Things to Do in Colmar
With such an evocative name, it’s not hard to imagine what Little Venice in Colmar looks like: a peaceful canal – the Lauch River, more precisely – flanked by colorful Alsatian half-timbered houses on either side of it. The canal really is at the center of Colmar’s history; on one left, the fish and vegetable historic market district, and, on the other, the equally significant tannery markets and slaughterhouses. All are, of course, incredibly picturesque. Little Venice offers what visitors often feel is the ultimate Alsace money shot. Scattered around the canal are traditional winstubs and uneven cobblestone streets – this is as close as one can possibly get to stepping back in time. Houses along the canal used to belong to powerful fishing and farming families, which explains their sometimes extravagant features. It is possible to book a gondola ride on the Lauch River in the summertime- it really is the best way to admire the magnificent houses.
The self-proclaimed capital of the Alsace wine region, Colmar is an undeniable highlight of the famous Alsace Wine Route and renowned for its beautifully preserved medieval center. Colmar is postcard-worthy from all angles, with its half-timbered buildings painted in a rainbow of colors, fishing boats bobbing along the flower-lined canal ways and maze of cobblestone lanes dotted with small cafés and artisan shops.
Colmar’s compact center makes it feel more like a village than a town, and the main sights can be easily explored on foot, including architectural gems like the dramatic Maison des Tetes (House of the Heads), the 16th-century wooden Maison Pfister (Pfister House) and the pink sandstone St Martin Church. Additional highlights of Colmar include Mathias Grünewald’s 16th-century Issenheim Altarpiece, on show at the Unterlinden Museum; the Bartholdi museum, dedicated to the Colmar-born architect and the aptly-named La Petite Venis.
The attention-grabbing, exuberant house on Rue des Marchands is a must in Colmar. Built in 1537 for wealthy hatter from nearby Besançon named Ludwig Scherer, the house boasts extravagantly ornate frescoes (representing Germanic emperors and Biblical scenes) and medallions with typical medieval features; it is, however, regarded as the finest example of Colmar’s architectural renaissance. Maison Pfister also boasts a beautifully carved balcony, long wooden galleries, octagonal turret, a two-story corner oriel, and ground-floor arcades. The house is named after the family that lived in it and restored it in the late 19th century. It was made a historic monument of France in 1927.
Located at the intersection of Colmar’s two major roads back in the medieval days, the Koifhus always had a strategic mission. The former customs house was built in 1480 and was mainly used for two things: the ground floor was a massive warehouse used for storage, and the second floor served as a tax office for import/export and a meeting area for the magistrate and the emperors of Alsace, which later on became the Colmar Chamber of Commerce. Several buildings were added onto the existing one throughout the years, creating an amalgam of architectural styles and proving that the Koifhus was significant enough, both commercially and locally, to justify extensive renovation and expansion works. The roof, which consists of colorful varnished tiles, is particularly striking. Wondering which part is the oldest? Look for the two-headed eagle of the Empire, which surmounts the two main entrances. Koifhus was made a historic monument of France in 1974.