Just Back: The Strasbourg Christmas Market

In France this month? Hop on the high-speed TGV for a day trip from Paris to Strasbourg, where the oldest Christmas market in France (and certainly one of the largest) means serious festive merry-making. Trip time? Just over two hours from Paris Gare de l'Est. Don't even worry about packing a map. Like most cities in France, Strasbourg has excellent tourist infrastructure, with maps available at the train station, and signs indicating pedestrian routes to the markets all over town. Themed markets are dotted across the picturesque old city, its gingerbread houses decked with lights. Of these, the most festive is perhaps the traditional market in the square beneath the soaring gothic cathedral- itself worth a trip to Alsace. Inside the cathedral's pink sandstone walls, a 16th century astronomical clock delights visitors. Also be sure to check out the seasonal nativity scene.

Our favorite of the city's markets: the bredle tent at Place d'Austerlitz, where a cluster of Alsatian bakers offer tastings of bredle (Christmas cakes/cookies) and wine; and the artisanal market in Petite France, the city's historic quartier, where you can try of glass of hot blueberry nectar along with the usual hot mulled wine. Canal boats pass by the cobblestoned alleys lined with half-timbered houses, allowing tourists a duck's eye view of this charming neighborhood.

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From hand-painted ornaments to locally-made pottery, from gingerbread men to hot waffles slathered with nutella, you'll be sure to get a dose of yuletide spirit. When night falls, the city is aglow with lights, its Great Christmas Tree-- sourced from the Vosges forest-- towering 28 meters above a miniature reproduction of an Alsatian village. For the list of concerts and exhibitions, consult www.noel.strasbourg.eu.No wonder Strasbourg calls itself the Christmas Capital.

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