Travelling in French Alsace with its great variety of sites and picturesque landscapes, it might seem challenging to make up your mind on what to see and what to do. The city of Colmar will certainly attract your attention as it is located in the center of the Wine Route which is recognised as the most famous tourist route of France.
We spoke with a representative of the Bomo family, who owns one of the best hotels in the city - the «Le Marechal» hotel (ranked top 3 in Tripavisor). In an interview with EcoTourism Expert, Nathalie Vartanyan, deputy director of Le Marechal, revealed some more details about Colmar, its scenic surroundings and the hotel itself.
- Please could you tell our readers why the Bomo family decided to establish a hotel in the heart of historic Colmar? Tell us about the history of the hotel.
- It is an ordinary story common for European old towns. Initially, the house in which the hotel is located, was an average residential building but more than 40 years ago the Bomo family bought out several rooms and began to let them. Little by little, they acquired the whole building, iand in 1972 they founded the hotel. Today, this hotel is still owned by the family, it is located in the Little Venice district on the very shore of one of numerous canals of Colmar. The half-timbered house dates back to 1565. It was erected on the fortification that once surrounded the city. In the 14th century, Colmar was a labyrinth of logs and canals, among which local residents erected their homes.
- Why would you advise people who are into ecotourism to stay at your hotel? Which itinerary would you recommend?
- The “Wine Route”, which winds across Alsace and is 170 km long, is a great way to get to know the region, local landscapes and everyday life. It starts in Wissembourg and goes south through local villages with half-timbered houses of the 18th and 19th centuries. Once you reach the capital of Europe, Strasbourg, you can hike to the Kochersberg vineyards and climb the nearby hills, which offer stunning views over the Vosges and Alsatian plains.
Colmar is located near the famous Riesling vineyards, which offer tourists wonderful routes for hiking or cycling, nearby in the mountains there are local zoological parks and nurseries, which will delight not only children but also adults. The route ends in southern Alsace, where the grapes are grown on special terraces - this peculiarity gives the local wine possesses such a mouthwatering taste.
On the Wine Route you can find numerous markets for local products and local farms that are imbued with the spirit of the region.
- Which tourists stay more often at your hotel - the ones who are interested in a long-term stay or who are interested in outdoor activities? What do you think attracts them to Colmar?
- Both. It all depends on the period. In the summer, guests with children more often stay with us for a long period of time - for about a week or two, since they prefer to relax in comfort and at the same time join nature. In autumn and spring, travellers often stay at the hotel for 2-3 days for the purpose of sightseeing. From the end of November it is busy time owing to the "Christmas Market" recognised all over the world. In 2017, it was ranked the most beautiful fair in France. For the period of Christmas holidays, the houses of the town are dressed with New Year decorations.
Visiting the fair tourists can try local products, mainly from Alsace - artisans put up their products for sale, traditional songs and decorations create an unforgettable Christmas atmosphere. In 2019, Colmar will hold 6 Christmas markets, which are similar to mini-villages and are united by one theme. For example, in «Little Venice», there will be a children's Christmas market, where both grown-ups and kids can ride on an old carousel, drink hot apple juice with spices and sweets, and send a letter to Santa Claus.
You can buy foie gras, meat delicacies, wine, traditional cookies at the Dominican Square and Jeanne D’Arc Square. In the Old Customs you can find artisans - potters, jewelers, wood masters. In front of the Old Custom House there is a market selling Christmas decorations and other souvenirs.
During the winter, tourists are attracted to Colmar because of the close proximity of ski stations in the Vosges. After skiing, tourists can return to the city, which offers a greater selection of entertainment rather than the ski resorts.
- Located around Colmar, there are several protected natural regions and special environmental areas, what could you recommend to your guests who prefer «ecological tourism»?
- I recommend visiting the Montagne des Singes reserve (Monkey Mountain), which is home to Barbary macaques (or mago). This park is very popular with adults and children, as it is located high in the mountains, and the animals roam freely in 60 acres of beautiful forest. At the entrance, everyone is provided with popcorn and animals eat it right out of your hand.
The zoo “Volerie des Aigles” (eagle park) is located right next to the monkey mountain, offering quiet time in the forest enjoying the view on the majestic birds.
Cycling routes are also popular with tourists. The regional authorities have been actively addressing the problem of air pollution. To reduce the level of exhaust gases from Colmar, they launched a small minibus that takes guests to the most impressive cities and major wineries.
- Talking about nature, where do you spend time with your family? Can you name your favorite park/reserve?
- I love the Haut-Koenigsbourg Castle. This castle now is one of the most visited historical monuments in France. It was built in the 12th century for strategic purposes. It helped to hold control of trade routes (wine, wheat, silver and others). However, in 1618-48, the castle was destroyed and abandoned. In 1899, Haut-Koenigsbourg was completely rebuilt by William II, who then turned it into a museum. The castle offers stunning views over Alsace plains, we often spend all day there hiking in the local forest.
- What time would you advise tourists to Colmar to plan their visits?
- I love spring, so I would recommend spring when everything is in bloom. However, festivals and holidays are often held in the city and around, in particular, in July the city holds the music festival, and now the young wine festival is underway. But in spring it is nicer.
- As a connoisseur of Alsace, what itinerary would you take if you were traveling to the region for the first time, what would you advise to visit in Colmar and its area?
- I would travel through the traditional Alsatian villages - Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Ribeauvillé, which are comprised in the list of the most beautiful villages in France. I would visit the local vineyards and reserves in the Vosges. Hiking trails can be scheduled from such towns as Eguisheim, which in 2003 was recognised as the most beautiful village in France. Kaysersberg also offers a lot of hiking tours.
In the city itself, you can just take a walk or a gondola trip in the Little Venice district. Earlier it used to be a fishmonger’s district. Market gardeners, boatmen and leather producers were attracted to the district due to a good location along the Loch River, which also served as a means of communication. The old houses that frame the river are better observed from the water.
In Colmar, I would make a break for 3-4 days to appreciate both the historical center of the city and also rich museums’ collections. The most famous are the Unterlinden Museum, which used to be a Dominican monastery and dates from the 13th century, the Bartholdy Museum dedicated to the creator of the Statue of Liberty and the Museum natural history.
Alsace from this point is a very attractive destination. This region has a lot to offer not only for culture admirers but also for nature lovers.