Alsace, France Christmas Markets
European Christmas Markets
Merry Christmas! This is one of my favorite times of the year. It’s the season for cold noses, conversations by the fireplace and spreading cheer and happiness with your loved ones. Everyone’s soul child comes out to play during Christmas. The magic comes to life. Being in Europe during the Christmas season is even more exquisite.
Walking through the streets you will see buildings covered in lights; town squares are filled with Christmas markets smelling of hot wine and pastries; huge cedar trees stand proud at the epicenter. The additional aesthetic appeal of being amongst hundreds, sometimes 1000-year old architecture and sauntering through small, cobble-stone roads add to the cozy, Christmas feeling.
These are what make being in Europe during the holiday so special. This year I am in France for Christmas. Strasbourg has the largest and oldest, and thus, the most famous Christmas market in the country. It also ranks at one of the top in all of Europe. It has been in existence since 1570 and has about 300 stalls spread out in 11 different locations throughout the historic center.
Strasbourg is a beautiful city for any time of the year. Its downtown is filled with traditional, timber-framed buildings with plenty of small patisseries and bakeries. The Christmas market and decorations are an added bonus during the holiday season.
While in Strasbourg we stayed at a studio attic apartment just a short walk to the river and city square. As we approached the center the decorations began blooming around us. Building fronts are covered with lights, ornaments, Santas, and, surprisingly, with polar bears. As soon as we arrived to the first Christmas market the aroma of “Vin Chaud” (hot spiced wine) was already beckoning me.
We strolled through the markets looking at each small, wooden hut. Some were selling art and decor items while others provided baked goods, chocolates and drinks. There were several different blocks with markets. Walking from street-to-street to different corners, one could visit each of the markets. One vendor was selling a local “Biere Chaude” (hot beer). I was skeptical at first, but it was actually quite good. We chose to try a little of each and bought a couple of glasses of both the beer and the wine.
We walked along the river to “Petite France”, a historical quarter in the city and a UNESCO World Heritage site. In the Middle Ages this is where the fisherman, tanners and millers worked. At Petite France the river splits into many different channels making the water cascade through the small channel ways. We also visited the “Barrage Vauban”, the dam. It is a 17th-Century defensive structure that is now used to display sculptures and is used as a viewing platform for the city.
That evening after it became dark we walked back into the city’s downtown. We wanted to see the Christmas decorations at night, and visit the cathedral. Strasbourg Cathedral is in the center of the city with an astronomical clock and gothic-style details. The glow of the cathedral at night amidst the Christmas markets made for an incredible site! The town, especially at Christmas, made me feel like I was in a fairytale story.
Colmar is a small town just one hour from Strasbourg that is also wonderful for its Christmas Market. The town is much smaller than Strasbourg, but it doesn’t disappoint. Visitors can easily see Colmar in one day to visit all of its markets, see the town, try some pastries and drinks and take in the small, French town atmosphere.
Colmar has a small-town feeling and is culturally loaded with stunning architecture. The town center of Colmar is essentially pedestrian so it is convenient to walk to all of the town’s historical treasures. Alleyways, churches, museums and monuments dating all the way back to the Middle Ages are spread throughout the center.
“Petite Venice” (Little Venice) was one of my favorite spots. It’s a small district with the old, village atmosphere and is “typical” Alsace. The stream meets brightly colored, half-timbered houses. Colmar provides a special ambiance with its many illuminations.
Last year I spent Christmas in Australia. I was in a sun dress, sweaty and drinking a cold beer in my friend’s garden. That was great too! But this year I am happy to have another cozy, cold Christmas.