Colmar France – The Best of France & Germany – This year we have been traveling around Europe very slowly and even more randomly – we stay in a country for a month or more, and make up our next step on a whim, often just days before our rent runs out and we need to pack up and leave.
The first week in a new place always tends to go very slowly, and you feel like you have lots of time to plan your next step – but then time speeds up and one day you suddenly find yourself stressing about finding a new place to stay.
These late decisions have often resulted in us not getting to stay in the places we wanted the most, but they have also brought us to some very unexpected places: like Colmar – we didn’t even know that this place existed until about a week before we arrived …
Colmar France Peculiar & Cute Toy Town
Colmar is a small town in Alsace region in eastern France, close to the German border.
With wonky half-timbered houses in the colors of the rainbow lining the streets of the maze-like town, you feel like you’ve stepped into a storybook about Hansel and Gretel.
Pretzels hang from the window sills of sausage and jam shops next to French wine cellars with locally produced wine.
The Perfect Road Trip Destination
Colmar is one of the most popular towns along the Alsace Wine Route, which is a must for any wine connoisseur (or wannabes like myself), as Alsace has some of the best white wines in France.
The local wine is delicious, cheap nd you can find it everywhere.
The Wine Route is a road trippers dream, simply because it has it all; spectacular landscape dotted with castles and forts perched on the hilltops in the region, small winding roads perfect for cruising, roadside wineries to stock up on local wine bottles and cozy little villages to explore and stop for lunch in.
Driving is the best way to really make the most of the wine route, as it isn’t possible to reach many of the villages by bus.
Don’t worry though, you can easily rent a car from Colmar, and look into getting car hire excess insurance instead of the insurance they offer at the desk as the car rental companies’ own insurances tend to be much more expensive.
Is Colamr Really France?
My French is embarrassingly bad, but I try my best. It turned out that in Colmar, my French didn’t matter – because they always replied in German anyway.
A Swede and a French person in France talking to each other in German – now that’s a scenario I never would have imagined..!
In other words, it’s not at all what I had expected to find in France of all places!
You see an interesting German-French mix everywhere; from restaurants serving a blend of German and French cuisine, bi-lingual signs and the radio alternating between French ballads and Bavarian beer songs.
But these little culture mixes are not actually that surprising considering the fact that Colmar has belonged to Germany twice (1871 – 1918 and 1940-1945).
Historically, the Germans considered the mountains as the natural border between the countries, while the French thought the Rhine River was – the Alsace region was right in between, and who doesn’t want this breathtaking region with its fertile vineyards and adorable villages to belong to them?
Have you been to any towns in the Alsace region?
Best Way of Travelling to the French Alps That’s Affordable
If you think an Alpine holiday is too expensive, think again.
The best way of travelling to the French Alps for an outdoor adventure holiday in the French Alps is a fantastic choice for those who love the great outdoors.
There are affordable activity holidays to experience in the French Alps.
You’ve just got to know where to look. Go Skiing in Andorra
Options here are varied and numerous; prices are on a wide scale too. Here are some tips on how to get the best deals.
When to go for the best deals?
A trip to the Alps can be expensive, but there are certain times of the year that are more affordable than others.
Of course, peak ski season will be quite costly.
However, booking during the summer months can be a lot cheaper.
You can definitely get the best deals during the summer months.
Especially when you book outside of peak times such as school holidays.
You won’t get all day skiing, but there are some resorts where glacier skiing is still possible in the alps, even in the summer months.
While the skiing may be questionable, there are plenty of fun outdoor activities to choose from.
Getting to the French Alps – Self Drive or Flights?
Flights tend to be the most expensive part of your holiday, especially at popular times.
When you book a package holiday, the flights and hotel are usually all included in the total price.
The combination by the companies often ends up with discounted prices overall.
But how much money could you save if you decided to take the self-drive choice?
Well with Alpine Elements Activity Holidays you can save up to £200 per person if you choose a self-drive option.
This makes it a much cheaper option, especially if there are a lot of people in your group or you are travelling as a family.
In addition to saving money, there are many benefits of driving to the Alps:
You can carry more luggage.
You can make stops at sights along the way.
Because you won’t have to rush off and catch a flight, you can stay over in the resort longer.
The drive time, once you have arrived in France, is about seven hours with the potential to stop over at other locations on the way.
A stop in Paris is always an experience.
More people in the UK are deciding to drive to the Alps for their activity holidays.
It gives holiday makers more freedom.
For some, it means a more relaxing travel environment than having to brave the airports.
Things to remember when driving from the UK to France:
There are toll roads in France that make your journey to the Alps quicker and easier.
The total bill is around £130 return if you choose to use them.
Petrol is cheaper in France, so it’s a good idea to fill up there, especially on your way home.
Stock up on supplies at major supermarkets rather than smaller shops nearer resorts.
Where to stay on a budget in the French Alps?
Accommodation in the Alps usually consists of: Hotels, Catered Chalets, Self-Catering Chalets and You may also find hostels.
The best budget deals will depend on your chosen destination and the type of dining you are looking for.
If you are happy to cook, then a self-catering chalet is an excellent budget option.
It’s even easier if you have chosen to self-drive, as you can stop at the local supermarket and stock up on supplies before you arrive and during your stay.
Most self-catering units are completely independent units, so you have your own personal space as a group or family.
If you don’t fancy cooking on your holiday, then you could opt for a catered chalet at the most basic half board option.
That way your breakfast and dinner are taken care of, and you will only have to plan your own lunch.
Of course, having catering will add additional costs compared to self- catering.
It’s just a case of your budget, time, and your preference.
What should you look for in a self-catering chalet?
Be sure to find out in advance what home comforts and facilities available at a self-catering stay.
Here are a few things you should check out before you book:
Make sure there’s a representative or person you can call for advice or if things go wrong.
Check what facilities there are in your chalet.
For example, a washing machine, dishwasher, hot tub or sauna.
Anything that will make your life easier or more relaxing is great.
Is there a welcome pack?
Some operators will provide things like liquid soap and toiletries.
Some may offer snacks or a welcome drink.
Find out before you go so you don’t buy unnecessary items.
Having some of these facilities means you have the ability to travel light.
Packing the minimum will give you more space in the car knowing you can wash and re-wear clothes while at your destination.
What’s best? A Package holiday or Booking direct?
It’s much easier to book a package holiday so you know exactly what is included and the small things are thought of already for you.
The great thing about the French Alps is that you can book with a tour operator whether you want a whole holiday including flights, catered or self-catering and even packages including Self-Drive.
If you are going to fly, here are some resources for economical luggage options:
The Carry-On Checklist: What You Need For Your Flight
8 Luggage Sets You’ll Want for Your Next Vacation
Roller Bag vs Backpack Review- Which Is Better?
Portable Travel Digital Luggage Scale Product Review with Video
The companies understand that there are many people who want to enjoy an Alpine holiday but can make their own way there.
The difficulty with booking your accommodation and activities separately can be communicating and booking with individual chalet owners or through a third party booking site.
Many tour operators have chalets and hotel rooms that are only booked through their own company.
Meaning many of the sought-after locations and chalets are only bookable through an operator.
What’s included in the French Alps Tour?
If you are deciding between destinations, tour operators and accommodation, make sure you check what else is included in your stay too.
For example, are there free transfers if you are taking a flight?
Is there free parking if you are driving?
Also find out what activities and passes are included in your booking.
Providers might offer bike hire, guided hikes, or kayaking as part of their package and either free or discounted lift and cable car passes to get you started in the area.
This can be of great benefit when booking a family break, saving you money, and enabling you to enjoy activities without spending extra cash.
What is the best budget option for a break in the French Alps?
In conclusion, the best value for money options are to drive to your destination yourself and to choose a self-catering chalet.
Buying and cooking your own meals is the cheapest option for a budget holiday here.
Booking through a tour operator may afford you some free activities included in your stay too.
Choosing dates outside of the peak holidays will save you some money as well.
So, what would you choose?
A summer road trip for an activity holiday in the French Alps?
Or a flights and catering option for that little bit more?
Or would you choose something in between?
Have you already been on an Alpine holiday on a budget?
Share your experiences and advice in the comments below.
The Alsace Wine Route – Photo Essay
With vineyards on rolling hills that stretch into the horizon, small medieval villages scattered in the region and castles and forts perched on top of small mountains, the French Alsace is among the world’s most picturesque wine regions.
When I first arrived in Alsace I couldn’t believe my eyes – the scenery and towns were the kind I didn’t think existed anymore; pastel colored half-timbered houses line the sides of cobblestone alleys with basement restaurants serving wine from the surrounding vineyards.
It’s like a storybook, only difference is that it’s actually real, and authentic. Unlike many places in the world that have become open-air museums, the towns of Alsace are real and alive.
During WWII many towns and cities in Europe were burned to the ground, and historic beauty was rarely a good enough excuse for a town to be spared.
Colmar, however, was an exception, and the American and British military were careful not to bomb the quaint cobbled town – while other villages in the Alsace region were destroyed, many are still intact and lovingly cared for to continue preserving its medieval beauty.
Today, Colmar is thriving, and the surrounding villages continue with their wine business as they have for hundreds of years already.
Time really does seem to stand still in this part of the world.
The quiet atmosphere and pastel colored houses with overflowing flower boxes by every window make these little villages the perfect places to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine, harvested literally from around the corner.
Two very picturesque villages that are located close to the larger Alsatian town Colmar are Eguisheim and Riquewihr, but there are dozens more to choose from.
I’ve always been a red wine kind of girl, but since I was in the white wine capital of France I knew I should at least try some, and turned out loving the Riesling and Gewürztraminer, they were spicy and refreshing.
They do make one red wine though, Pinot Noir, which I highly recommend tasting!
The easiest way to get around is by car, but there is a bus going from Colmar to Riquewihr a few times per day so it is possible if you do some planning in advance (the ride takes 30 min, €6 return).
Alsace’s unique culture mix is one you won’t be able to find anywhere else in the world, and I highly recommend you take some time when traveling in France (or Germany for that matter!) to check out the quaint Alsace region.
Quick Guide To Normandy, France
Spanning 674, 843 km², France is one of the largest countries in Europe, divided into 26 different regions.
Each one of these regions are unique and offer something unique and distinctive to that area.
This diversity is what makes France such a great destination to travel to.
One of the most popular areas is Normandy, a region located in Nortwestern France, famed for the D-Day Allied invasion on June 6, 1944, but also known for so much more.
From the rocky cliffs in the Cotentin peninsula and the famous white cliffs of Etretat, to wonderful small towns and villages with half-timbered houses in the inland area, there are many things to see in Normandy.
Here’s a quick guide to the top sights and attractions in Normandy …
White Cliffs of Etretat
Famous for its beaches and chalky white cliffs, these 70meter high cliffs are a beauty to behold and one of the most beautiful features of Normandy – its three rock formations are known as Potre d’Amont or the Upstream Cliff, Porte d’Aval or the downstream cliff and Manneporte.
Carved by nature and adorned by mysterious names there are images of a hollow eye needle and an elephant dipping its trunk in the ocean.
A walk along the Pebble beach, climbing up the steep stairs to the top of the cliffs for a view, and discovering a 17th Century oyster bed are just some of the things you can do in Etreat.
An easy way to get to Normandy is to take the ferry from UK to Calais and continue down the coast from there – click here for information about ferries to Calais.
Mont St. Michel
This tiny tidal rocky island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most visited places in all of France.
This remarkable medieval walled city, crowned by its great gothic abbey, is built on a small granite outcrop standing all by itself in Mont Saint Michel bay.
At the peak is the spectacular and well-preserved Norman Benedictine Abbey of St Michel.
During the French Revolution, the abbey was used a prison, and today a few prison-era showpieces, like the human hamster wheel used to lift supplies in and out of the complex, have been kept.
Still to this day, people actually live in this village, and there are even a few places where you can eat on the island, such as La Mere Poulard, which is world-famous for its omelets (a specialty on the island).
The D-Day Landing Beaches
On June 6, 1944 – today known as D-Day, Operation Overlord, a long-awaited invasion of Northwest Europe, began with Allied landings along the coast of Normandy where the Germans had turned the coastline into an interlinked series of strongpoints.
The Allies launched a simultaneous landing of British, Canadian, U.S., and French forces on five separate beaches with the code names Sword Beach (British), Juno Beach (Canadian), Gold Beach (British), Omaha Beach (American) Utah Beach (American).
When they landed they stormed the mined beaches and stormed the gun positions, and continued fighting their way into the towns and hills advancing inland.
The victory was a turning point in World War II and led to the liberation of Europe and the defeat of Nazi Germany.
While today the coast is dotted with lovely peaceful seaside towns, there are still many remains from German gun emplacements and bunkers, and war memorials and monuments marks where the allied forces landed on the beaches.
Since there is barely a square yard that wasn’t fought over, there are also monuments in almost every village and at every bend in the road.
These beaches can be reached from UK by taking a ferry from Dover to Calais and then continue by car for about 1.5 hours – you can simply drive your car on the ferry at Dover Port and drive down along Normandy when you land in Calais.
Associated with the glitz and glamour, the south of France is often the choice of millionaires as they look to escape the ‘stresses’ of life.
With a host of cities and villages for you to explore, you can soak up the southern climate in more ways than you think. Or alternatively, head to the beach!
Have you been to Normandy?
Share your experiences below!