French Getaway on a Budget
Hey guys! Do you often dream of travelling to picturesque destinations in Europe? To soak up the sights, sounds and culture like bread soaks up soup. If you do, we're very much alike. I love travel and I yearn to see more of the world. See different sights, savor different cuisines and disconnect from the hectic world around us. My husband and I dream of visiting Rome one day. I love gelato, pasta, pizza and la dolce far niente which in Italian means the sweetness of doing nothing (popularized by the book Eat, Pray, Love). I'm a huge fan of the book; I've been to Bali once and India multiple times, so the only place left in the holy trinity for the soul prescribed by Elizabeth Gilbert is Rome!
But of course, as young adults, we face the dilemma of not being able to afford such a luxurious European getaway. We're just beginning our life journey of adulthood and there's much to plan for: having savings for times of emergency, planning a wedding, buying a car or first house, etc. Even if my husband and I go to Rome at this point, I would obsess over every Euro we spend and how much that translates to in Ringgit and drive myself crazy! It wouldn't be much of a holiday. We hope that in the next few years, we can save enough money to plan a modest trip to Rome, all part of our bassinet list (which is like a bucket list except this is a list of things to do before having kids).
Does that mean we have to put our dreams of relaxing getaways on hold for years on end? Well, I don't think so. Getaways are a great opportunity to relax, connect with loved ones and create wonderful memories. There are great holiday destinations close to home that don't necessarily have to break the bank. Short, sweet trips to nearby places can be very enjoyable and you return feeling relaxed, energized and ready to fight those Monday blues.
I would love to share with you guys one such travel location - Colmar Tropicale in Bukit Tinggi. Only about one and a half hours drive from Kuala Lumpur, Colmar Tropicale is a beautiful French themed resort great for couples, families and friends. It's perfect for a 2D1N weekend stay. Once you check in, you walk out into a picturesque French village and suddenly, you're Belle from Beauty and the Beast walking on cobblestone streets lined with quaint houses painted in bright, attractive colors. There are shops set up along the street selling souvenirs and French-inspired restaurant and cafes serving an assortment of dishes. As you walk down the street to reach your hotel block, you will hear and smell loads of pleasant things. You smell freshly baked bread and all sorts of foods that make your mouth-water and tummy rumble. In the distance, you hear the calming whoosh of water from the nearby fountain and buskers performing soothing, jazz music. Although the song Bonjour wasn't playing in the background to complete the Beauty and the Beast feel, there is upbeat medieval-themed music that sets the mood just the same!
There are multiple types of rooms to choose from. You can try to request for a room facing either the town-square or the garden, both equally beautiful. My preference, however, is the garden view, away from the hustle and bustle of the town-square. Sipping tea at the balcony overlooking the luscious greens with my husband, listening to the birds chirping and whistling along; pure serenity.
So, why a French-resort in Bukit Tinggi? A good question that is answered at the gates of this wonderful town. The story is displayed on a monument right outside the town with a statue of two birds perched on top. According to the story, the Berjaya Group owner visited a village named Aspace in France and was so inspired by this beautiful village that he was determined to build an exact replica in Malaysia. And what's up with the birds, you ask? It was a gift from Aspace as a thank you for commemorating their village. The birds are special to the region of Aspace, I think.
There's loads to do here in Colmar. Here are some of the things my husband and I tried last weekend:
1. Get your caricature drawn. There is a talented gentlemen who draws your caricature for RM20 per face. It's a lovely souvenir to bring back and get framed for your house, a token of the magical French-inspired weekend! He even draws portraits of couples together and it's quite a fun and memorable experience.
2. Go horse-back riding. A short drive away is a riding center, with stables and beautiful horses. This is a little pricey (RM110 for 30 minutes and RM160 for 1 hour) but definitely very memorable. This is perfect for even novice riders like myself as you are guided by an experienced rider. I met Chester who is a beautiful horse with a calm spirit. I really didn't have the heart to say goodbye to him, but alas I had to leave or risk being chased off.
3. Visit the animal park. If you're an animal lover, you'll really enjoy this park. And kids love it too! Entrance fee is RM 5. Here, you can pet animals such as deer, rabbits and ponies. There are pony rides for young kids as well. My husband and I enjoyed playing with the deer and rabbits. It's a great place to expose kids to the beauty of nature and to teach them to be gentle to all animal-kind.
4. Visit the Japanese village. A short drive away from Colmar is a serene and pretty Japanese village. Warning: You are required to park a distance away from the village and getting there will involve stairs and steep up-hill walking. So bring bottled water along. You can enter the village for free so this is a real wallet-friendly activity. You can walk around this postcard-perfect village, surrounded by trees, Japanese houses and waterfalls and take loads of beautiful pictures. To amp-up the Japanese experience, you can opt to rent and don a Kimono for RM20 per person. You can choose your Kimono and staff help you put it on in the traditional fashion. My husband and I had so much fun walking around the village and taking pictures in our Kimonos! The rental period is about 30 minutes. This was definitely the highlight of our trip.
One downside is meals can be quite pricey in Colmar. Meals can be anywhere from RM 30 to 45 per pax. The food options are mostly Western, except for the breakfast spread (I'll get to that shortly). We had lunch in one of the cafes in the town-square and it cost us RM 26 per pax for a chicken dish with traditional roast chicken, mash potatoes and a muffin. Delicious, but a little costly. In retrospect, what I might suggest instead, for those travelling on a budget, is visit the nearby bakery (also within the Colmar town-square). I saw signs for assorted sandwiches at RM 6 each, if I remember correctly. You could have that and add on a French pastry for dessert. The bakery has some tables and chairs placed outside for those who decide to dine-in, perfect for taking in the sights and sounds of Colmar.
Bottled water is around RM 5, so I advise to bring one down from your room instead. This way, lunch can be easily within RM 10 to 15 nett. Having saved quite a bit for lunch, consider splurging a little and treating yourself to a nice dinner! Colmar at night-time is really quite something! There are beautiful fairy lights overhead that resemble sparkling stars and the town-square looks ever so beautiful. The buskers come back for a night-time performance so after dinner at one of the many cafes in Colmar, you can just sit back at the fountain and enjoy the music. Absolute bliss.
For the next day, hotel breakfast awaits. YUM! If you've had your share of Western food and want to go back to the delights of Malaysian cuisine, look no further for the breakfast spread is a nice mix of both Malaysian and French options. You can choose from nasi dagang, sambal, chicken curry, chicken or plain porridge, chicken sausages, eggs (omelette and soft-boiled), french toast, assorted french pastries, banana bread pudding, coffee, tea and various juices. I particularly enjoyed the chicken porridge and banana bread pudding, very tasty indeed!
Check-out is at 12pm. I suggest after breakfast, take a nice stroll around Colmar, visit some swans beneath the drawbridge or climb the tower to get a beautiful bird's eye view of the Colmar town-square.
Then, pack your bags, check out and visit one of the attractions nearby before heading home. The Japanese village would be a perfect mid-morning stop. By the time you're done and decide to head back home, odds are you'll be pretty hungry and KL is at least an hour away. So you can make a pit stop to Bukit Tinggi Seafood Restaurant not far from Colmar (only 20 minutes away, along the highway heading towards KL). My husband and I ordered rice, claypot steamed fish, daun keladi and egg foo yung. The restaurant got our order wrong and brought us steamed assam fish instead but it was still very nice nonetheless. Plus, they were rather apologetic about the whole situation and said they'd give us a discount. Overall, the bill came up to RM 57.
All in all, the weekend getaway was really enjoyable and my husband and I made some awesome memories in this European-inspired town of Colmar. Always remember guys, even if we can't afford a trip to Europe right now, that doesn't mean we can't find Europe right here in Malaysia. It might not be the cobblestone streets as Belle remembers, but it's still pretty special.