Postcards from France: Ronchamp and Colmar

I keep saying I’m going to post more pictures of our recent short jaunt through a small neighboring corner of France. Well, here we go!

I had wanted to go to Chartres over our spring vacation, but then decided it was too much. So for another cultural outing, I suggested we go to Colmar, where the Isenheim Altar is housed in the Unterlinden Museum, along with many other wonderful art treasures.

My son, who is interested in architecture, said he wanted to see the famous church of Notre Dame du Haut, a late work by Le Corbusier — and it turned out to be just a short distance out of the way. So we made that our first stop, driving about a half hour to the border of France, and another hour to the northwest through what looked like a somewhat depressed former mining region, to the town of Ronchamp.

It was a relatively dark, rainy day, but inside the church the light was still a powerful presence, shining through small colored windows inscribed with various epithets of Mary in French, as well as down three side-chapel towers that give the effect of being wells of light.

The church was built to replace one destroyed in World War II, on an ancient pilgrimage site where thousands would gather on the feast of the Virgin, September 8. One of the outer walls was designed as an outdoor pulpit, with acoustics to reach the congregation on the grass. It’s an interesting contrast in one building, between the dark interior and the wide-open exterior, representing two aspects of spiritual experience.

We angled to the northeast for about another hour to reach Colmar, in the Alsace region that’s been passed off between France and Germany many times over the centuries. The Colmar old town is lined with charming pastel-color buildings, some half-timbered and some painted or carved with elaborate designs, along with churches and medieval squares. Fun fact from the tourist info: it was used as the model for the town of Market Chipping in the movie of Howl’s Moving Castle, which I hadn’t known.

Touristy it certainly is now, but we pushed our way through the crowd to enjoy the picturesque neighborhood of Little Venice, eat some French fast food, and visit the Dominican church, housing the intricate Madonna of the Roses, and the Unterlinden Museum, built around a former cloister. A modern addition to the latter provided some interesting circular staircase views. Fortunately the rain held off for our day in Colmar and we could enjoy some lovely spring weather.

On our way home we stopped at the Beyeler Foundation in Basel, a modern art museum which was much like Switzerland, small and very expensive. (25 francs for a few selections from the permanent collection, along with a rotating special exhibition space) I’ll have to save up my pennies if I want to visit again. I’m not a huge Picasso fan, but I liked this one of a woman writing.

I hope you enjoyed this visit to some of the art treasures of our region! I certainly feel lucky to have gotten to do all of this over a long weekend.

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6 thoughts on “Postcards from France: Ronchamp and Colmar

  1. I’ve been to Colmar with the family (had a nice boat trip on the river too) but we didn’t go to see the Le Corbusier church, which is such a shame! It looks beautiful even in cloudy conditions.

  2. Superb shots, from the architecture to the diptych, the calming waters to the street scenes. And yes, in the recesses of my mind I knew about the connection between Colmar and the Miyazaki but I’m glad to be reminded of it! Apparently the artists Miyazaki sent out to recce European street scenes weren’t too impressed with Welsh pit villages so went to Colmar for inspiration – and I don’t blame them. 🙂

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