Cycling around Colmar

Our main goal during our time in Colmar was to do some cycling through some scenic villages and Alsace vineyards as we’d not done any cycling on our previous travels. We also hoped we’d find a few nice restaurants and sample some local produce – wine being top of the list!

We hired two electric bikes from Lulu Cycles in Colmar. We’d originally planned to get normal bikes but a mother and her two daughters were returning some electric bikes when we went in and they strongly recommended them so we decided to give them a go.

Our first day of cycling followed a route that went through the villages of Turckheim, Katzenthal and Ammerschweir and ended up being a loop that was about 20kms.

I had problems on the first day with my bike as the pedals would lock if I tried to use the electric assistance going up hills – which is obviously when I most wanted it. Never having used an electric bike before and with neither of us being mechanically-minded we had no idea what was wrong and how we could fix it. I ended up having to push the bike up hills. Fortunately none of the hills were very big or very steep but it was quite annoying. It turned out, when we took it back, that I had the bike in the wrong gear, so on our second day I knew what to do and it was all fine.

Luke expresses his disapproval for my bike with a dirty look.

The villages around Colmar are all very picturesque. Some more so than others, of course. Each of the ones we visited on the first day was nice and we noticed that every church we came to had a shallow but large metal basket on the roof and in most of them were nesting storks. Andrew tells me that this solves the problem of storks nesting on chimneys and creating fire hazards!

We arrived in Kazenthal in time for lunch and the first restaurant we happened upon had a Michelin plate on the outside – a good sign!

A l’Agneau (don’t ask me to pronounce it) was delightful. They didn’t raise an eyebrow at our sweaty faces or rumpled cycling clothes, despite the fat that everyone else there looked like they had a special occasion happening. We choose a €28 three course lunch that also included an amuse bouche and petit fours. All the food was deliciously fresh and perfectly cooked with lovely presentation. The manner of the staff was also excellent – despite a low level of English they asked where we from and recommended other things to see in the area as well as recommending wines to match each course.

I don’t think I could pick my favourite course, every element was superb. After drinking and eating so much we both had a cappuccino before getting on the bikes to continue our ride. I rarely drink coffee but I have come to understand its value after a heavy meal!

Thankfully most of the remaining ride was downhill and fairly straightforward. One of the downsides of this sort of sight-seeing is having to stop frequently to check the map as we didn’t know the area. It would’ve been good to have some way of attaching my phone to the handlebars to use as a satnav. I also wouldn’t have minded a rear view mirror when we were on the roads so I could see cars and how far Luke was behind me.

Our second day of riding was even more successful. This time I had the gears+electrics worked out and after a brief attempt to use my headphones with google navigation so we wouldn’t have to stop so often, we were on our way, hurtling through corn fields and feeling the wind in our hair. Well.. except when google maps took us into muddy fields and knee-high grass.

Our second day took us through the villages of Herrlisheim-près-Colmar, Eguisheim, Wettolsheim and Wintzenheim. If you’re planning on visiting any villages around Colmar I strongly urge you to leave Eguisheim until last because anywhere you go after that looks a trifle dull.

Eguisheim is even prettier than Colmar and is made up of roads that are concentric circles.

It makes it a very pleasant place to wander around, even if it’s hard to know when to stop. It’s full of places to do wine tastings – we wished we had booked a night there so we could have taken advantage of it all.

We ended up eating at Au Vieux Porche, another Michelin-listed restaurant and almost, almost, as good as A l’Agneux. If anything was missing it was possibly the attentiveness of the service. There was no effort to engage us in any conversation and when we were ready to pay it took twenty minutes for the maitre d to come to our table. Otherwise the food was excellent and it was about the same price – nearly €90 for the two of us to have three courses each, wine pairings and coffee. My first ever espresso – predictably dreadful but with the desired effect of allowing me to continue riding without falling asleep on the bike.

Unfortunately the lighting was quite dim so my photos are a bit rubbish but believe me, it was all delicious! Well, except the coffee and that wasn’t their fault.

Although we hired the bikes for four days we only used them on two due to rain and hot weather and being lazy. We really enjoyed both days despite the few issues and it is definitely a lovely and accessible part of the world for riding if you’re not super experienced.

Here’s a few more photos from Eguisheim to finish off!

Colmar, France

Colmar is the second largest city in Alsace, a north eastern province of France that borders Germany. Despite being right in the middle of a great deal of action in both world wars the medieval centre of town is astonishingly well-preserved.

The style of architecture could well be categorized as ‘German gingerbread’. Or possibly ‘pastel dollhouse’. No matter what you call it, it’s delightful.

Since we’d chosen the place as nothing but a base for exploring a wine region, we had no idea that we’d hit on one of the most beautiful cities and most popular tourist destinations in the north of France.

This is the ‘house of heads’ because it is decorated with over 170 heads. I like to hope that in medieval times they used the heads of people who stop walking right in the middle of footpaths. It was a more enlightened age.

On our first full day in town I got up at the crack of 7am and went for a wander through town so I could take photos that didn’t have families in active wear ruining the charm.

As it was, only myself and a handful of Japanese people wandered the streets, happily snapping away.

Through a small amount of research prior to booking we had ascertained that Colmar had at least one very pretty street in an area called ‘little Venice’ but it turned out that in reality Colmar has a positive maze of lovely alleys and byways and it is hard not to take hundreds of almost identical photos – as you can see!

Next: cycling around Alsace – we hire electric bikes and it is mostly successful.

Last Day In Paris

On our last day we didn’t do much at all. It was the hottest day of our stay and also a Sunday, which meant that half the shops weren’t open. I decided the first thing we had to do was eat chocolate eclairs. I hadn’t had one in years so we went to three different bakeries and tried one from each.

They might look identical but they were (slightly) different. All were excellent!

Then we spent half the day being real locals – we sat in a cafe eating french food and drinking. Aperol Spritz for me and beer for Luke.

Lovely! Well, except for the wasps. Wasps everywhere in Europe right now! Everywhere we’ve been the pleasure of sitting outside and inhaling other people’s cigarette smoke has been mitigated by wasps trying to get into our drinks and food.

After this exceptionally lazy day we packed our bags, ready to head for Colmar via Strasbourg.

A few last examples of Paris street art. For those who like this sort of thing I have to note that stencils seem to be hugely popular here. Maybe they’re quicker to put up?

Paris

We caught a TGV train from Nice to Paris and it was a delightfully quiet ride compared to our last train journey. We watched rain pour down the windows and arrived in Paris to a delightful 24 degrees. Such a nice change from 30+!

Our hotel (the Hotel Audran) was in Montmartre, only a few blocks from Sacre Coer.

We were offered a room on the street side or behind and erroneously took the street side. I don’t know if the back of the building would’ve been much quieter, but almost every night people seemed to want to have shouting conversations in the street and then delivery or garbage trucks woke us up early each morning. Still, the cool weather was a wonderful thing and we quickly headed out to explore the neighborhood.

Montmartre is the bohemian part of Paris, with lots of quirky shops, restaurants and street art.

Our first walk took us to Sacre Coer (sacred heart) and its mad crowds and views over Paris.

Then we found a nice little restaurant for dinner (La Mandigotte) that had the menu in English as well as French.

One day I’ll remember to take a photo of the restaurant as well as the food.

I must say that we are both getting better at reading signs and menus – Luke did many years of French in high school and is finding that it is coming back somewhat. I did an unenthusiastic six months of French but I like having a go at learning a bit of the language when I go places and after Nice and Lyon I am finally saying merci instead of grazie or danke. All this changing countries gets a bit confusing after a while. It will be a bit of a relief to get back to the UK in that sense.

On our first morning in Paris we headed straight to an art exhibition – with a difference.

It was a sound and light show in an old foundry, where reinterpretations of Viennese artists from the end of the 19th century were being projected onto the walls and floor with a musical accompaniment.

It was beautiful and interesting. There were three Viennese artists presented, with Klimt being the longest show, then at the end there was a much more modern show called ‘Poetic AI’ that wouldn’t have been out of place at a rave. We both liked the futuristic display best but the whole thing was lovely and very unusual.

Big thanks to Viv for telling me about it, I wish it had been on when you were here!

After this eye-popping brilliance we headed to the Pompidou Centre for more modern art but we both agreed, despite a few interesting pieces, that it wasn’t as much fun as the previous exhibition.

One of the works that stood out most for me was a sound-proofed room. The deadened room felt both comfy and a tiny bit claustrophobic even though it was quite large.

A fascinating sensation.

Also we were perhaps getting slightly sore feet. Nothing wears me out like shuffling around galleries.

Next: an excellent wine tasting and more Paris wandering.

Lyon Walking Tour

On our second full day in Lyon we joined a free walking tour. It started with a look at one of the more well known boulangeries in the old town.

Many of the pastries that Lyon is known for are nut-based, like the slice of tart below.

Our much-too-large group then moved to Rue de Bœuf, home to several Michelin-starred restaurants.

Next we walked through some of the treboules, private laneways that cut under buildings and between city blocks. Originally created to let people reach the river more directly, these alleys were vital to the Resistance during the war.

They’re kind of hard to photograph but they often opened up into tiny courtyards or atriums where ancient stairs and passages could be seen.

We heard about the history of the city, from ancient times to now and looked at another of the huge murals. I couldn’t find a map anywhere online but our guide had an old one that I photographed in case any reader wants to see more of them.

Map-mural-Lyon-2018

We walked past an Irish pub and later Luke and I went back to have a croque monsieur each. The only other food the pub served was fish and chips and the bar tender talked and sang loudly to himself almost the whole time we were there. Appropriately mad, I suppose.

We probably saw and did a lot more on this day but I’ve left the writing-up for a week and now I’ve forgotten what else happened.

After a last meal out that evening we packed up our things ready to move on to our next stop – Nice!

Last Day In Lauterbrunnen.

We had left ourselves a free day in Lauterbrunnen to see things in the area that caught our eye. First up was a Swiss culture festival that was being held up a nearby mountain.

We caught the usual assortment of trains and cable cars and arrived at Männlichen on a bright and sunny morning.

It turns out that there’s nothing but a hotel, playground and viewing point at the top, plus a herd of cows with bells to make it all one hundred percent Swiss. You could hear everyone stepping out of the cable car station making ‘oooh’ noises because the scene was just so pretty.

Wildflowers everywhere, snow-capped mountains all around and Grindelwald visible down the valley in the distance. We took some photos and had a wander then made our way to the hotel, where all kind of Swiss things were happening on the deck.

Alpenhorn!

Whip cracking demonstration. I don’t know if it’s actually easy or he was just really good at it.

We watched for a while and took some photos but it was all pretty similar to the music we’d seen in the last two days so we headed to our next activity, a cog-wheel train to Schynnige Platt. Even though this train had been on the map as an activity, it had looked pretty short and so we expected it to go to a low plateau where the Alpine Botanical Garden was reputed to be.

It turned out to be probably the most scenic ride we took in our whole time there! The sides of the little train were open, which meant it was much better for taking photos and videos (no reflection) and it took about forty minutes to get to the top.

There was not a whole lot there but we had a quick look at the Alpine Garden and then sat and had some lunch at the hotel. It was a perfect day with amazing visibility and pleasantly cool at that altitude.

If you go up Schynige Platt go to the top level of the hotel restaurant.

We had thought about trying to make it to Trümmelbach Falls afterwards but ran out of time so Luke visited them the next morning before we left while I packed my bag.

View from the Schynige Platt railway

We were very sad to leave the Bernese Oberland. By far our favorite place that we’d visited so far and it had raised a very high (unfairly high, some would say) bar for Geneva to reach. I don’t often go to countries and think that I would happily move there but Switzerland makes the list. One day we’ll come back and see it in a different season and visit more of its cities. One day!

Postcard perfect Switzerland

View through the cable car station window.