The Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe

The Most Beautiful Christmas Markets in Europe

When you’re traveling abroad at year’s end, visiting a Christmas market is probably the best way to dive into the holiday spirit and start enjoying the festive atmosphere. These markets offer unique traditional settings where you can try typical winter street food and beverages, buy cute and quirky decorations for your tree, keep the kids busy with games and toys or even ice skate or have a visit with Santa and his elves. Every year, some of the most charming European towns and cities host their own magical local events. Read on to learn about the most beautiful Christmas markets in Europe– ones we always recommend you visit on your next trip to the Continent or the UK. We’ve included details on market dates for 2018, so you can plan your trip accordingly. Time to get festive!

 

Cologne, Germany

One of the most beloved Christmas-time destinations in Europe is Cologne, in Germany. In this lovely city, millions of visitors from around the world head to the annual markets to enjoy the festive atmosphere, usually on the last Monday before Advent.  The city offers five different markets, where revelers can purchase decorations, toys, mulled wine, gingerbread and many other local treats. In particular, we recommend the Old Town Market, in front of Cologne’s Town Hall, which, legend has it, is populated by gnomes.

Dates in 2018: Christmas markets in Cologne run from the 26th of November through the 23rd of December.

Read related: These Are the 11 Most Tempting Food Markets in the World 

Lille, France

From the 23rd of November until the end of December, the Northern French city of Lille hosts around 90 wooden chalets selling delicious regional food and crafty Christmas gifts ideas from Russia, Canada and Poland. For a stunning view of the festive town from above, we strongly recommend a ride on the Ferris Wheel. Head to the town center of this pretty but under-estimated city in France for some unique holiday cheer. A day trip from Paris is even possible!

Dates in 2018: November 23rd through the end of December

Alsace, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Christmas market in Colmar, France

Have time to visit a couple more festive holiday markets in France? If so, also make sure to check out the lovely traditional markets of Alsace, including in Strasbourg and Colmar. There’s little more heartening and spirited than strolling through rows of warm chalets decked with lights and decorations, sipping spiced mulled wine and nibbling on gingerbread or crepes. Alsace is located at the border of Germany, and the cultural influences of both France and Germany combine in local Christmas fare and customs.

Dates in 2018: See this page for a full list of markets in Alsace this year.

 

Lisbon, Portugal

With fairy lights adorning the historic city center, the Portuguese capital looks completely different during the Christmas season. The bright colors and the delicious smells of the Natal E Na Fil Festive Market turn it in a whole new gem to discover. The Market, held in the Feira Internacional De Lisboa, usually takes place during the first week of December. If you’d like to try a typical Christmas cake, we advise to taste the ‘Bolo rei’ (the King’s cake), a round pastry stuffed with seasonal fruit, and to accompany it with a glass of fine regional wine.

Dates in 2018: Generally in early December. Visit the Lisbon Tourist Office for updates. 

Venice, Italy

How does ice skating in the gorgeous city center of Venice, Italy sound to you? In Campo San Polo, the biggest Venetian square after San Marco, an ice rink is set up every year for tourists and Venetians to enjoy. Campo Santo Stefano, located in the Sestiere of Dorsoduro – at a walking distance from San Marco via the Accademia Bridge across the Canal Grande –  is also turned into a Christmas Village, running for three weeks until the 24th of December.

Read related: Spotlight on Montefeltro, Italy 

The Village has a whole section dedicated to Italian food, where you can find cakes, olive oils, fine vinegars and gourmet products to taste. Pannetone, a typical Italian cake that comes in different flavors, is one that’s especially enjoyed during the holiday season.

Dates in 2018: Early December through Christmas Eve (December 24th)

Florence, Italy

Photo by Alice Barigelli via flickr

Piazza Santa Croce, one of the most beautiful squares in the city of Florence, hosts a Christmas Market in 2018 from late  November to the 20th of December. Following the tradition of the well-known German markets, you’ll find plenty of small wooden chalets decorated with festive garlands and fairy lights. Vendors at these cheerful stalls sell Christmas decorations, handmade gifts and, of course, delicious food. In addition to regional Italian delicacies, the market also offers a good selection of German Christmas foods, including gingerbread and strudel.

Dates in 2018: November 28th to December 20th

Birmingham, UK

By Paul Englefield [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Heading across the channel to celebrate the holidays British-style, Birmingham’s Frankfurt-style Christmas market is the largest outdoor market of this kind in the United Kingdom. It’s also, somewhat surprisingly, the biggest German market outside Germany and Austria. If you love festive holiday markets, this one is truly unmissable! Held for the first time in 1997, it attracts more than five million people every year. Situated in Victoria Square and along New Street, this market will be open for five weeks from mid-November. The broad, festive food selection on offer here includes authentic pretzels, schnitzel, bratwurst sausages, and roasted almonds.

Dates in 2018: November 15th through December 23rd

Guernsey, Channel Islands

Christmas market in Guernsey

Why not arrange a magical winter getaway on the charming island of Guernsey? St Peter Port, Guernsey’s capital, is a perfect location to spend the Christmas break in a different and stimulating way. From the beginning of December, the historic central square of the town will be lit up each Saturday with festive street markets and many other Christmas activities, including carol services and Christmas pantos.

Dates in 2018: Saturdays in December (1st, 8th, 15th and 22nd)

Copenhagen, Denmark

Fairy lights at Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen. Photo by Anna Maria Colivicchi / All rights reserved

Danish winter culture is all about ‘hygge’ – pronounced hoo-ga: a term that doesn’t have a proper translation in English, but essentially means ‘living in the moment’ and enjoying quality time with your loved ones, usually in a cozy environment. Visiting Christmas markets is, of course, one of the activities that can be described as ‘hygge’.

Read related: The World’s Most Beautiful Destinations for Fall Foliage 

The Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen features a "heart tree" beloved by visitors. Image: Visit Copenhagen

The Christmas market at Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen features a “heart tree” beloved by visitors. Image: Visit Copenhagen

Copenhagen’s biggest and most festive market is held at the iconic Tivoli Gardens. There, half a million lights guarantee a magical Christmas setting after dark – but there are many other seasonal markets to visit in Copenhagen, such as Højbroplads, an old-fashioned market in the heart of the Nordic city.

Dates in 2018: Visit the Copenhagen Tourist Office for more details 

 

Vilnius, Lithuania

At the start of December, Vilnius turns into a winter wonderland where magical Christmas lights, festive trees, live performances and seasonal food tastings guarantee an unforgettable year-end holiday celebration. Head over to the market in the Cathedral Square, where, surrounded by the delicious aroma of candied nuts, you can buy Lithuanian souvenirs, unique gifts, herbal teas and typical pastries.

Dates in 2018: From early December

Prague, Czech Republic

Christmas markets in Prague are the most impressive in the country, featuring brightly decorated wooden huts where you can find local handmade products like ceramics, embroidered lace, wooden toys, gloves and candles for your cozy winter nights. The annual markets are usually located in the Old Town Square and in Wenceslas Square; every year, the markets follow a different theme, usually announced in late November; in 2017, it was ‘history of Prague’.

Delicious typical Christmas food you can buy in Prague’s Christmas markets include large hams roasted on spits (Pražská Šunka), barbequed sausages (klobása), Hungarian flatbread topped with garlic, cheese and ketchup (langoš); pancakes (palačinky) and a variety of cakes and pastries that are prepared in front of you, such as ‘Trdelník’, a hot sugar-coated pastry.

Dates in 2018: From early December through the first week of January. See this page for more information .

Bruges, Belgium

Last but certainly not least, the fairy-tale-pretty city of Bruges is another of our favorite destinations for cheerful holiday markets. From the 23rd of November, Bruges’ gorgeous town center becomes a giant Christmas market, which is considered by many the best of its kind across Europe. If Bruges is magical on any day, the market that fills up the entire town adds an enchanting extra touch to this charming Belgian gem.

Dates in 2018: See this page for more information 

 

About the Author

Anna Maria Colivicchi is an Italian writer who is interested in travel, art and food. She lived in Rome and in the UK, which is her home away from home. You can follow her on Instagram to see more of her stories and photos. 

Anna Maria Colivicchi

 

Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France

France is rightfully famous for its rich crop of lavender, and nowhere is more famous for its rolling fields of “blue gold” than the Provence region. The yearly harvest is one of the most beautiful sights in France, and it’s something that everyone with a love of travel and nature should experience at some point in their lives. 

If you want to see and smell the most gorgeous lavender fields in France, read on to learn how to make the most of your experience. 

Where and When to See Lavender in Full Bloom?

As mentioned above, the most important region of France for lavender is Provence-– and more specifically, the Luberon and Verdon plateau regions. Flowering season is typically between mid-June through early August, though this depends on where you’re visiting. Lower altitudes have slightly warmer climates than colder areas with later blooming seasons.

Read related: A Visit to the Magnificent Lascaux Cave in France 

In 2017, most of the Luberon was harvesting the lavender crop in mid-June, for example, but in the higher altitude plateau around Sault, it happened a bit later. Climate and rainfall have a big impact on the lavender crop, so it’s tricky to predict exactly when the flowers will bloom.

To play it safe, you should try to book your trip on the early side. A good range is sometime from late June through July. Avoid the beginning of the season and the late end.

Valensole

Arguably the most famous lavender farms in the world are in Valensole. At high growing season, it’s the biggest tourist attraction in Provence, and you can expect many other lavender-pilgrims visiting the area to take photographs, even at dawn and dusk. Still, it’s probably worth it for the sheer scale of these farms. Rows of lavender stretch out for as far as the eye can see– and it’s a colorful, breathtaking sight to behold.

Where to See Gorgeous Lavender Fields in France?

Sault, Ferrassières, and Aurel

These towns situated in higher climates still have lavender growing much later in the season, and there are far fewer tourists around to spoil the view. You can often see lavender here as late as mid-August, and the surrounding hilltop villages are beautiful. Look out for local scenic terraces overlooking the fields– ideal spots for a sunset aperitif or meal. 

Drôme

This northernmost department in Provence is one of the region’s best kept secrets. With the lavender here as beautiful as it is in more renowned spots, but with virtually no tourists present, you can experience the intense purple flowers and their delicate scent in almost total solitude.

The town of Montbrun-les-Bains is officially designated as one of France’s most beautiful villages, and its mountainous, late-blooming lavender is a local favorite. The village of Venterol is another well-kept secret, popular among locals for its ancient, poetically sinuous olive trees.

Lavender Museum

To learn more about the region’s most famous product, you can visit the adorable Musée de la Lavande (Museum of Lavender) in the village of Cabrières d’Avignon. Learn about the industry of planting, harvesting, and processing lavender at the collection here. You can even see an example of a lavender distiller from the early 20th century that uses an open flame to reduce the lavender into its potently fragrant essence.

The museum was opened in 1992, and it is closed in January. Audio guides are available in many languages, and you can watch documentaries, smell lavender, and try high-quality fragrances and cosmetics using pure AOC essential lavender oil. The museum is free for children under the age of 15.

The Lavender Museum (Musée de la Lavande) in Cabrières d'Avignon, France

Notre-Dame de Sénanque Abbey

For another unforgettable view of lavender fields, don’t miss Provence’s famous Cistercian abbey in the village of Gordes, part of the Vaucluse-en-Provence area. Founded in 1148, the abbey has been home to Cistercian monks ever since. There’s something distinctive about witnessing the centuries-old abbey surrounded by acres of blue gold. 

Note that while you can tour the site, it is still a fully functioning monastery, so you have to maintain absolute respect for the solemnity and religious devotion of the monks. A limited number of tours are available with reservations, and a French guide will take you around the Cloister, Church, Chapter room, Dormitory and other room.

Annual Lavender Festivals

If you want to really celebrate lavender in a stylish and authentic way, don’t miss Provence’s fabulous lavender festivals! With local goods on sale, artisan demonstrations, folk food and music to enjoy, these day-long events are a blast. Festivals put you in touch not only with the plant, but with the artisans who build their lives around it. Artists, farmers, and chefs are just some of the people in France who depend on lavender for their livelihood, and you can get a bigger picture of the area’s most famous export at these festivals.

The town of Ferrassières has the first festival of the year in early July, and it’s a very laid-back experience–  one that’s especially ideal for those  who don’t like big crowds. Valesol, on the other hand, holds the biggest and most popular festival in the region on the third Sunday of July, and the spa town of Digne les Bains has a festival that lasts a whopping five days in August!

Be sure to book accommodations ahead of time. Lavender festivals are popular in the area, and reservations go quickly.

Lavender products from France are sold at many annual festivals around Provence.

Where to Go Next for Blue Gold Sightings?

If Provence piques your interest in all things lavender, don’t assume that France is the only place where you can see it in all its glory. You can visit some stunning lavender farms all around the world, including New South Wales, Western Australia, Tuscany, and even some places in the United Kingdom (including Hertfordshire and Kent). Visiting Provence is just the beginning! 

 

 

The International Agatha Christie Festival: A Must For Fans of the Legendary Writer

The International Agatha Christie Festival: A Must For Fans of the Legendary Writer

Are you a fan of the “whodunnit” genre — or of Dame Agatha’s books, in particular? It was  at the tender age of 12 that I began reading them; at the time, I think there was an appeal for just about everyone. My voracious reading routine included many of her books, which were hugely popular in the England of the early ’70’s. My French godmother used them as her primary resource for learning English when she took up residence in London as a young woman around 1950.

Read related: 5 Mystery Novels to Get You in the Mood to Travel 

If you’re a devotee of Dame Agatha and her work, you may be interested in attending the annual International Agatha Christie Festival in South Devon, England. Scroll down for more details and dates. Before you do, though, let’s review some of the classic titles– and iconic chraracters– that gained Christie her legions of fans in the first place.

Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple:

Enduring and endearing, these much-loved characters have been portrayed over time in several incarnations for television and film. Most recently, one of the most popular works – Murder On The Orient Express, with a star-studded cast and an enormous budget – is on film once again. Deeply anchored in the life and style of western culture of the early and middle twentieth century, Agatha Christie’s enormous legacy sails into the twenty-first century with nary a ripple.

British authors Sarah Phelps and Sophie Hannah were interviewed recently on the BBC’s Front Row. Sarah Phelps had the following to say when asked about Christie’s enduring popularity:

We enjoy watching people lie! – Sarah Phelps, BBC’s Front Row

Sophie Hannah, acclaimed crime writer in her own right, has given us new Poirot plots to enjoy with all the blessing of the Christie heirs. Heavily plot-focused inside narrow confines with two dimensional characters – or brilliant study in human nature and the nature of evil? For Phelps and Hannah – it’s the latter, all the way. With opinions like – “Best crime writer – ever, one can’t help but be intrigued!

FUN FACT

Agatha Christie was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1971.

FUN FACT

Poirot is the only fictional character to date to be given an obituary in the New York Times!

FUN FACT

British author Sophie Hannah will follow up her two successful Poirot books, with two more books

FUN FACT

Christie never put them both in the same story- quoting the possibility of a strong dislike from Miss Marple!

FUN FACT

Agatha Christie was awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1971.

FUN FACT

According to the Guinness Book of World Records – Christie is the best-selling novelist of all time, second only to Shakespeare’s works, and the Bible.

Did You Know?

Every year, thousands of people flock to the lovely coastal town of Torquay in South Devon, in the beautiful and sunny area known as the English Riviera – for the International Agatha Christie Festival, as well as for the regular tours of her favourite haunts and settings from her childhood and married life.

Many of these have been featured in her novels, offering a wonderful blend of fiction and reality. Take a tour to find out which ones are drawn directly from Christie’s true-to-life experiences.

Even if you can’t make it for the festival itself, you can take a self-guided or guided tour of the Agatha Christie Mile along the Torquay seafront: there are seven information plaques along the way to illuminate the places that held particular importance in the author’s life.

Festival Details:

Visit the Official Agatha Christie Festival website to learn more about being involved, current projects, and up-to-date festival information The next annual festival event will be a one-day celebration of Agatha Christie’s birthday in Torquay on Saturday, 15th September 2018. The next 5Day Festival will take place 11th -15th September 2019.   This may seem far away now, but I’m going to guess that attendance will be very high! Be sure to let us know if it’s on your radar!

For more information on the Agatha Christie Literary Trail

To receive a FREE print destination guide for the English Riviera