After visiting Colmar a couple years ago we decided we needed to come back again. When the opportunity arose last year to come again with Angela’s family we jumped at the chance. This colorful little town in the Alsace region of France is a the Christmas capital of the world and visiting during the holidays is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! We couldn’t wait to show Ang’s family around this fairytale town.
During the holiday season Colmar is a huge travel destination, and for good reason. With 5 Christmas markets scattered throughout the old town Colmar is one of the most festive towns in Europe and is easily accessible by train.
Right on the border of France and Germany Colmar shows signs of both cultures. Expect to taste French cuisine with German flavors. And see German architecture on the French building facades.
Stroll along the canals of Petite Venice
The undoubtedly most colorful and picturesque area of town is called Petite Venice. Situated along the canals these brightly colored buildings look like different crayons in a box and the reflection of the canals below make you feel like you are Alice in Wonderland.
Explore the Christmas Markets
During the holiday season the Christmas markets in the old town are the main attraction. There are 5 Christmas Markets in town. Each Christmas market is different and each stall sells it's own unique items. Christmas ornaments, decorations, meat, cheese, wine, chocolates, toys, candles, you name it! Grab a glass of vin chaud (hot mulled wine) to keep you warm and take a stroll through these charming little markets.
Wander the streets of the Old Town
With or without all the Christmas decorations the old town of Colmar is so adorable you will feel like you are walking through the pages of a children’s fairytale book. The streets are all cobblestone which shine when they are wet from rain and the buildings are all painted bright shades.
The entire old town is a pedestrian only zone so you can slowly meander along the alleyways at ease while taking in all the quaint little corners of Colmar.
Explore the city at night with a glass of Vin Chad (Hot Wine)
There is nothing more magical than Colmar at night. When the sun goes down the thousands of Christmas lights around the town turn on and we promise you’ve never seen Christmas lights like this.
Lights are strewn across the streets, on the buildings, and along the canals in Petite Venice. The reflection on the water make the entire canals glow with light.
TIP: Vin Chaud or hot mulled wine is a Christmas Market tradition. Buy a reusable cup for a euro and take it with you as you sample different types of mulled wine from stalls across the town. There is white, red, and rose vin chaud.
Visit the town of Eguisheim
Only a short taxi ride away from Colmar are some of the most beautiful towns in France. One of our favorites is the tiny town of Eguisheim. This walled city has only cobblestone streets and limited car traffic.
Spend an afternoon exploring the narrow alleyways, stopping to take photos of the beautifully colored building facades and stop for a glass of Alsatian wine at the winery. This day trip is a must for anyone visiting Colmar.
Eguisheim also has it’s very own Christmas market and it is as just as cute as you would expect in this adorable tiny town. The towns of Kaysersberg and Riquewihr are also nearby and worth a trip. They each have their own Christmas markets and are only a short car ride away.
Where to Stay
Hostellerie le Marechal
4 Place des 6 Montagnes Noires, 68000 Colmar, France
Constructed in 1565 on the city's original fortified walls, this 4-star hotel is located on the picturesque canals of Petite Venice. With a ton of history this is one of the most famous hotels in the old town. The rooms are small and outdated but the breakfast buffet makes up for it. With seating over the canal, fresh baked pastries, local cold cuts, foamy cappuccinos, and unlimited mimosa this buffet makes waking up in Colmar that much better.
One of the most famous photos of Petite Venice is of the canals in the picture below. And in every photo the star is the Hostellerie le Marechal which is the tall green building. If you look close you can see the breakfast/dining area of the hotel along the bottom along the canal.
Where to Eat
9 Rue des Écoles, 68000 Colmar, France
We eat at this little restaurant every time we visit Colmar. It is always packed and very warm and cozy inside. You can find Maison Rouge tucked along the cobblestone alleyways and when you smell roasting meat you will know you found the right spot.
The specialty of this restaurant is the roasted pork. You can see it spinning on a spit as soon as you open the door. This succulent pork is what keeps bringing us back time and time again.
Marche Couvert - The Covered Market of Colmar
13 Rue des Écoles, 68000 Colmar, France
We love this covered market! To get away from the cold for awhile, slip into this market for a drink and some lunch. It’s located in the Petite Venice area and has some great cheaper food options. They have everything from cheese, meat, and produce to flavored salts, oysters and wine. They even have a stall that sells Christmas decorations, go figure!
Christmas Market Stalls
Some of the best food in Colmar comes from the quaint Christmas market stalls throughout the city.
These little stalls have it all! Traditional Alsatian holiday classics like pretzels, spätzle, chestnuts, chocolates, candies and more! Our favorite’s were the warm pretzels with local cheese which goes great with a glass of vin chaud.
We love visiting this fairytale town in the Alsace during the holidays. It has to be one of the most festive places on earth during the holidays which is why visiting Colmar during Christmas should be on everyone’s bucketlist. Where do you celebrate the holidays?
The third largest city in France, Lyon is often overlooked by visitors for it's more popular sister-city; Paris. Lyon has an interesting history that dates back to the Roman times and has very intact Roman ruins that can be found around the city. Being located on the Rhône and Saône Rivers, Lyon has a unique cultural feel which is distinctly different than what you find in Paris. A UNESCO World Heritage site, a gastronomic foodie paradise, and an elegant city, Lyon should not be skipped on your next trip.
We stayed in an AirBnB apartment in the Vieux Lyon area; the old town which is all inside of the UNESCO World Heritage area. Our building was built in the 13th century; this was the wealthy part of town back then and it can be seen in the well kept architecture. Right out our door were the cobblestones alleyways and shops of the old town.
We got off the train with jackets and layers on and quickly found out it was 70 degrees. Our good luck streak of weather continues! A daily outdoor market parallels the river, locals grabbed some drinks and various foods to enjoy while soaking up the sunshine. Our recommendation, find the oyster guy!
Hidden throughout Lyon are the famous "traboules" or covered passageways that weave around the city. These passageways are something new we discovered on this visit to France that can be found in many of the cities. We love them. They are sometimes hard to find and make for a fun treasure hunt and you never know what to expect inside. The ones in Lyon are different than those in Paris. The ones in Paris are full of shops and cafes always bustling with people. In Lyon the passageways are empty with stone pillars and pastel light that cascades down over the colored archways. Your voices echo as you meander through and eventually pop out on the other side. In modern day Lyon these traboules are used for residential access, but they were first built for silk traders to move their product easily through the city.
Lyon is a food paradise, but in a different way than other cities. The food here tells a story of past and present. Of course Lyon is famous for its numerous Michelin rated restaurants, but the real star here is the "bouchons." Bouchon is the name for a restaurant found only in Lyon serving up traditional Lyonnaise cuisine. The food is very inexpensive in comparison to other cities, and the portions are large. We found numerous bouchons offering four course meals for 15-19 euros, an example meal would be french onion soup, braised meat of some kind, cheese course, and a dessert. The food is very traditional french, every last piece of the animal is being used in one way or another. Eating in Lyon was different than anywhere else we have ever been. Its old school French food done just right and not over complicated.
La Basilque Notre Dame de Fourviere sits elegantly on top of the hill overlooking Lyon. At night it is illuminated and can be seen from anywhere in the city. Not only was the outside stunning but when we walked inside it took our breath away. Giant mosaics on the walls portray Bible scenes and the towering ceiling glistened with a gold and turquoise facade. One of our favorite churches in all of Europe.
The view from the church on the hill, on clear day just to the left of the slanted roof highrise building you can see Mont Blanc and the French Alps.
These Roman ruin theaters were built in 15 BC. Yeah, this city has some serious history. These theaters still host concert performances today. Very cool.
While we were in Lyon the tragic events that occurred in Paris took place. We received so many concerned messages from family and friends back home, making sure we were okay. And we thank you guys for that. It was definitely a scary experience being so close. We had just been in Paris, one of our favorite cities, and have plans to return in a few weeks. For this to happen right in the middle of our two visits was simply scary. We've been able to see how France and Europe have reacted and joined together after this horrific event. Throughout Lyon there were memorials for those lost and the Palais de Justice was lit up in the French colors. Being here in Lyon, while all these events unfolded is something we will never forget.
The foodie central of Burgundy, Beaune. The maze of cobblestone streets here are filled with delectable restaurants and caves filled with wine. Yes, caves, it's kind of a thing here. The caves are used to store all of the wine in this town. Beaune is where you come in France for delicious food and to taste some of Burgundy's best wines.
Beaune is a walled city. It would probably take you about 45 minutes to walk around the whole thing. It's old and crumbling but it's beautiful. Here is the view of the old town from the wall.
We stayed at a funky old hotel right on the outside of town. Walking into "Le Foch" was like stepping back in time. The old time bar was filled with various trinkets that had been scattered about over the past decades.
We lucked out on our first night in Beaune by stumbling into La Buissonniere for dinner without reservations. They squeezed us in and we are so happy they did. This restaurant is ran by a husband and wife. The wife is the chef and the husband does everything else, waiter, busser, host. The food was divine. We decided to come back again on our last night for another round. We have no shame in returning to a restaurant twice, if it was a perfect 10 on your first visit; go back. La Buissonniere only has 7 tables, and one is right next to the chef. We sat reserved this table for our second visit. She chatted us up while cooking away, never skipping a beat.
We had some amazing dishes at this restaurant. But our favorite dish was langoustine (prawn) ravioli in a morel mushroom sauce with sliced prosciutto on top. We both ordered this dish the second time we came in. We both agree it is one of the most incredible things either of us have ever eaten. We would come back to Beaune just to eat this again. (Pictured below)
Our other meal was at Caveau des Arches. Set in an underground cave the ambiance of this place was a lot of fun. We each had a 3 course set menu which was delicious. We also splurged a little and ordered a bottle of Joseph Drouhin Cote de Beaune - Village. Joseph Drouphin's wines have been made here in Beaune since 1880.
Every night this incredibly dense fog would roll into town. Walking around these streets late at night in the fog was a fun spooky experience.
One evening while walking home from dinner we saw lights beginning to shine on the Cathedral. We slowed down and watched as the church was illuminated in the most vibrant light show! It lasted about 5 minutes and changed scenes from 3D visuals to murals. It was stunning to see especially since we weren't expecting it.
We loved Beaune. Good food, great wine, all in a cute French village with cobblestone streets and friendly people. We can't wait to come back and if you are looking for a new place to visit in France make sure Beaune is on your list.
Now that our wine pallets are classically trained in the fine wines of Burgundy it is now time for the next adventure. A quick train ride south to another Mecca of French cuisine, Lyon, France.
We left Paris and headed to the south of France where we could catch the last summer rays in the Côte d'Azur. We are not sure what is going on with the weather here in Europe as we fade into winter, but lets just say our rain jackets haven't been out in a long time. We both had read the book "A Year in Provence," so we were pretty excited to get our own experiences here in Provence. Our time here was filled with long mornings in the outdoor markets buying and sampling the most incredible local produce and snacks around.
We decided to splurge a little here in Aix en Provence and do a cooking class. This class was a small group of 4, us and a couple from Australia. We met at the outdoor market at 9:00 AM and the rest of the day was nothing but fun. We discussed what ingredients were highlighted this time of year, we decided on oysters, sea urchin, mussels, and artichokes, We gathered our ingredients and then headed off to the best baker in town. Food, and bread, check! But we still needed wine so off to the château we went!
For the cooking class we went back to the chefs house where we began to cook. We drank pastis, cooked, drank wine, and cooked a little more. It was 75 degrees out. Lastly we shucked some oysters and it was time to eat!
This winery was very remote and tucked away into the mountainside.
Anytime we needed some fresh herbs they were gathered from his garden.
A perfect day to cook outside.
Provence is the sought after land of slow life in the sun and endless wine. We were lucky that the weather was on our side during our time here. From here we head north and we are taking this weather with us. Off to Beaune.
On this Europe trip we decided to come to Paris twice. There is so much to see and we always leave feeling like we wanted more time. By coming here twice we knew we could stay in two different areas and really get a feel for the neighborhoods. Paris is made up of 20 arrondissements, like 20 neighborhoods. People often describe them as little villages within a big city. Our first stay was in this amazing flat with a view of the Eiffle tower. We loved to sit and watch it sparkle from our window.
What We Did
The first Sunday of every month Paris offers free admissions to many of it's best museums. We happened to be there on this day and took full advantage. It was a perfect sunny day in Paris and we museum hopped until our feet hurt. We started off at the Rodin museum because most of his sculptures are on display in the gardens.
A big part of traveling is the constant exposure to new things, and the more you know the more fun you will have. Learning a little bit about the works and life of Auguste Rodin really made our time in Paris more enjoyable. He has sculptures scattered all across the city.
Next we stopped by the Hotel Invalides which has the funniest looking bushes out front.
The last museum of the day was the Modern Art Museum with an Andy Warhol exhibit. No photography was allowed which was fine by us!
We read an article about some of the hidden gardens in Paris. Thinking of Paris as the busy and chaotic city that it is, the author made the point that these small, hidden gardens allow Parisians the opportunity to relax within the city. Follow us through our favorite park.
With your back to the Champs Elysees you will see this small green gate.
Descend down these steps into the garden.
Voila! You are now in the most magical, quiet; park in Paris.
This park has waterfalls, creeks, bamboo, and only two benches. We came here a few different times and never saw another person. It's pretty amazing to think this inner city oasis is only steps away from the hustle and bustle of the Champs Elysee.
In the 1800's these covered passageways were built to protect shoppers from the rain and snow during winter months. They are ornately decorated with mosaic floors and glistening glass roofs. Each passageway is unique, some contain only bookstores, others cafes and wine bars.
One of our favorites was Le Passage des Princes which contained only toy stores.
Finding these passageways was like a treasure hunt, they are hidden throughout the city. These passageways offer a great alternative to museums if you are looking for something new in Paris.
Detour of Montparnasse
Detour is a new app that is GPS driven and has audio tours that are different than anything you will ever experience. The tours are unique and interactive. Our tour was in the Montparnasse area of Paris led by the famous muse "Kiki de Montparnasse," We cannot express in words how incredible this tour was. The audio and GPS features led us easily around the area and led us through secret passageways, through a cemetery and even into her favorite cafe for a shot of espresso. All you need is your iPhone, the app, and some headphones.
The Crazy Years with Kiki of Montparnasse
"Kiki will lead you by the hand to the hangouts and studios frequented by the period's glitterati, from Picasso to Hemingway. She'll also explain what was behind the debauchery: a potent movement in art and literature, trying to figure out the truths behind "modern" life. While throwing light on the key art movements from the time, Kiki will take you through Montparnasse's hidden studios, secret graves, and Picasso's favorite oil pastels."
We still can't get over how spectacular this app is. The level of detail and audio made you feel like you were back in time. Detour started in San Francisco and there are a few tours in the city. We HIGHLY recommend trying one out next time you are in the bay. We cannot wait to see where this app goes. There is also a tour in Marrakech and we are itching to try it when we get there.
Rue Cler is a street that was in our neighborhood that offers a great morning market. This market has everything from a cheese shop with over 200 cheeses to a fish monger that sells everything you could think of. We came here most mornings to get a French quiche and an espresso. This street had a nice local feel and some great snacks.
What We Ate
Eating in Paris is always a serious conversation, limited time and unlimited restaurants makes for long, and heated talk. Below is a few of our favorite places. We really tried to eat at all of the best places in our neighborhood, rather than trying to eat at the best places in Paris. We already have a full "food itinerary" for when we go back in a few weeks. We have some very fun, and very French places picked out and are excited to be coming back so soon.
Le Relais de l'Entrecote
Two words - Steak and frites. That is all this place serves. You sit down at your table and they ask how you would like your steak cooked. A plate of food comes out and is drenched in the most delicious sauce. When you finish the waitress comes by and dishes you up another plate. This place does one thing and they do it well. There is always a line out the door but it's worth the wait. Come early!
La Fontaine de Mars
This is a classic French bistro that was in our neighborhood. We started with a nice aperitif of Pastis, the anise flavored liquor which is a French classic. First up was a seasonal pumpkin soup with foie gras. Then we had chicken with morel mushrooms, and seared duck breast with blackberry compote.
This place is no secret and for good reason. Even President Obama had dinner here recently.
Angelina's is famous for it's "African Hot Chocolate." This place has been in Paris for over 100 years. This hot chocolate is eloquently served and is a fun afternoon treat on a cold winter day. If you like chocolate this is a must. We recommend going to their smaller location near the Luxembourg Garden.
Le Petit Cler
We came here twice just because it was so affordable and their food was spot-on. Everything we had here was fresh and delicious. Best beef tartare we have had so far!
That wraps up our first couple days in Paris! The weather was perfect and we talked daily about our love for this amazing city. Our flights to Morocco fly out of Paris in early December, so we have another five days booked here. Our next stay is in another trendy, fun area on the other side of town. Au revoir!
Our first stop in France was a beautiful accident. We had a few days to kill before our stay in Paris so we looked at a map to see what was between the Mosel River in Germany and Paris. Smack-dab in the middle was Metz, France. We decided to take a chance and hopped on the first train not knowing what to expect. And we are so glad we did.
Fall has definitely arrived in Metz.
A mix between Venice, Paris, and Rome, Metz is a nice medium sized city. It is not a tourist destination and you won't find any English speakers here. We had a hard time adjusting to the french language after being in Germany for a month. But we had no trouble adjusting to the cuisine. Croissants and pain au chocolats for breakfast everyday.
The Temple Neuf sits on an island in the middle of the Moselle River. It was exciting to see a different section of the Moselle after spending a week biking down it in Germany sipping on wine. Now in France the same river flows through Metz, splitting in the middle and gliding past Temple Neuf.
Our fist meal in France was a success, fondue with wild mushrooms. Heaven. Vive la France!
As night fell the lights illuminated the cathedral and Temple Neuf.
More Destinations -
This was my favorite place so far, Chamonix felt like a mix of places I have been before, yet in a very different way. It has a classic ski town feel, a slower pace, and a sense of local people that are all on the same page. There were very few tourists here, which made it feel much less like traveling and more like hanging out in Tahoe. The landscape is dramatic, it makes you feel small, as you look up a glacier looks like its coming right into town from the clouds. The valley floor sits at 3,400 feet above sea level with the mountains going all the way up to 15,781 feet at the top of Mont Blanc. We came into Chamonix on the “Mont Blanc Express” train, which was the best way to arrive. It was an old classic, red train that went up the steepest slopes, as we curved through the mountainside it felt like we were going back in time. We did so many fun things here, but a few favorites were taking the gondola up to the top of Aiguille Du Midi. At the top we had views of all the mountain towns, and the terrain of snow covered mountains and glaciers. We did some hiking up to the snowline and relaxed on the mountain. We took another small train back into this canyon and got to go walk around inside a glacier ice cave. One afternoon we rode the “Alpine Sled” which turns any adult into a child if only for a few moments. I will be here again soon, winter next time.
The best way to experience the French Riviera is from the water. Luckily for us Angela's parents Jeff and Rhonda love to sail. We tagged along on their chartered sailboat and hopped from harbor to harbor seeing all that the Cote d'Azur had to offer.
When traveling to this area you will most likely start in Nice. With it's perfect beach side promenade, lively markets, and old charming streets, Nice is one of the cutest cities in France.
TIP: Spend the evening in Ville Franche de Mer. Only a 20 minute cab drive away, Ville Franche is a picturesque seaside village. It's the perfect little getaway from Nice for a romantic dinner.
A mix of people and boats, in a beautiful seaside setting make Saint-Tropez is one of the sexiest towns on earth. Mega yachts line the promenade and tourists come to take photographs and admire. The nightlife is famous on this tiny coastal town. Expect premium prices, and if you have been waiting to bust out your white linen suit; this is your time to shine.
Menton is one of the most colorful beach towns in the French Riviera. The speckled buildings and different colored alleyways make it a picture perfect Mediterranean town. Not to mention their market is one of the best around!
With a cool yachting scene Antibes is a lively little town in the French Riviera. Picture seeing luxury yaughts moored in a marina with an ancient fort and ramparts surrounding.
TIP: When staying in Antibes make sure go the Absinthe Bar. Here absinthe is served the traditional way in a glass with a silver spoon and a sugar cube on top. When entering this place make sure to grab a headdress, or funny hat from the wall, soon you will notice everyone is wearing them and once the live music starts swapping hats is inevitable.
Home to the famous film festival, Cannes is glitzy and gorgeous. Feel like a celebrity as you walk around the shopping district and marvel at the giant yachts in the marina.
TIP: Eat dinner at Le Salon des Independants up the hill. One of the best meals of the trip. The owner treats you like family and if you are lucky he will come out and sing a few songs with his guitar. The food was fantastic and it was a night we will never forget.
One of the tiniest countries in the world, Monaco is home to the Grand Prix motor race which happens in the streets once a year and the glamorous Monte Carlo casino. This little country is only 2 sq kilometers.
The heart of France and a city for lovers, Paris is one of the biggest travel destinations in the world. It’s extraordinary museums and stunning monuments make Paris a city everyone should see at least once in their lifetime. Although we only had four short days in Paris we saw as much as we could. You could easily spend a couple of weeks in the many museums, and a week in the Louvre alone. Our entire time in Paris it rained off-and-on. I (Ang) thought this made the city more romantic and we strolled along the Seine in our rain jackets anyways. We visited the breathtaking Palace of Versailles and learned about the abolition of the French monarchy in the French Revolution, which was very different than what we just learned in London about the English Civil War. Two ancient monarchies that ended with very different results. We went to the Lourve and fought the tour groups to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa but we found the other art and sculptures in the museum just as remarkable. Jeff especially liked the Ancient Egyptian section filled with old mummy sarcophaguses. Although the museums were great nothing compared to the grandeur of the Eiffel Tower standing at 1,063 feet tall. We went to the Eiffel Tower every night to watch it sparkle; it really is one of the most incredible things either of us had ever seen. We had a bad experience with some pick pocketer’s on our way to the Eiffel one night. Pick pocketing is an ongoing issue in Paris and for good reason! They were everywhere. A group of teenagers distracted us and unzipped my purse, stole my wallet and took off. Thankfully I discovered the missing wallet immediately and we were able to chase the thieves down and get the wallet back. Phew! We definitely got lucky and learned a valuable lesson of keeping a better hold of our belongings. The food in France has lived up to our high expectations; we have had some unforgettable meals. The hustle and bustle of Paris has worn us out and we are ready for some much deserved R & R in the French Riviera. Now on to our next stop.