A Tale of Two Cities
After the mountain scenery of Lake Geneva, Lac Léman to the locals, we moved through Switzerland into the Alsace region of France with Strasbourg as our destination for a rendezvous with friends. Uncharacteristically for us, we travelled on the motorways as our journey was time critical, so the scenery was not of a ‘road less travelled’ quality. Although this once, we allowed ourselves speed and not spectacle.
However, we did notice a big shift in the landscape which had flattened out from the curvaceous mountains to fields of sunflowers, grape-vines and cabbages – an interesting agricultural combination! The villages’ names were also morphing into something much more Francho-Germanic. With such close proximity to the German border, you get the distinct impression that some territorial blood was spilt here.
Strasbourg is most well-known for three things; first has to the be the Christmas Markets, which I can imagine, having now visited, is quite a sensual experience. The second is its seat of European Parliament and finally its UNESCO city rating, most essentially the Petit France region of this Alsace capital, which is strewn with colourful tudor style buildings and flower clad canals and rivers.
Our first view of Strasbourg was from the Barrage Vauban looking out towards the Ponts Couverts, four defensive bridges errected in 13 Century. You can still see the cannons in place to ward of those power-hungry tikes! This entry position into the city is well worth being first on your list as you will be wowed as you meander through the cobbled streets, quaint squares populated with inviting looking bars and cafés and imposing looking churches.
If you pass your gaze beyond the tourist tat that is on offer around the lanes, Strasbourg’s inner sanctum is a delight and you are never far away from the protective embrace of the surrounding River Ill. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is breathtaking and towers above you as you walk into the main square. Although there is an unsettling presence of armed guards around – sadly a sign of our times, the buzz of the tourist and of course the stupendous architecture of Our Lady commands your attention. The Cathedral transforms from its day-time splendour into a magical Light Show at night during July and August where you will be entertained and enthralled by a musical and visual display that will have you ‘oohing’ and ‘ahhing’ like Bonfire Night. Definitely worth staying up for – even in the rain! Strasbourg is a delight and with its fusion of history, charm and modern influence, young and old can appreciate its essence and soul.
And then there’s Colmar….. You can’t visit Strasbourg without taking a day to marvel at Colmar, which is only an hour and 40 odd miles away. To try comparing the two places, would do both an injustice, although there is definitely a different feel to this characterful place. It’s like walking into a scene from some Disney creation of Hansel and Gretel. You could almost expect to see seven foot tall Donald and Micky walking towards you – mistakingly feeling like you are in Disneyland. Although this place has so much more authenticity than that.
I’m trying to liken Colmar to an English town to give you a sense of its appeal and the closest I can get to is Shakespeare’s home town, Stratford upon Avon. They both have tudor style buildings, canals and a story. And yet you need to add a dash more wow and shake of OMG to the mix to really get half way to Colmar’s gorgeousness.
I have learned to measure my love for a place by the number of tears I shed and Colmar most definitely appears on the Tearful List. It’s impossible not to be impressed, as around every corner there is yet another colourful, quirky, wonky looking Gingerbread house with beautiful, crooked walls painted with murals, Germanic turrets and charming shop signs hanging from the walls.
You will hear some people talk about Colmar as a ‘Little Venice’, although I would avoid this filtering into your expectations. There are indeed a couple of canals that run through part of the town and they are very sweet, although Venice it is not – it is Colmar and it stands proudly on its own magnificent reputation. The town is simply delightful, so be prepared for your eyes to be feasted with a pix and mix of visual delights as if a child in a sweetie shop.
It’s really hard to find the right adjectives to describe Colmar any further than I have attempted to here. It’s one of those places, that you just have to visit for yourself and then you will understand exactly my authoring challenge. I think the pictures will have to convey the rest. I simply urge you to go and feel its vibe for yourself.