The two questions we were asked the most about Colmar when we told people we were going there were, "Where the heck is that?" and "Why do you want to go there?". Colmar is located near the German border of France and has a strong German influence on food, wine, and architecture. Colmar is the wine capital of the Alsace region of France. According to the Colmar Tourism website and Jean-Michel Deiss, "Alsace and Corsica are the only two regions of France where the regional council of the National Institute of Appellations d'Origine (INAO) makes its own, independent decisions. Paris' role is limited to approving the decisions." The INAO in Alsace is located in Colmar, and so is the CIVA, the Alsatian Wine Commission. I'll summarize that: Why would we want to go there? One word: wine.
After an uneventful day of travel (thankfully everything was relatively on time, this time), we arrived in the small Alsatian town of Colmar, France! Unfortunately, we arrived at the same time as a big storm. We popped into the tourism office for a map and some information about wine tasting, and then sought shelter in a bar nearby to wait out the downpour until our hosts, Claude and Cecile, got home from work and could let us into the apartment. Oddly, the bar we hung out in was called Michigan Café, with the symbol being the "M" in the same font as University of Michigan - there must be a strong contingent Wolverines in Colmar. Even more strange, the bar only had Belgian beers on tap. No problem for us, though, since Belgians are among our favorites! Thankfully, as we finished our beers, we got a text from Cecile stating she would come home from work early to let us get out of the rain. We hightailed it a few blocks away to our temporary home.
Cecile and Claude, thirty-somethings who both work at schools (Cecile teaches German and Claude teaches sport), own a huge apartment just outside the center of town. This gorgeous two story, 3 bedroom + 2.5 bathroom + living room + dining room + office + kitchen (See? Ginormous! Especially by SF standards!) was also home to a beautiful kitty cat name Zadar, a playful cat who enjoyed eating cheese, vegetables, smoked salmon, yogurt…Zadar was basically a human, a very curious and furry human. Cecile showed us around the great flat and we instantly felt welcome. Over the course of our stay, she and Claude became more than just Airbnb hosts to us, they became our friends. We loved chatting with them for hours about how they met, travel, things they like to do, beers they enjoy…it was like we'd known them for a long time. This was definitely our most comfortable Airbnb stay yet. We particularly loved when Cecile knocked on our door inviting us to join them for dinner - Cecile's sister was visiting from New Zealand and Claude made a ton of food, too much food, and they asked if we would like to try some typical Alsatian cooking. You had me at food! Claude had made delicious tarte flambee (the Alsace version of pizza) with Munster cheese and ham (YUM), and banana and nutella in a rolled up tarte flambee crust warmed in the oven, with a glass of Riesling. It was a perfect meal and we were honored to join them as they caught up with Cecile's sister.
While we try to eat the local cuisine, we often crave the flavors of home (most notably, burritos. I would kill for a burrito.), which is why I couldn’t ignore my craving for burgers. With Summer approaching, I was longing for a summer meal, so one night I whipped up some burgers with carmelized onions, french fries (excuse me, I mean pommes frites), and watermelon! The watermelon was a bit strange (the texture was very different from what we're used to), but the burgers and fries were deeeelicious! But don't worry, we indulged in more French fare - we finally got crepes from a little stand! It only took three separate visits to France, but we got them. Unfortunately, they weren't nearly as good as the crepes our host Cyrielle made us in Avignon, but at least we can finally mark them off the list! We also indulged in some delicious baked goods - helloooooooo chocolate croissant! Now THAT was delicious! And for our last meal in this cute town we went to a restaurant recommended by Cecile and Claude, Schwendi. This old restaurant is located near the canal that runs through town and offers great people watching from the patio tables. For dinner, we enjoyed another tarte flambee, this time with crème fraiche, cheese, ham, and onions, and a roesti, an iron skillet filled with shredded potatoes and melted Munster cheese, and a couple of local weiss beers. We loved the local flavors and enjoyed watching other travelers and locals meander by. While we don't usually order desert at meals (we have to limit ourselves, sometimes!), we decided we couldn't pass up a local favorite - kugelhopf with vanilla ice cream!
We did get a short workout while we were in Colmar, so we were a little bit healthy too. Ok, sure, we were also wine tasting all day, but at least there was a 13km bike ride involved! The weather forecast predicted rain for just about our entire visit, save one day, so we took the opportunity to rent bikes from Velodocteurs and make the short 20 minute ride to the tiny town of Eguisheim for some good old wine tasting on the one sunny day we had. Eguisheim was recently voted "Most Beautiful Village of France", and for good reason - this place is so pretty and cute and quaint I can barely stand it! It's been getting a lot of attention over the last few years and even ended up on a HuffPo list of the best towns of France. The colorful, half-timbered buildings that line the cobblestone streets look like they belong in Disneyland, and the iron signs that hang above doorways of shops and tasting rooms are something you would imagine while reading a fairytale book. To top it all off (literally), two stork nests sit atop the spires of the church, the large birds talking to each other, flapping their huge wings, and watching the people below. This place truly is out of a childrens book!
Our first wine stop, Brobecker, introduced us to the regions interesting white wines. The region is known for its remarkably dry, acidic, and mineral driven Riesling, Muscat (yes this can be dry!), Sylvaner, and Pinot Blanc, as well as the sweet, lychee smelling Gerwurtzraminer, and delicious late harvest Vendages Tardives. Only one red is permitted to grow in the region, Pinot Noir, and is largely used in the creation of the delicious Cremant d'Alsace, a sparkling wine made in the Methode Champenoise, the same that is used in Champagne. (Wine buying note - if you're looking for some French bubbly, or any bubbly for that matter, look for Cremant! It's cheaper and really good! My friend and sorority sister, who is also a Sommelier and owner of Oakland wine shop, Bay Grape, Stevie Stacionis, gave me that little tip when she helped me study for my Level 1 exam with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Thanks, Stevie!) Jake and I loved our tasting experience at Brobecker and our introduction to these interesting wines, and were eager to try more. But first, lunch!
We wandered the adorable streets until we found a place that looked good - a small but busy Italian place called Dagsbourg. The meal was great, hard to go wrong with pizza and tortellini, but a bit of panic set in when I realized I didn't have my credit card. Uh oh! Jake had forgotten his wallet back at the apartment, and the only credit card I was carrying was MIA! Did it fall out of my purse? Had I forgotten to put it back in my wallet after buying a bottle at Brobecker? Since we had walked all over town after our first tasting stop, if the card had fallen out there was going to be little chance of me finding it. I had to hope that I had simply left it at Brobecker. Just at that moment, our server asked us if we would like the check. Jake and I looked at each other, and turned back to her, imagining all the ways we might be able to pay off lunch - should we go wash dishes in the back or wait tables for a few hours? Jake explained to her that we left our credit card at the winery and had no more than 10 euros in cash on us, and that I was going to go get it and be right back. You could see the wheels of distrust turning in her head, so Jake assured her, "I'll stay here until she gets back." She said ok, and off I went. Happy that we, at least, had an idea of where the credit card might be, I power walked back to Brobecker, but that happiness quickly faded when I arrived at the tasting room and it was closed - the gate was locked, the lights were off…oh crap. I snapped a picture of a phone number on the gate that said "In case of Absence" (at least I think it said that, it was in French) and ran back to the restaurant and asked our, now slightly irritated but still friendly server if she would call the number and explain the problem. Thankfully, someone answered the call and met me, minutes later, back at the gate to let me into the cellar to look for my card. Sure enough, it was in the darn credit card machine on the tasting counter. I profusely said "Merci" to the non-English speaking man who let me in and ran back to Dagsbourg once again. We paid and generously tipped our server. I don't think I'll ever forget my card again!
The rest of the afternoon was filled with tasting! The next stop, Maison Leon Baur, where a lovely girl named Maurine poured us just about every wine they had, 10 in all. I learned that I don't really like Sylvaner, and I love the acidity of the Rieslings of the region. These wines are just so interesting! While we were enjoying a plethora of wine, two Italian gentlemen popped in for a quick taste of pinot noir, and then they were off again. We bought our bottle of Cremant d'Alsace Rose, said, "Au revoir" to Maurine, and headed to another spot, Schneider, where we saw the Italians again. "You are following us!" one said to us. "You must have great taste in wine!" I responded. We ended up chatting with Umberto and his friend Alex for the next 2 hours! While at Schneider, we told them some of our travel stories, like missing the train in Riomaggiore because it was so crowded, laughing about it as we spoke. "I like your attitude," Umberto said, "Most people would get very angry, but you laugh. That is a good attitude to have." If there's one thing I'm learning on this trip it's how to roll with the punches, and I'm glad it's starting to show! As we prepared to leave, we were given the tasting bill - wait what? All of the other places had free tasting and friendly people pouring the wine. We enjoyed those places so much that we bought bottles to take with us. This place, though, the lady behind the counter was not very personable, and we didn't really like the wines that much, so we were not thrilled when we had to pay. Jake tried to give her the credit card for the small fee, but she refused to take it. "Only cash." We looked around and couldn’t find a sign stating as such, but I pulled out my coin purse anyway. I only had two euros left after the nice tip we left our server at lunch, not enough to cover the 5 euro cost. I can't believe this is happening again - we don’t have the money to cover the bill! All of a sudden, Umberto dropped three euros in my hand and said, "Ok let's go to the next place!" Very thankful for his generosity, we told him we were buying the next round, so long as the place accepted credit cards! Off to Domaine Bruno Sorg we went, with a pit stop at the ice cream shop for Alex who was a bit, ok a lot, intoxicated, where we enjoyed a whole bottle of Pinot Gris. Jake, Umberto, and I chatted as Alex adored his ice cream. "You are like a little baby!" Umberto said to his happy friend. Alex grinned from ear to ear, ice cream on his lips.
By the time the three of us polished off the bottle, Alex was a new man - alert, fresh, revived. All he wanted was an espresso. "Come, we take you to get a coffee," Umberto declared. I'm not about to fight an Italian over espresso, so we jumped up and followed them to a restaurant for an early evening jolt of caffeine before our ride back to Colmar. We chatted more about traveling and work, and realized that Umberto, who lives in Singapore for business, might actually be in Thailand at the same time as us! Perhaps we'll get to meet again for espresso in a faraway land! We said our goodbyes, snagged a quick selfie of the four of us, and jumped out our bikes, racing against the 7pm deadline to return the bikes. All in all, it was a perfect day full of adventure, fun, and new friends.
While Colmar doesn't have a lot going on (you can really see the whole town in just a few hours), we loved having four relaxing nights with Cecile and Claude, and getting to enjoy the town and neighboring village at our own pace. I love getting to learn more and more about the world of wine with each stop - how the flavors change, how people drink it, the kinds of glasses they use (these ones are small with green stems), the food culture surrounding it. But even more so, I love meeting people in each location, and leaving with new friends. We left Colmar with four new friends who we hope to stay in touch with throughout our journey, and see again someday.