Photo by Worldwide Scott
Many of the world’s most beloved Christmas traditions come from Europe, with carols, Christmas trees, and even Santa himself having originated on the Old Continent. On the whole, it’s definitely the most Christmas-y region in the world not named the North Pole, and within Europe, there are a handful of spots where holiday spirit is especially strong.
Colmar is one of those magical places.
Nestled in the enchanting Alsace area of France, Colmar is a storefront Christmas village brought to life, and you’re definitely going to head there on the first regularly scheduled flying sleigh.
Half-Timbered Holiday Heaven
Home to winding streets lined with half-timbered buildings painted pastel, Colmar would feel Christmas-y in July; but show up in December, and it positively sparkles with twinkling lights, dangling decorations, and festive trees everywhere. Yes, Colmar goes all out on Christmas decorations, with a particular affection for ‘winter wonderland’ style adornments, so don’t be surprised if you spot a few playful polar bears and icicles hanging around town.
Tip: Christmastime in Colmar is at its most romantic on the bridge over the Lauch River in the Little Venice section of town, as even Colmar’s most photographed spot dons its festive finest.
Christmas markets are another reason why the season is so special in Europe, as these outdoor gatherings full of huts selling warming drinks, gifts, and gastronomical delights illuminate the darkest of December nights. Colmar has five, count them five, markets spread around its medieval streets, each with a different theme, including one for children. All the markets specialize in vin chaud (hot spiced wine), various Alsatian food specialties, and lots of Christmas-y crafts.
Tip: While they all have their appeal, the one at Place Jeanne d'Arc takes the cake with an exclusive focus on locally-made products all while being surrounded by some of Colmar’s most fantastic facades.
When it comes time to take a break for Christmas for a couple hours, Colmar is loaded with cultural and historical sights to keep you fascinated. A few examples are the Maison Pfister (built in the 1500s and still dazzling with its shimmering frescoes), the ancient custom house Ancienne Douane (the oldest public building in town), and the Gothic Saint Martin Church. There’s even a replica of the Statue of Liberty and a museum dedicated to her creator, Bartholdi, as he was a Colmar native.
Tip: The entire historic center of Colmar is pedestrian-only, so there’s no better way to discover the town than doing a walking tour, and there are many organized by the town’s tourism department.
Located in France just over the border from Germany, Colmar is home to a delicious mix of culinary influences. Pretzels are baked alongside quiche and croissants at all the local bakeries, and when dining out at night, you’ll find flammkuchen, a thin pizza-like savory treat topped with creme fraiche, spring onions and bacon, on nearly every menu.
Tip: Keep an eye out for Kugelhopf (a delicious bundt cake) at the Christmas markets throughout the season, and around St. Nicholas Day on Dec. 5, look for Mannele (little man-shaped brioche buns) for sale everywhere.