers itself the capital of Alsatian wine. Yay! 
I kept thinking that this is where my parents need to retire; between Dad making friends at the covered market each morning, and Mom finding a for sale gift shop called La Boutique de MaryLou, it seemed like the town was calling for them to come back in a few years and settle down. I'm going to go ahead and agree with fate and hope that they do because I would FOR SURE be going back to visit them there!


With just a hint of provocation in your voice, you say to me, using a fairly repugnant spot of ink to cast a delicious shadow, you say to me that Colmar is the most beautiful city in Alsace. Well, my friend, you've got it wrong: Colmar is quite simply the most beautiful city in the world...
- Georges Duhamel, 1931



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