Friday, May 31, 2013

Picture Tour and Map of Colmar Old Town and some Trivias

The well-preserved medieval town centre of Colmar is gorgeous! The city is dubbed as the ‘capital of Alsatian wine’ in the region. When in Alsace, I strongly believe a visit to Colmar is a must, and the only way to enjoy this lovely place is to wander off on its cobble-stone streets and appreciate its fairytale-like architecture. The old town is not so big so getting lost is not really such a bad idea. Go for it! =)

Colmar Old Town
Website: Colmar Tourism

While I was discovering Colmar on foot, I was really mesmerised by the stunning architecture and the well-looked-after picture-perfect environment. Oh wow, it felt like France and Germany just collided in front of me! Are my eyes and ears playing tricks on me? I am seeing German half-timbered framed houses but hearing French spoken on the streets. Help, where am I really? Haha.

This feeling of displacement you know was present the whole time during the extended weekend trip in Alsace last April, not just in Colmar.

As for the food here, they are a lovely mix of both French and German cuisine, as well as the wine. It’s fantastic. Some of Alsace’s dishes and pastries are named in German with some tweaking a bit in the spelling to make it French-friendly. They are not that obsessive enough to translate everything here to French. An example is the typical bundt cake of the region called ‘Kougelhopf’. While some of the local fares served and advertised at restaurants are actually German dishes as well but translated into French, such as the ‘Choucroute’ (that’s sauerkraut sounding haute cuisine).

It’s one of those few places in France where you feel you are not really in France.

Here is the Map of Colmar Old Town:

Right click on the map and open on another window and click on the map to zoom in. 

Colmar Trivias

So I have a few Colmar trivia items to share!

Trivia 1: Did you know that the Carolingian Emperor Charles the Fat held a diet here in Colmar in 884?

OK, before you start laughing, a diet is actually a political assembly, but I have no idea why he is called Charles the Fat, perhaps he is indeed fat. History lesson aside, I just thought this is so funny!

Trivia 2: Did you know that there is a treasure hidden and buried by the Jews in Colmar during the Black Death epidemic in Europe (circa 14th century)? The treasure was only discovered in 1863.

The Black Death was estimated to have caused about 30%-60% of deaths in Europe. It took a century and a half for the continent to recover its lost population. The treasure was called Colmar Treasure or Colmar Hoard. The treasure includes silver and gold coins, silver furniture and silver and gold jewellery.

Trivia 3: Did you know that Pierre Herme of the lip-smacking Pierre Herme pastries (especially his famous macarons), was born here?

Trivia 4: Did you know that Colmar has 3 Michelin-starred restaurants?

For such a small town, they have 3! Well done. All 3 restaurants have 1-star Michelin. They are JY’S, L’atelier du Peintre and Le Rendez-vous de Chasse where I had dinner on my first night.

So that’s it for Colmar folks! Bisous =)

Previous Colmar entries:

Hotel tales and the Statue of Liberty in Colmar
Colmar's picturesque 'Litte Venice' (aka Petit Venise)
Arriving in Colmar and dining at starred restaurant 'Le Rendez-vous de Chasse'
Overview and map of Alsace Wine Route Villages

Travel Period: April 2013
Destination: Colmar (Haut-Rhin – Alsace), France

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Happy Travels! Enjoy Life =)

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Hotel Tales and the Statue of Liberty in Colmar

Trivia: Did you know that the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty in New York City is a native of Colmar, France? His name is Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi. The statue was a gift from the people of France to the United States of America.

Statue of Liberty in Colmar

This goes naturally that when you arrive in Colmar, you will also see the Statue of Liberty, but a smaller version and the statue is placed in the middle of a roundabout instead of an island. I learned that there is a replica as well somewhere in Paris, and it was rumoured that the face of the Statue of Liberty is modelled after Bartholdi’s mother.

There is a museum dedicated to Bartholdi and to his works in the city. I was tempted to go but I am not really the museum type. I actually go to museums on very rare occasions. Nevertheless, some of Bartholdi’s works are found on the city streets as he designed several fountains in Colmar.

Hotel where I stayed in Colmar

In Colmar I stayed at the All Season’s Hotel Colmar Centre, a hotel that is part of the Accor & Ibis Group of Hotels. They have a slogan that says—Budget Hotel with Design Interiors for Family which I find misleading because the rooms start at 109 Euros. Is that budget? And what is design? At least this so-called budget hotel came with a free breakfast and use of the wifi.

The business-like room and the view. Remnants of what was once a brewery.

Pictures of the hotel taken from their website.

The colourful breakfast room and my breakfasts. I am not a breakfast person and when I am travelling and a free breakfast is included in the room, I always felt forced to eat them. I loved the juicer that they have. I pressed that orange juice myself.

The reason why I booked this hotel is because it is the cheapest hotel available in the centre with an 8 review score at Yes cheapest in the centre at 109 Euros for single pax.  There was another one that I really liked but I’m not happy forking out double the price. I’d rather spend the extra money on my dinners. They also advertised that the hotel is a former brewery, and that somehow piqued my interest. That actually closed the deal for me, although I found out later that there was really not much to see of what was once a malt production house.

Nevertheless, I find the hotel a bit like the business hotels I stayed at except that a) the breakfast room is too colourful and b) I am seeing a lot of retirees in groups

Hotel Tales

On the first night I was in the lobby drinking tea and reading a few magazines. I just had my starred dinner at Le Rendez-vous de Chasse Restaurant and didn’t want to have coffee there as I was already stuffed. When you order coffee at fine dining or Michelin-starred restaurants, they usually bring you an array of sweets with it. I cannot handle that. So I declined coffee and settled for tea at the hotel lobby.

What I quickly noticed in the lobby are the group of retired women playing cards. The old dames were from Germany and they were very friendly to me, flashing smiles at my direction as they played and while I sipped my tea. I saw a few of the dames elegantly dressed. I wondered if I could emulate these elegantly dressed women when I reach their age? Interestingly, they were not the only retired women group that checked-in at the hotel. During breakfast I saw 3 groups, all German retired women and the groups did not know each other.

Hmm, must be the season for pensioned off ladies to go tripping around Europe.

On the second night I sat at the bar and ordered a gewürztraminer. I just came from dinner in Basel, Switzerland and in the mood to have a light nightcap before going to bed.

I overheard another group of retirees talking. 3 Belgian men and an American couple.

Belgian man 1: ‘We are from Brussels.’
Belgian man 2: ‘Brussels you know is the capital of Europe!’
American woman (in shrilly voice): ‘Oh really!!! So, um... do you guys feel French?’

*Belgian guys looking at each other, confused, with eyes wide and about to explode*

Belgian man 3: ‘Uh, what did you say again?’

Me listening at the bar: *palm on my face*

UGH. Total fail. You never ask a Belgian if they felt French (or Dutch). It’s like saying to Americans that they are Canadians, or an Irish that they are English. The cue was already there when the Belgian guys proudly said that Brussels is the capital of Europe! *rolls eyes* (sorry, cannot help it!)

Oh well, when you are travelling you really learn a lot, about people =)

Travel Period: April 2013
Destination: Colmar (Haut-Rhin – Alsace), France

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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Overview and Map of Alsace Wine Route Villages

Last month (April 2013) I did a road trip to the Alsace Wine Region in France. The area is famous for Riesling and Gewurtzraminer (white) wines. What can I say, I fell in love with the place! The whole region is so pretty, amazing, gastronomic and intoxicating! Haha! As the popular slogan goes — drink moderately, if you are in the area =)

Alsace Wine Villages Route Map

For starters I have here below 2 quick overview maps of the Alsace Wine Route and Villages.

As you can see on the right map, there are many villages that fall along the 170-kilometre wine route and all these villages are pretty and welcoming in their own right. Some are bigger while the others are smaller. Because I do not have a week to leisurely explore these lovely places, obviously I have to make a choice, which proved to be quite difficult at first because I wanted to visit them all. On the left map shows a condensed map highlighting the popular villages.

Below here, you can find the whole map with the cities including the villages. Right click and open the map picture on a different window to see the map clearly and then click on the map to zoom.

Right click and open the map picture on a different window to see the it clearly, and then click on the map again to zoom it in.

Ideally, visitors to this region need a minimum of 2-3 days to see the highlights at a travelable not rushing pace. This is of course excluding the big cities such as Mulhouse and Strasbourg, the latter you need to spend at least a day or two. Well, ideally you need to spend a week or two here, but if you do not have a lot of days, 2-3 days are the minimum.

Now based from my recent experience, I suggest a maximum of 3 villages in a day — first village in the morning where you have coffee, second village during midday where you spend your lunch at, and the third village in the afternoon for tea and to close the day. The villages are very near each other, about 10-15 minutes away. To calculate actual distances, go to googlemaps.

For Colmar, since this is a bigger town, I suggest to spend a day or a lunch until the afternoon here or during summer into the evening when the terraces are open late.

The actual Road Trip

So these are the wine villages (and cities) I visited during my road trip:

  • Ribeauville
  • Riquewihr
  • Kaysersberg
  • Eguisheim
  • Turckheim
  • St. Hippolyte (and Haut Konigsburg)
  • Colmar (where I stayed)
  • Strasbourg (where I did a pit stop going back – lunch, this city needs a revisit from moi in the near future)
Check my pictures and stories here of Ribeauville, Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Eguisheim, Turckheim, St. Hippolyte and Haut Konigsburg: Alsace Wine Route Villages

Colmar I believe was the best place to base this trip because the city literally is nestled in the heart of the wine growing area giving it easy access to the villages up north as well as down south. The city is even christened as the capital of Alsatian wine. Well, I can tell you this, Colmar is the gateway to the Alsace wine country.

I chose these villages based on the reviews and pictures I saw online while researching the trip. And I strongly believed as well that I have indeed chosen the prettiest and best wine villages.

Stay tuned! I will be posting my stories and pictures soon.

Travel Period: April 2013
Destination: Alsace Wine Route Villages (Alsace), France

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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Douro River Valley Tour 5: A visit to a Port wine estate — Quinta do Tedo

This is the last stop of the Douro River Valley Tour, a visit to a Port vineyard located in Armamar (Viseu district) along the Douro River and Tedo River just before reaching Pinhao. Maria told us that this estate is a very small, single Quinta A classification. Quinta in Portuguese is equivalent to an estate, hacienda or domaine.

Wine estate classifications runs from A to F with A being the highest. You can find more information here: Portuguese Quinta Classification 

Quinta do Tedo on a much better weather (blue skies!) day. Picture from

Quinta do Tedo

From my seat in the mini bus (I was sitting in front), I could see Quinta do Tedo coming into view, the estate is perched on top of a hill and is waiting for us. Maria said the views up there are beautiful. I am sure I will not disagree. This part of the Douro River Valley is very peaceful, raw and pure. It was raining when we drove up the private road leading to the estate but when we jumped out of the mini bus, the rain drizzled down a little bit providing us the opportunity to enjoy the breath taking views while we took the obligatory pictures.

The place is soooo lovely, even on a bit gloomy and rainy day!

There are 3 dogs in the estate but this one is the sweetest. He came to greet us. 

Breath taking views are they not? Even for a bit gloomy day...

The man from the winery welcomed us as we stood there in awe of our surroundings. He told us that the valley we are looking at—35 acres of vineyards including the body of water, all belong to Quinta do Tedo. There are another 22 acres of land planted with olives and fruits that belongs to the estate as well.

Then he urged us to follow him to the cave where they store and age the wines in oak barrels. The cave is located at the other side of the estate and as we rounded the corner, we were again confronted by the beautiful scenery, he had to patiently wait for everyone until we were done snapping pictures. I can probably hear him mutter under his breath, ‘Ah, tourists…’ Haha, he must be used to this.

Port Wine Cave

Mr. wine man explained to us the aging process of Port wine and all that stuff, yadda, yadda, etcetera. Anyway, there’s a ton of information about Port wine available online for those who are interested. There is google for that so I will not be posting that here. But in this winery, I learned that for Port wine to be called vintage, it must be at least 10 years old. Naturally, the value of a bottle of vintage Port follows its age.

The wine estate is actually now owned by a Frenchman coming from the Bouchard wine growing family in Burgundy, France.

Isn't she just too cute? This is the little girl of the Japanese couple living in Frankfurt, Germany.

Here I am smiling reluctantly (disapprovingly!) at the camera because of the bad weather. Unfortunately, after our short Port cave session, it rained again. Here I am walking back to the main part of the building for the next part of the agenda which is the Port tasting.

Port Tasting – Vintage is my favourite

I really would have wanted to buy a vintage bottle of Port from this winery but I came by plane with a carry-on luggage. It is also too much of a hassle to have to ship a bottle of wine to the Netherlands but I really enjoyed their vintage here very much. So smooth and elegant.

Read here my entry about the types of Port wine and my visit to the Calem Caves in Vila Nova de Gaia: Port cave tour and tasting at Calem: You drink Port at the end of the meal!

We had a tasting of Port wines, from left to right: 10-year old Tawny, a Ruby 2007 and a Vintage 2009.

The estate also offers Bed & Breakfast accommodation. In fact, many quintas offer this in the Douro River Valley. My wish would be that during the warmer months, I’d be able to come back here and stay in the valley for a few days.

So we have come to the end of the tour and as we drove back to Porto, my last memory of the drive and everything else were these pictures below before I dozed off.

I woked up just in time when we entered Porto. The streets seem to be dry, so I am grinning and hearing hallelujah ringing in my ears. The evening is going to be promising!

Previous entries:

Douro River Valley Tour 4b: Lunch in Peso da Regua at Restaurante Douro In
Douro River Valley Tour 4a: The flood in Peso da Regua
Douro River Valley Tour 3: Wine, Cheese and Presunto tasting in Lamego
Douro River Valley Tour 2: A rainy and misty 'Douro viewing point' stop
Douro River Valley Tour 1: Amarante village, Vinho Verde (green wine) and some Travel Agency rant

Travel Period: March 2013
Destination: Armamar (Viseu – Douro), Portugal

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