A foodie day in France: Sweet tales from Colmar

As I write I'm tucking into the last of the treats Tim and I brought back from a recent trip to Colmar in France. It's a spice loaf with honey and almonds and, like everything else we bought, mouthwateringly good. If there's one thing you do when you go to France, it seems to be put on a few pounds in sugar. But I'm certainly not complaining.

It took us just one-and-a-half hours to drive to Colmar, a beautifully preserved medieval town with colourful half-timbered houses propping one another up. It is laced with canals and narrow alleyways, which we delighted in exploring. Wisteria hung from terraces, while the first geraniums were starting to bloom on the riverbanks. We went on a 'patisserie crawl', calling at one bakery after another. We sampled apple-filled brioche, chocolate eclairs, coffee eclairs and hazelnut kugelhopf (a light cake with a well in the centre).

There doesn't seem to be anything the region hasn't made its own. Among other specialties is wine (Colmar is on the Alsace Wine Route; we came back with pure pressed grape juice - non-alcoholic but should come with a sugar warning) and pate with pork and white wine - yes, we bought some of that too. Somehow, come lunchtime, we were hungry again and dined at the Maison Rouge on Rue des Ecoles. It had a slight air of a brothel from outside with tinted glass windows, but inside was Parisian brasserie to a T. I enjoyed creamy onion tart (another local speciality) with regional asparagus, while Tim had steak with 'pommes frites'.

After lunch, we went on trip in a so-called 'barque' (little wooden boat) along the Lauch (leek) river in the Little Venice area. The little river is apparently so-called because a farmer on his way to market by boat once dropped all his leeks into the water. The guided tour showed that the area in fact has nothing of Venice, but a unique charm of its own.

All the facades we passed beneath were painted different pastel shades - our guide said there was a local understanding that you could not have the same coloured house as your neighbour. Shutters were quaint with hearts cut into them - apparently this was once a sign that the girl living there was looking for a husband. We had to duck our heads to pass beneath low bridges, fell silent while passing one area where residents had demanded a 'silence zone' and were surrounded by such dense greenery and sounds of birdsong that we could have been anywhere but at the heart of a bustling town. Tour over, it was almost time to leave.

We had just one more stop: to a little tea house where we sipped orange-scented green tea and indulged in one more sweet treat: a creamy chocolate cake with biscuit base. Well, there could hardly have been a better way to see out the day, could there?

One day in Germany: A Black Forest fairytale

From the moment you approach the outskirts of the Black Forest, it feels like something from a fairytale. From one moment to the next, you swap the industrial flatlands of southwest Germany for undulating valleys coated in woodland of varying greens - everything from vivid grasshopper to elegant forest, as well as a paint box of golden yellows. It rings true of Little Red Riding Hood - so densely packed are the trees that if you strayed from the road, you would struggle to find your way back. If the woodland sets the perfect fairytale stage, the low-slung rooftops on hefty barns and gingerbread-style cottages enhance the scene. Little wonder the Brothers Grimm chose this wooded enclave in Baden-Württemburg as the setting for so many of their famous tales.

Tim and I are on a little adventure. We have hired a car for the weekend - it's a treat that shows how beneficially located Zurich is for exploring neighbouring countries. The weather is dismal - rain sheeting onto the windscreen and ribbons of cloud encircling the treetops - but it doesn't dampen our spirit for exploration. Part of the attraction is gourmet. In Germany? Yes, really. We read that the southern Black Forest is renowned for its asparagus - and now is the season to enjoy it - so on our list is finding a lunch spot with an 'asparagus menu'.

We haven't forgotten about Black Forest gateau, either... We stop in the town of Todtnau, southwest of Freiburg. It has a pretty sort of square dominated by a church with twin spires, and opens onto a network of ski infrastructure. It also has Germany's longest toboggan run, the so-called Hasenhorn rollercoaster. There are people hurtling down the metal drainpipe on little go-carts even today. For us, cosy Pension Sonne is more the thing. It has a guest house feel, is located off the main square and is advertising fresh asparagus. Sadly, the salmon I order is dreadfully overcooked and tasteless - but I do have some local asparagus, and follow it with fresh strawberries and ice cream.

Before leaving, we stock up on Black Forest gateau - as, of course, one must do. I'm not keen on rich cakes, but bought here, the Black Forest variety tastes divine (so creamy and with such a vivid flavour of cherry) compared to the vile frozen varieties you find in supermarkets. It's useful sustenance for the wet walk we set off on - to the Todtnau Waterfall, which crashes over 97 metres of jagged rocks.

You can walk from the village, but it's so wet that we drive to the car park a little higher up. There is a series of bridges that crisscross over the waterfall to spectacular effect. Forget fairytales: this could be Elvish Rivendell. We climb the stony stairwell to the top of the waterfall - our eardrums ringing with the watery roar and our clothes soaked by a film of spray - and try to picture how beautiful the view would be were the weather better. We get tantalising glimpses of forest stretching endlessly into equally endless filmy cloud. On the drive back, I feel invigorated from exploring a new place. We also pass a 'pick your own asparagus' field, which is the healthy icing on the cake. The Black Forest made for a wonderful day trip from Zurich. Indeed, I could have happily spent a week touring the place.
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