The yuletide season has officially kicked off in Alsace, where the famous marchés de Noël can melt even the hardest of (cold Scrooge) hearts. Dating from 1570, the Strasbourg Christmas market is officially the oldest in France, and to this day strives to preserve the authenticity and spirit of Noël.
Some 300 chalets sell artisanal crafts (like hand-painted ornaments), wooden toys, hot mulled wine, and gourmet delights like bredele, the traditional Christmas cookies. (Head to the place d’Austerlitz for a tent devoted to the treats, with pâtissiers offering tastings galore.) There are, in fact, 11 different markets set up in squares around the city; the one beneath the Gothic Cathedral the most famous. This year’s honored invitee is Croatia, the latest country to join the European Union.
The revelry isn’t limited to festive eating and drinking; there is a jam-packed calendar of events including concerts, exhibits, storytelling, and theatre shows for kids.
Because Strasbourg is just two hours and twenty minutes from Paris Gare de l’Est by TGV, it’s possible to visit the “Christmas Capital” on a day trip from Paris. Though it’s much more fun to stay overnight and soak up the magic of the city’s decorations in the evening, and the sparkling lights on the Great Christmas Tree, a towering giant sourced from the Vosges forest. Running until December 31, 2013; consult the official website for details on events.