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Secrets of European Christmas Markets

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I’ve had the good fortune to make two trips to see Europe’s fabulous Christmas markets.  Once with my Mother on a river cruise and once with a girlfriend. Both trips were kaleidoscopes of super-sized, festive, cold, delicious Christmas overload.

I know from previous experience that Germany is really where many of our beloved Christmas traditions began and the Alsace region of France, enhanced those traditions by taking tree decorating to the next level. Germany alone has 2,500 Christmas Markets.  This entry will give a recap of my market experiences and tips for markets in Germany, France, and Switzerland, listed in alpha order by city. Find out about markets in: Basel, Cologne, Colmar, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Lucerne, Ludwigsburg, Mainz, Munich, Nuremberg, Rudesheim, Strasbourg, and Stuttgart.

The markets run during Advent, from late November until just before Christmas, and all feature stalls stocked with every imaginable kind of ornamentation and decorative item. About half of the markets are devoted to an incredible array of food, baked treats, and goodies of every description.  Not to mention the famous hot mulled wine, Glühwein, of which I am not a fan – I’ll stick with hot chocolate. I love that the Germany markets sell cute mugs as traditional market souvenirs. They are customized for each location and year. Large and mid-size cities often have multiple markets and many smaller towns are a short train ride away.  They generally open around 11 AM till 9PM in the evening.  But times can vary, so be sure to check the links provided for current info.

Many markets only take cash, so have your Euros ready, and lots of items are easily available in the U.S. with no savings evident, this is NOT bargain shopping. Look for the special, locally made items and know you will pay a fair price. Be wary of anything electrical, it will not work if you bring it back to the U.S.

While you make your way through the markets here is a list of local treats to taste-test:

German Christmas Markets

  • ֎ Chocolate-covered gingerbread
  • ֎ Springerle
  • ֎ Lebkuchen cookies
  • ֎ Weckla – Nuremburger sausages in a hard bread roll
  • ֎ Bredle cookies
  • ֎ Brenton (marzipan) cookie
  • ֎ Snowball

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Xmas on the Rhine: Basel & Lucerne

Advent Calendar on the Lake, Lucerne.

Advent Calendar on the Lake, Lucerne.

Last night we followed the Belgian tradition of leaving our shoes outside our door to see what ‘Santa’ would bring us on the morning of December 6th. This morning we woke up to find a special gift of a very large chocolate Santa for each of us!

We arrived in Basel, Switzerland’s third largest city, early in the morning after traveling through eight locks during the night. Guides we had today all talked about Art Basel and Art Basel in Miami (going on right now); we also saw ample evidence of the big pharma companies based here, most prominently Novartis. After an orientation tour of the city, we visited the beautiful Rathaus (Town Hall) built over a 400-year period beginning in 1501. Basel is also home to the largest Swiss Xmas Market nestled into the plaza on Barfusserplatz. Today was very cold and threatening to rain and we didn’t get much time in the market; but since it is much smaller and more compact than many we’ve seen, we managed to cover all the bases.

This afternoon we drove towards the Alps and the beautiful city of Luzern. It was nostalgic to see the Old Swiss House (a copy used to be at Tampa’s Busch Gardens) and interesting to visit the lion monument and another beautiful Town Hall. The lake, of course, is so picturesque and even the dark clouds didn’t diminish the beauty of the surrounding scenery with its snow-capped mountains. It was a perfect jigsaw puzzle picture. We walked across the (rebuilt) historic wooden covered bridge that stretches across the lake, watched graceful swans, and paid a visit to the very small, but pretty, Xmas Market located between Franziskanerplatz & Hirschengraben.

The Swiss have a less-is-more philosophy when it comes to Christmas decorations and often the trees were unadorned or very sparsely decorated. Although there are many beautiful shops and department stores, the holiday markets here were the most disappointing of the trip (but we’ve seen so much it is not important). One of my favorite sites in Lucerne was a building that had been turned into a giant, colorful Advent Calendar. Hanging street lights didn’t have the variety we’d seen in other cities, but were still elegant and featured large crowns or lit stars; and since we were in town until dark we did get to see all the city lights! We concluded our Swiss odyssey with a wonderful hot chocolate in a local café.

For our last evening on the cozy River Princess, we said goodbye to new friends, wishing everyone a Wonderful Christmas Season, Happy, Healthy New Year & to All a Good Night!