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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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Strasbourg: “The Capital of Christmas”

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It’s impossible for words to capture the feeling and quality of the beautiful Christmas Markets in Strasbourg, France. What’s exceptional and unique is the dramatic, over-the-top, décor on the buildings, in the shops, and draped across the streets.  Every corner you turn offers a new visual treat, always something cuter, bigger, brighter or more fanciful. Day and night it’s amazing, and I’m glad I came back. It remains my favorite of the Christmas Markets.

Of course this year, things are just a bit different.  France has heightened security due to the terrorist attacks a few weeks ago in Paris.  They cancelled many public events as well as the Children’s and Three Magi Markets, blocked traffic into the inner city during market hours, cancelled tram stops within the market areas, and literally have police and gun-toting military everywhere.  I don’t think we went five minutes (max) without seeing police. One fellow U.S. visitor witnessed them frisking a Santa yesterday, and today, we were blocked from getting back into our charming hotel, because police found an unattended shopping bag on the street. Thankfully, it turned out to be a false alarm, and we were comforted they were so vigilant.

Our hotel, the Cour du Corbeau, was built in the 1500s and welcomed kings, emperors and princes throughout the years.IMG_4587 Since the Alsace region flipped back and forth between French and German rule, the area is a wonderful mixture of cultures and now home to the European Parliament.  To learn a little of the interesting local history, we took a boat cruise on the L’ill River which runs right through the city, creating an island where the old city is today.

We walked and walked, and then walked some more, visiting Petite France with its half-timbered houses (originally for those with syphilis) and all nine existing markets. The main market is at the Place de la Cathédrale with the backdrop of the beautiful Notre Dame.

IMG_4609The Cathedral Market is really fairly basic, with other, smaller markets featuring more elegant products, the guest country of Luxembourg, local charities, trees along with everything you could possibly need for decorating, and gourmet specialties of the area such as truffles, foie gras, cheese, wine, and pastries.

 

At night, we did it all again to see the lights.  And what a spectacle. Every street different, with thousands and thousands of lights, stars, rings, snowflakes, gingerbread men, balls of color, angels and more. One street features nine Baccarat chandeliers, another can’t run lights across the street because of the electric trams, so they just lit every building in color, and those colors and patterns change continuously.

Weather-wise, it’s been brisk (30s and 40s), but dry.

I can truly say, for this Floridian, it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas.

http://www.noel.strasbourg.eu

Our favorite of the Strasbourg Markets.

Our favorite of the Strasbourg Markets.

The Notre Dame Cathedral.

The Notre Dame Cathedral.