Guest Post by Toby Rose
Think Christmas. Think, France, Think Alsace, the French region most closely associated with Christmas cheer. The vin chaud, the chestnuts…and the snow tipped Christmas trees.
This is France’s winter wonderland and Colmar is arguably the most winter wonderful destination. This is the time of year when the town known as the Venice of the North – thanks to its quaint waterways – is festooned with festive lights which twinkle on every street corner. Garlands of light-bulb stars hang across the streets and the trees are garlanded with fairy lights.
Statues and the cobbled streets make this a magical destination at anytime of the year but dressed up for Christmas it comes into its own.
The timbered buildings with their turrets and gables are like a Hollywood set but here the magic is for real. You might even expect Bing Crosby to step round the corner in scarf and bobble hat!
Some French regions may offer smarter skiing but none can outdo Alsace for the warmth and colour of the Christmas markets and none has the quite the quaint setting that is Colmar.
While Strasbourg has the biggest and busiest Christmas market those who wish to sample seasonal glad tidings at their most authentic should head for Colmar. This is a chocolate box cute little town with a UNESCO listed centre crammed with timbered houses from yesteryear.
The cobbled streets and Dickensian lamps make this a fairy tale destination for the traveller looking for gift ideas. Local produce is crammed onto enticing displays at the covered market.
Among the specialities are cheeses, gingerbread and carved wooden toys which are produced locally and crafted with a personal touch. Close by is a very original bespoke store for soaps, l`Emerveil du Bain.
The technicolour handmade soaps look good enough to eat and the motifs, from stars, to leaves, to a Christmas tree, ignite your imagination. Be warned, these brightly coloured soaps look good enough to eat. A truly scrumptious gift idea!
Colmar is the wine capital of Alsace. So if you are looking for the finest Riesling you are in the right place. Cellar bars will tempt you with the finest from the region. At Martin Jund you can even get to stay in chamber d’hÇ¶ïte above the cellars. Temptation and a tempting choice is on hand. Alternatively visit L`Un des Sens. This is a modern wine bar, which offers fine food to accompany your wine selection.
Lussorian chose a fine white from the ArdÇ¶¦che and a local Pinot noir. Grenache the Labrador is at the door to welcome you. The team is headed up by Alexander, who worked in Paris and London, before establishing this fine wining and dining offering.
Another address for the taste buds is CÇ¶ïté Cours serving modern Alsace food. Decor is chic but the magnificent timbered staircase to the first floor dining rooms betrays the history of the establishment.
Master of the house is Emmanuel Nasti who offered a fine tasting menu, which started with a mushroom and cépes soup followed by a fillet of duck on a bed of butternut purée polished off with a choice of fruit tarts. I selected quince, which was a master class success. Sommelier Emmanuel proposed three fine local wines for each course to complement our dishes. The menu is in the hands of Olivier Nasti who was recently awarded top accolade of `meilleur ouvrier de France`. In the cobbled courtyard is a stand at which Olivier shows off his skills in a Master Cooking display.
For something more traditional the obvious choice is Baroldhi. This takes its name from the famous sin of Colmar, the sculptor Frederic Bartholdi, the creator of The Statue of Liberty. The gateway to the New World came from the imagination of a man who grew up on streets that typify the Old World.
His namesake restaurant is a truly family affair, which serves up the finest on the local lexicon of dishes. On my visit an in-season turnip was substituted for cabbage in the sauerkraut. Prepared with care and served with warmth this is a family restaurant that stars the patriarch in the kitchen and the family waiting tables. Not only that, it was overseen by an original Bartholdi statue keeping a watchful eye over diners. It does not get much more authentically Alsace than this.
Hotels are charming in Colmar in keeping with the historic setting. Among the newcomers is Villa Elyane, a chambre d’hÇ¶ïtes handily close to the station as your ideal jumping off point for a Colmar Christmas. The rooms are fitted to the highest standard and include both bath and shower. Breakfast is served by Florence at a communal table and among the delights are jams from Christine Ferber who is a favourite discovery of none other than Brad Pitt.
Talking boutique there is the Hotel 14, a designer offering in monochrome shades. The open plan rooms are loft inspired.
The lobby includes a selection of unguents and even a cute as a button selection of arments for the tiny tot. These designer items will be a guaranteed ahh factor.
And then there are the signature own label candles on sale. You can take home the scent of Colmar in a candle or offer it as a most original souvenir of a very original town. Something to offer which will conjure up Colmar the year round.
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