Sparkling lights, dazzling decorations, traditional delicacies (bredele biscuits, anyone?), the scent of roasting chestnuts and hot mulled wine wafting through the air… There’s a reason so many travellers flock to France for the yuletide season. To get your festive fix, the country’s famous Christmas markets are not to be missed. Dating back centuries, the marchés de Noël offer tasty treats along with artisanal gifts showcased in charming chalets. Not to mention the concerts, performances, tree-lighting ceremonies, and more. Strasbourg is home to the oldest Christmas market in France: the famous Christkindelsmärik, which first took place in 1570. But Alsace isn’t the only region that’s a wintry wonderland during the Christmas season. Here are some of our top picks.
The town of Arras in the Pas-de-Calais department has a UNESCO-listed square lined with gingerbread-style houses. In fact, the Grand Place is a Flemish Baroque architectural ensemble that’s unrivaled in Europe. It’s here that the popular Christmas market takes place– and the ambiance couldn’t be more magical. Set against a backdrop that’s a forest of Christmas trees, the market’s chalets house 140 artisans. Here you can pick up wooden toys, jewellery, crafts, and other gifts, while sample gingerbread and other treats. And the entertainment is top-notch. Think ice skating rink, sled run, the Big Wheel, and a traditional carrousel.
The Arras Christmas Market takes place from November 24- December 30th, 2017. Open daily except on Christmas Day. For more information, visit www.noelarras.com.
Situated on the banks of the Ill river not farm from the German border, Sélestat is an important tourist destination in Alsace– with an abundance of heritage sites and a location on the Alsace Wine Road. This is a wonderful place to immerse yourself in the traditions of Noël. In fact, the earliest written mention of a Christmas tree is found in the town accounts register (the years 1517-1522).
In Sélestat, there’s a marvelous Village de Noël, with all the best Alsace has to offer, but it’s not the only highlight. Christmas in Sélestat is rather a place to discover or rediscover the traditions of Christmas, to take the time to share a moment with family or friends, to appreciate Christmas magic with child-like wonder.
The Sélestat Christmas market will take place from November 24, 2017 – January 7, 2018. For more information, visit www.selestat-haut-koenigsbourg.com/en
Travelling between England and France this holiday season? Be sure to make a pit stop in Calais, which stages a wonderful Christmas market around the Grand Théâtre de Calais. Young and old will be able to pick up fabulous gifts from the 80 chalets. There’s also delicious treats like gingerbread, hot mulled wine, and roast chestnuts. Musical surprises are planned in the aisles during the entire period. Pint-sized visitors won’t want to miss Santa’s house. A photographer will be present to capture the meeting with Père Noël. A photo will be given to each child.
Note that Calais is also famous for its Grande Parade de Noël, which takes place on Sunday, December 3 in the Centre Ville, starting from Place Crèvecoeur.
The market is open from December 8th to 17th. Hours: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday: 4pm to 8pm. Friday: 4pm to 9pm. Saturday: 10am to 9pm. Sunday: 10am to 8pm. Tip: The car park of ‘Calais Coeur de Vie’ is free of charge: December 8th from 2 pm to 10 pm, December 9th from 8 am to 10 pm, December 10th from 8 am to 9 pm, December 11th to 14th from 2 pm to 9 pm, December 15th and 16th from 2 pm to 10 pm 17th from 8 am to 10 pm. For more information, visit www.calais.fr.
The capital of the Isère departement, Grenoble is known as ‘the capital of the Alps’ and is a popular destination for holidaymakers in the winter months. From November 24th to December 24th, Grenoble hosts an exciting Christmas market with regular concerts held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night. This is a great market for children, with a Santa’s grotto and numerous theatrical performances taking place in the streets.
One of our favourites is the Cirk Puces, or Flea Circus which takes place in Place Victor Hugo Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The hilarious spectacle is a nod to the travelling flea circuses of the 19th century which used real fleas to perform various circus acts. Fear not however, Cirk Puces employs the clever use of magnets to simulate such tricks, along with funny commentary from the ringmaster Mylane Beubick, and the fleas are nonexistent. See to believe.
For more information visit www.grenoble.fr
The traditional seat of the Plantagenet family and the capital of the medieval kingdom of Anjou, Angers is never short on historic charm. Found in the Maine-et-Loire department, this cultural hotspot is dominated by the Plantagenet castle, the Château d’Angers, which boasts the original Apocalypse Tapestry, the oldest medieval tapestry in France and the biggest in the world.
In December Angers hosts a month of exciting and authentic festivities which draw crowds from around the world. The city is lit up Christmas decorations and a Ferris wheel offers enchanting views of the impressive Château d’Angers, decked to the boughs in all its glory. The market here is open every day, including Sunday, with over 100 chalet-sheds offering local delicacies and products perfect for Santa’s stockings. The city also boasts an outside skating rink during the winter months for the braver of heart; we recommend a glass of mulled wine beforehand to soften the blow should you tumble!
For more information visit the Angers Loire Tourist board here.