The story goes that in the summer of 1935 Walt Disney went on a grand European tour that took him through England, France, Germany, and Italy. He was apparently greatly inspired by what he saw, especially in the majestic castles that each of these countries had to offer, so much so that Cinderella’s Castle that opened 20 years later in California’s Disneyland is said to have been based on what he encountered on this trip. From what I’ve read, a Disney official did confirm that Germany’s Neuschwanstein Castle was a great influence but we’ve seen other castles claiming that they too were etched into the memory of the creator of Mickey Mouse. I don’t know if that’s a bit of “Washington slept here” European style but his theme parks and films do sometimes show images we might associate with England…or is it Germany…or maybe France?
If Walt Disney visited the northeast corner of France known as Alsace, it’s no wonder that he might have been confused about his geographic location. Country borders have long been a source of rivalry. I was surprised to read that even the line dividing Spain and Portugal that has remained essentially unchanged since 1297 still has to this day an 18 km (11 miles) disputed section. Although the Alsatian border between France and Germany now seems settled, each has battled for ownership over the last few centuries. That helps to explain why you might be standing at the bar of a German Weinstube ordering a glass of French Bordeaux. There’s no better place to see this phenomenon than in the picturesque town of Colmar.
We’ve had fun in Disney theme parks on both coasts of the US but to walk cobbled stoned streets lined with half-timbered houses and watch narrow boats glide gracefully through canals dating from at least the 1300s puts the “real” in history. We had no agenda on this trip other than to wander the lanes of the oldest part of town and enjoy the atmosphere. An online guide that we’ve used for other European cities, PlanetWare, had several suggestions of what we might want to see. There are numerous Renaissance homes including the wonderfully decorated Maison des Têtes, now a 5-star hotel, from 1609. Nearby, the 15th century former customs house has a beautiful green tile roof that contrasted nicely with the blue, white, and yellow wooden shutters of its neighboring buildings. There was lots to discover in neighborhoods with names like Little Venice, the Tanners’ Quarter, and Fishermans’ Quai.
Architecture and scenery aren’t the only parts of the town that might fool you into believing that you’ve crossed the Rhine river into Germany. Restaurant menus overflow with a variety of dishes featuring pork, cabbage, and potatoes. A speciality of the region is Flammkuchen, that the French call tarte flambée, which is a thin crispy flatbread covered with gruyère cheese and, if you like, onions, mushrooms, maybe ham. Traditionally baked in a wood-fired oven until the cheese bubbles and then served on a large wooden platter. We stopped for lunch by the water at La Krutenau where the waiter assured us that we could have anything we wanted to eat as long as it was Flammkuchen since that was all their kitchen served. The perfect choice for us to be paired with a bottle of the local Riesling wine.
Descriptions we’ve seen online describe Colmar with words such as “charming” and “enchanting”. Those are not exaggerations. We’ve visited there twice and I could see returning for another look. Before the days of all-inclusive passes, Disney parks offered books of tickets ranging from A to E, with the higher letters representing the more valuable rides. Colmar is a definite E!
Colmar Tourism https://www.tourisme-colmar.com/en/
PlanetWare Colmar http://www.planetware.com/tourist-attractions-/colmar-f-a-col.htm