As the clocks fall back for winter and the air temperature drops, we are reminded that Christmas is fast approaching. In response, urban landscapes start to transform into winter wonderlands for the infamous annual Christmas markets. If there isn’t one close to home, they offer a rare opportunity to combine a week away in a stunning OVO Network property with an excuse to buy unique handcrafted goods.
More popular than ever, dedicated Christmas markets offer an abundance of tempting regional delicacies, handmade gifts and a chance to meet the people who actually make them. The tradition originated in Germany in the late middle ages to mark the four weeks of Advent, and soon filtered through Europe to Switzerland, France, Italy and Spain.
The best Christmas markets in Europe
Surprisingly, although local markets have occupied a place on the town squares of England for many years, dedicated Christmas markets didn’t exist until the 1990s.
The best Christmas markets still take place within the leading countries of Europe. Cultural styles tend to dominate the handcrafted objects on sale, so the designs on jewellery, ceramics, and toys vary significantly from region to region. Geographical differences also influence the songs of the choirs, the music of the performers and vibrancy of the dancers who entertain the shoppers while they browse.
The Christmas markets in Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Nuremberg attract the highest numbers of visitors every year and are the biggest. Hot Bratwurst and different beers are among the tempting treats to enjoy at the german street stalls. Further east, roasted hams and hot sugar-coated cake entices shoppers to the markets in Prague. In Bologna, it’s festive nougat made with almonds and honey that is a winner with the crowds. However diverse the flavours may be, there is always one tempting aroma that dominates – roasted chestnuts.
France at its best
Unsurprisingly Strasbourg is one of the most eclectic and best Christmas markets in France. It is also one of the largest and oldest in France. Dotted throughout the city this enormous market centres around the inspiring Gothic Cathedral. It professes to be the home of Christmas, so the city goes all out to attract visitors with its traditional decorations and unique Alsatian delicacies. Tarte Flambée, pretzels and spiced bread are among the sweet favourites. While deliciously crisp local white wines are the perfect accompaniment for the steaming Choucroute Garnie that is so popular in this magnificent city.
Explore our properties in France
Further South and off the beaten track, the charming old town of Annecy, perched beside a stunning lake with magnificent views, is one of the most picturesque settings for a Christmas market. Scattered around the historic Savoie old town near the beautiful Palais de l’Isle, the wooden stalls, often embedded in real snow, uncannily resemble the auberges dotted throughout the nearby mountains. On offer are some of the most drinkable mulled wines, made from century-old recipes perfected in the nearby ski resorts. Along the banks of this ‘little Venice,’ the heady aroma of spiced alcohol mingles perfectly with the tempting flavours of local raclette cheese – try it scraped onto chunks of bread. A mecca for local artisans to sell their goods, the stalls offer an abundance of items to keep you warm.
The enticing experience of wandering around the stalls of Annecy Christmas market can become a reality when staying in one of the OVO Network city apartments or properties dotted around the lake. Many of the beautiful OVO Network chalets are just a stone’s throw from the bustling weekly markets in Morzine and La Clusaz, which sell a variety of regional crafts. Sugar-coated nuts, delicious nougat, intricate wooden toys, traditional alpine knits, slippers, hats and gloves made from local hides are a few of the unique items that make fantastic Christmas presents or souvenirs.
The historical centre of St Gallen, Switzerland, hosts one of the most beautiful Christmas markets. The city prides itself on having a giant tree, the biggest in Switzerland, which is strung with thousands of lights. Hundreds of sparkling stars suspended above the market magically illuminate the wooden stalls, making it one of the most picturesque Christmas markets. In the shadow of the Baroque Cathedral, traditional mulled wine and rum punch stalls keep shoppers warm while they weave between the variety of stalls. While the airborne flavours of melted cheese and local sausage create a hunger that needs to be satisfied and make St Gallen one of the best Christmas markets in Switzerland.
Easy to reach from many countries, Geneva has big plans for the Christmas market this year. Located in the Parc des Bastions and spread over eight thousand square meters near the beautiful old town, the 2019 Christmas market will be offering a traditional Swiss yuletide setting like no other. Among the many stalls offering traditional gastronomical delights, wines and crafts, an ice-skating rink will provide a much-needed distraction for little ones.
Big or small, the experience of soaking up the ambience of a Christmas market coupled with the indulgence of sampling some sumptuous local delicacies can become a reality when taking a holiday in an OVO Network property.