Paul Wade, The Daily Telegraph, October 21, 2014
Glühwein or glögg? Gingery Lebkuchen or torrone? Santa or St Nick? All across Europe, the season of Christmas markets is approaching. Large and small, they promise conviviality, food, drink, music and more. Best of all, each reflects the culture of the region. So, choose a market for your mood and head off for a jollity-filled break.
November 15–January 6
Gemütlichkeit (think warm glow; cosy fires) – and plenty of it – is on offer in this small city surrounded by mountains. Of the half-a-dozen markets, the most romantic is in the Altstadt, lined with medieval houses. Stalls are piled with gingerbread, wooden toys and delicate ornaments, made of handblown glass. At dusk, trumpeters play carols on the 500-year-old Golden Roof. Try the Kiachln, Advent doughnuts, served hot, with cranberry sauce. On the narrow Kiebachgasse, fairy-tale characters, such as Rapunzel peer down from the windows. At weekends, ride the funicular up Nordkette mountain to Hungerburg. After tasty treats at this little market, ride to the top of the Hafelekar for views of twinkling city lights and snow-tipped peaks.
November 28–December 28
In France, good food is a passion and the Soleils d’Hiver (Winter Suns) festival in Angers is a gourmet’s delight. The Place du Ralliement, in front of the theatre, offers a cornucopia of delicious things to eat, not just from the Loire Valley, but all over France. Sip vin chaud (hot mulled wine); nibble on nougat; lick pommes d’amour, much more romantic-sounding than toffee apples, non? But there is more: children ride the carousel and little train; grown-ups look for perfect gifts in chic boutiques on nearby lanes. And over by the 13th-century fortress is the Maison des Vins co-op, where bubbly costs about a fiver a bottle. As Angers is handy for the Channel ports, take the car and load up for Noël.
November 28–December 31
Year round, Strasbourg scores for Olde Worlde charm, but during Advent, the capital of Alsace is even more magical. Half-timbered houses sport giant red-and-white hearts; stars, angels and snowflakes garland the cobbled streets. No wonder Strasbourg won the title of “Best Christmas Market in Europe” last year. But locals have plenty of practice in throwing a Yuletide party – the Christkindelsmärik dates back to 1570 and even the towering fir tree on the Place Kléber is a 400-year-old custom. Check out the 11 different “villages” but do not miss the “bredele”. These special biscuits come in all shapes and flavours, from hazelnut, orange and cinnamon to walnut, coconut and praline. Take them home; hang them on your tree; then eat them!
November 24–January 6
For sheer diversity, Hamburg is hard to beat. In this historic port, 15 different markets cater to all tastes. Traditionalists head for the square in front of the grandiose city hall, where the rows of stalls are themed, from sweet treats (cakes, chocolates and more) to crafts (leather, silver, tree ornaments). Children are entranced by the Spielzeuggasse, the Toy Street, full of playthings from around the world. Romantics opt for the Jungfernstieg market, whose focus is on posh food and gifts; crowd-avoiders choose the smaller Fleetinsel market by the water, where fairy lights twinkle on two antique sailing vessels. Strictly for over-18s is the risqué Santa Pauli market on the X-rated Reeperbahn.
November 26–December 23
Dating back to 1692, the Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt is one of Germany’s best-known pre-Christmas jamborees. In the car-free, old heart of this compact city, the air is scented with spiced wine and boughs of fresh pine. From the Schlossplatz to the Marktplatz, some 300 stalls snake along the cobbled streets; decked out with bright ornaments and sparkling lights, they compete for the coveted title of “best decorated”. Look out for handmade Black Forest specialities, such as felted slippers and real horsehair brushes, knitted hats and artisanal fruit brandies. While the fair is on, first-class – and free – concerts are held in the Renaissance courtyard of the Old Palace and also on the steps of the Town Hall.
November 24–December 23
An hour south of Frankfurt and claiming to be “Germany’s oldest city”, Worms proves that small really is beautiful. The action is on and around the market square, where strings of lights fan out above the 50 stalls. Ice skaters show off their skills on the temporary rink, while children pet the real animals in the “living manger” – and clamour to see Santa. His sacks of toys are like a village fête lucky dip: pay €3 (£) and see what you get! With its Roman history and enormous Romanesque cathedral, the past is an everyday presence, but at Christmas, this Rhine-side city springs some surprises. As well classical music and traditional Turmblasen, brass players, there are gospel choirs and, new this year, (supposedly) spontaneous bursts of carol singing – flash-mob-style.
November 21–January 7
Forget “Merry Christmas”; in Bologna, “Buon Natale” is the greeting you hear in the seasonal markets that add a buzz to the heart of this ancient city. Spreading alongside the 12th-century San Pietro Cathedral is the Fiera di Natale; the smaller Antica Fiera di Santa Lucia centres on the cloister of the Santa Maria dei Servi church. Although fun things to buy include glass Christmas decorations and mechanised Nativity scenes, Bologna is synonymous with good food. Mouth-watering temptations are everywhere, from realistic fruits, made from marzipan and citrus peel dipped in dark chocolate to torrone, a festive-season nougat made with nuts and honey. What could be better for stocking fillers? Or for the person who has everything?
November 22–December 23
Although the first Christmas market on Stortorget square in Old Stockholm was held 500 years ago, the modern event dates back “only” a century. In front of the Nobel Museum, close to the Royal Palace, the cheerful stalls are filled with crafts made only in Sweden, such as glass, pottery and jewellery. Prices are surprisingly affordable, ranging from £1 to £75. To keep children happy, tickets for the tombola are priced at just a few pence. Grown-ups sip glögg (mulled wine); everyone munches pepparkakor, thin ginger biscuits. With a dusting of snow, it all looks like a Christmas card, Scandinavian-style. Be sure to bring home a taste of Sweden: saffransbullar (saffron buns) and vacuum-packed sausages made of – don’t tell the children – reindeer meat.
November 27–December 24
Only an hour from Zurich, St Gallen ticks all the boxes: half-timbered merchants’ houses, a Baroque cathedral, a wonderfully ornate medieval library and picture-postcard views of snow-covered mountains. Kicking off the Advent fun is the lighting of thousands of lights on Switzerland’s tallest Christmas tree, accompanied by carol singing. But throughout the old town, 700 huge stars glitter above the pedestrianised streets and boutiques are decorated for the season. At the Christchindli market, look for biberli. Typical of St Gallen, these ginger bread/marzipan concoctions come in different shapes, have different decorations, but are always yummy. To warm up, drop by a Beizli, little pub, for a mug of feuerzangenbowle, a wine and rum fire punch, and raclette, melted Swiss cheese, with crusty bread.
November 29–January 11
When it comes to the festive season, Lithuania’s capital goes all out. Most eye-catching is the Vilnius Television tower, transformed into a 550-ft high Christmas tree with a gazillion light bulbs. Even the real fir tree on Cathedral Square is gaudy, with its oversized neon decorations. Stay toasty in the snow by sipping mulled wine (karstas vynas) and buying a new warm hat and gloves. Along with woollen slippers and pottery candle holders, these are among the regional handicrafts that make great gifts. Munch on Lithuanian pastries, such as raguolis, or poppy seed cake. And, in the season of good will, what is more appropriate than the International Christmas Charity Fair, where foreign embassy staff from around the world sell home-made cakes and gifts.
Find more Christmas markets holidays from Telegraph Travel Collection
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This article was written by Paul Wade from The Daily Telegraph and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.