In a city that exudes at every turn the allure of a millennium of rich historical memories, Romantik Hotel Le Maréchal stood out as a gem of timeless romance. Located in the heart of Colmar, in the medieval neighborhood known as La Petite Venise (Little Venice), the property consisted of four adjoining 16th century houses built on the remains of 11th century fortifications overlooking the River Lauch. The rear of the hotel faced the river, while the three-story façade opened onto a small private courtyard. At every window a riot of red geraniums tumbled from windowsill flower boxes. Above it, the impossibly steep red tile roof that is a trademark of Alsace housed two additional stories of chiens-assis (sitting dogs, as dormers are called in French). Inside, common walls had been opened into passageways that jogged and slanted between the various parts of the property to form a welcoming maze of cozy nooks filled with local antiques. Most inviting of all was the restaurant, L’Echevin (a medieval title for a high-level magistrate) at the rear of the first floor. In addition to superb cuisine, this noted bastion of local gastronomy offered a lovely view of the tranquil river and the colorful ancient homes that lined the opposite bank.
The Romantik Hotel Spa Les Violettes was our last stop on a tour of the Route des Vins. Today my enthusiasm at exploring Alsace’s famed Wine Road was dampened, literally, by a bone-chilling drizzle that had been falling since morning. Even the traditional half-timbered villages with their bright window boxes overflowing with red geraniums looked forlorn. Then as we were making our way along a remote country road, as if on cue a pool of sunshine bathed the onion-bulb steeple of the Thierenbach Basilica rising from the trees. Halfway up the hill beyond, an imposing pink sandstone façade seemed to glow against its backdrop of dense blue-black forest. How did Les Violettes manage that? I fleetingly wondered.
It all began some 40 years ago when a talented chef with a vision and an eye for a privileged location rented the first floor of a medieval building with a terrace overlooking the River Lauch in Colmar. Before long people were queuing to enjoy Gilbert Bomo’s jambon à la broche (ham roasted on a spit) and other Alsatian specialties. Fast-forward to the present. In the intervening years, Chef Bomo acquired the gorgeous ancient building on the riverbank, then the three adjoining ones, and gradually turned them into a multi-starred boutique hotel. But the restaurant retained pride of place, by now occupying the entire rear of the property’s first floor. L’Echevin (French for high-ranking medieval magistrate) was born. There, it welcomes guests who now come from far and wide to experience what has evolved into an award-wining menu of imaginative gastronomic offerings based on traditional Alsatian specialties; and to enjoy the romantic candlelit atmosphere of the riverside dining room.
Le Jardin des Violettes had it all: a secluded yet easily accessible bucolic setting, an inviting dining room, and the ultimate trump card, an outstanding young chef. Located within the Romantik Hotel and Spa Les Violettes at the edge the lush forested foothills of the Vosges Mountains, the restaurant overlooked the farmland of Alsace’s famed Route des Vins . Its spacious dining room was lined with broad picture windows and French doors that gave the room an airy atmosphere and let in the tranquil country vistas. In season, it opened onto a terrace and lawns that provided a lovely stage for al fresco dining. However, I especially enjoyed the room at night when the indirect lighting subdued by crimson silk shades bathed the space in a faint rosy glow. It enhanced the formal table settings and provided just the right touch of romance to showcase the exceptional cuisine of Chef Jérôme Jaeglé
The history of Alsace is well documented, as far back as 58 B.C. when along with the rest of Gaul (great swaths of what is now France) it was conquered by Caesar. Rome attached the region to its Germania Superior province. Thus began a tumultuous two-millennia history during which this wedge of rich alluvial plain, 190 kilometer (118 mile) long by 50 kilometer (31 mile) wide at its largest, between the western bank of the Rhine River and the Vosges Mountains changed hands several times between France and Germany. This generated a unique culture that, while remaining resolutely French, abounds with unmistakably German elements in its traditions, architecture, arts and cuisine.