The first half of the 19th-century was a period of a massive expansion of the French Eastern waterway network. Industrial development led to the increase in transportation demand from the production regions to the Seine basin and the capital. In 1833, the opening of the newly completed Rhone-Rhine canal allowed the connection between the Rhine and the Rhone basins, through the Saone River. Cities have always played an important role in the construction of canals. Such an infrastructure is a pivotal opportunity for commercial and financial benefits. The city of Dole, in Franche-Comté, “lobbied” to have a connection to the Rhone-Rhine canal, and so did Toulouse in the 17th century. However, when the aforementioned Rhone-Rhine canal was completed, the city of Colmar could not help but feel sidelined from this network. For almost three decades, all those who had a stake in the potential benefits of having Colmar linked to the rest of the network, campaigned for a solution to be found. This was a period of great industrial development in the region and Colmar, like many other Alsatian cities, was profiteering from the growing textile industry and market. This was why many industrialists and manufacturers were calling for the creation of this link to the broader waterway system. The urban authorities as well as many citizens agreed. Finally, in 1862, the construction of the Colmar canal began. It was opened to navigation two years later. The canal was Colmar’s fluvial opening to the rest of the country and Europe. It remained an important regional means of transport for the next 130 years.
In the 1990s, freight began to slow down and tourism took over. The canal was developed to welcome pleasure cruises. Although Colmar is still an important crossroad for commercial transport (road, railroad, fluvial and aerial), pleasure boating is the main asset of the city’s waterway system.
The short Colmar canal is an excellent path to take to visit this part of Alsace. When leaving the Rhine, the curious town of Neuf-Brisach is only within a short walking or cycling distance. Located on the border with Germany, Neuf-Brisach is an early 18th-century fortified city built as a square, surrounded by a star fort. An interesting promenade in a city where everything is (almost!) symmetrical! It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
There will be no shortage of interesting sights while cruising deeper in Alsatian land, even over such a short distance. Whether to have a bite at local specialities or to discover the architecture, or both, it is worth stopping at Muntzenheim and Wickerschwihr. It is then time to head toward Colmar, the French little Venice. It is a jewel of the regional architecture with its small canals, churches, and houses. And, it is the only place in France where you can see the Statue of Liberty!