This October we planned a short trip to Colmar and Ronchamp in France and we were completely gratified by both of these places. Colmar, the capital of the Alsace wine region, will make you believe that towns as pretty as a fantasy town exist in reality.
Picture this- half timbered houses lining cobblestone streets with serene waters of the canal. Now add to that shiny shingled roof topping soft hued walls, flowery window ledges (yes! even in late October), ornate lamp posts, punctuated by autumn foliage and the smell of freshly baked confectionary from one of the many french patisseries. Lovely, isn't it?
We were awe struck by the beauty of Colmar. Excited as we were, we started exploring the town on foot, primarily because all of it’s must-visit sights are in the old town. Representing the rich history of Colmar in it’s gothic architecture, the St. Martin church with a copper spire grabbed our attention first. Glistening, checkered pattern of the polychrome shingles take your eye from one roof to another. The church is truly magnificent. We tried a couple spots to click the huge church, and this is the best we could do!
Lingering around the colourful streets of Colmar, we didn’t even realize that we were now standing in what is popularly known as ‘The little Venice’. Perhaps, originating from the fact that houses line both sides of the water, or that it’s as pretty as Venice. See the pictures below, if its hard to believe.
If you have more time in Colmar, a boat trip in Little Venice is a must do! Furthermore, if you are there for a couple or more days, you could also plan day trip to nearby town of Eguisheim with its ruined castle, or the alsatian vineyards of Riquewihr to Hunawihr to Ribeauville. Colmar, otherwise perfect place for a day trip, is fast gaining popularity in the world of small, pretty, must-visit, french towns. So, if you did get inspired to visit Colmar, plan a trip in the off-peak seasons (early spring or autumn) to avoid the hoards of crowd for your convenience ;)
The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut
The sole reason to visit the village of Ronchamp, about 90 minutes drive from Colmar, was to see the extraordinary architecture of Le Corbusier’s Notre Dame du Haut chapel. For those who don’t know, Le Corbusier is an esteemed French-Swiss great master of architecture who designed and built the chapel in 1955.
As we entered the premises of Ronchamp, a pristine yet unusual silhouette of the chapel, blinking amidst the green trees on a hillside it is situated on, appeared. The road wound its way up the hill and after quickly parking our car, we found ourselves in the visitor centre, designed by another French architect, Renzo Piano, who also designed the monastery in the vicinity.
Passing via the visitor centre, we reached a vast piece of lawn, on top of which the chapel sits. I have to admit, the masterpiece seized us instantly. We couldn't move an inch without looking at it; from every angle the sweeping white exteriors with the exposed concrete top was absolutely engaging. I had seen the images of this chapel a million times, but the more I looked at it, the more I couldn’t believe that I was actually there; I touched the textured whitewash walls of the chapel, just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming ;) After two full rounds, we made our way through the pivoted door, hand painted (by the master himself), to the highly contrasting low lit interiors. Brightly colored stained glass in deep recessed openings glows as compared to the other parts of the inside. The striking curved concrete roof, lets in a streak of light into the interior through a gap underneath. The structure’s divine quality becomes visible when viewing the way light plays throughout the interiors, which in itself can create a spiritual experience.
I could write a lot on the modernist chapel, that appears on almost every 20th century architecture book, but the fact is, I could truly experience the chapel in its truest sense by visiting it, by seeing the contrast of light and dark; being able to see and feel and hear the building made me comprehend it better, which could have never been by flipping through the pages of a book!
I know Colmar is the kind of place that entices one and all but there is something else about visiting the chapel in Ronchamp. Even though you don't want to go there for the sole purpose of seeing the chapel, or you are not the kind of person to adore architectural marvels, just go! You will not regret it! The moment when you see the chapel for the first time, you will stop, take a deep breath and thank yourself for stopping by, we promise :)
Let us know in the comments below if you have been here before or are planning to go. We would love to hear your thoughts.