If the scent of spiced wine, gingerbread and fresh pine makes your heart glow, you’ll do no wrong heading to a Christmas market this year – and no one does them better than Europeans. Here’s a roundup of our favourites and where to stay for the ultimate festive experience.
France – Strasbourg
Carousels glitter against the dusty night sky with a golden glow, lovingly made half-timbered houses are covered in red and white hearts and angels, stars and snowflakes line the ancient streets. It must be Christmas in Strasbourg. Dating back to 1570, the Christkindelsmärik is the oldest – and quite possibly the loveliest – in France. Eleven ‘villages’ make up the market, which makes for a romantic stroll sampling special ‘bredele’ biscuits from the locals. Our favourite is orange and cinnamon – divine.
The Bouclier D’Or is just the place to unwind after a day of shopping at the market in Strasbourg. A bourgeois house from the 16th century in the historic part of Strasbourg called La Petite France, it has 22 charming rooms. Admire the historic frescoes over a relaxing drink or sink into the hotel’s onsite SPA.
Switzerland – Basel
The city of Basel is much lauded as Switzerland’s ultimate Christmas destination – host to the largest Swiss Christmas market among beautifully adorned half-timbered houses. Around 190 traditional huts and stands fill the festive wonderland, providing unique shopping opportunities, rousing concerts and streets filled with chocolate, Raclette cheese, mulled wine and sparkling pine trees.
The Grand Hotel Les Trois Rois lies at the very heart of the city of Basel. It is rich in history and young at heart – it’s history stretches back over 300 years but the hotel also epitomises modern luxury. The hot tub on the roof is a fine example of this; if you dare to brave the cold you will be rewarded with a sublime view of the river and city stretching out beneath you.
Switzerland – St Gallen
The romantic old town of St Gallen becomes known by locals as ‘the city of stars’ over the festive season. And it’s no wonder, since the streets shimmer in the light of 700 stars hung all around. Admire medieval architecture framed by jagged snow-dusted mountains as you stroll around huts filled with Christmas goods. Mulled beer is a must, as is a mug of feuerzangenbowle – a spicy wine and rum punch. The market also boasts Switzerland’s highest Christmas tree, which you’ll find surrounded by heart-warming carol singers.
Once you’ve filled up on festive treats, the glorious city of Zurich is just one hour away. And easily reachable with a direct train connection from Zurich airport (almost to the front door) is Romantik Seehotel Sonne. Truly round off a magical adventure at this the hotel which dates back to 1641, combines old-world romance with modern comforts and divine cuisine. There’s even a private ice rink for you to soak up the unique winter atmosphere by Lake Zurich.
Germany – Stuttgart
Stuttgarter Weihnachtsmarkt is one of the most authentic and oldest Christmas markets in the whole of Europe. Dating back to 1692, the festive bonanza is brimming with spectacular illuminations, whiffs of fried sausages and roasted chestnuts, giant Christmas trees and glistening ornaments, all set in the hub of the town against the charming backdrop of the Old Palace. Don’t miss a photo opportunity at the ‘Wintertraum’ – the winter wonderland on the Palace Square.
Germany – Hamburg
The age-old port city of Hamburg offers a plethora of different Christmas markets, all catering to different tastes. If you’re heading to the soul-cleansing destination this year, be sure to take time out for the Jungfernstieg market, where you’ll find luxurious gift ideas and beautiful food. Couples may wish to try the more intimate Fleetinsel market on the water’s edge, where you can admire fairy lights twinkling on antique sailing boats. Naturally, the square in front of the city hall is the place to be for the all-out Christmas affair – with row upon row of sweet treats, crafts and toys.