Christmas Markets: Shop for traditional handicrafts in fairytale settings. Sarah Marshall sources Europe’s top festive events.
Graz, Austria, November 23 - December 24
Forward-thinking Austrian town Graz is regarded as one of the best places to celebrate the advent season.
Markets are held in the central squares of the old town, selling arts and crafts, while a special children’s market has a big wheel, train ride and carousel.
Special hotel offers can be found at www.weekend.graz.at
Frankfurt, Germany, November 26 - December 27
Germany is the home of Christmas markets, and arguably one of the most popular takes place in Frankfurt.
Merchants have been selling festive wares since as far back as 1393, when only locals were allowed to trade.
Look out for gingerbread, Bethmannchen (an almond and marzipan biscuit loved by Goethe) and Quetschemannchen (a candied figure made of prunes). Traditionally, suitors would court women by sending them the latter as a gift.
Christmas Market Weekend packages are available. Search for “Christmas Market” at www.frankfurt-tourismus.de/cms/tourismussuite/en/home.html
Riga, Latvia, December 2 - January 10, 2013
For an alternative to Prague in an equally enchanting setting, the traditional market in Riga’s Dome Square doesn’t disappoint.
Alongside handicrafts and ornate glassware, stalls sell Latvian sausages, sauerkraut and smoked meats.
WEXAS Travel (www.wexas.com) offers the four-day ‘Riga’s Christmas Market’ itinerary from £480pp based on two sharing. Includes flights, accommodation, a guided walking tour of Riga’s old town and transfers. Departures Dec 1, Dec 8 and Dec 15.
Valkenburg, Holland, November 16 - December 23
Rain, snow or shine, a festive show takes place at the cosy Velvet Cave in Dutch town Valkenburg. Europe’s largest and oldest underground Christmas market definitely scores high on wow factor, with festive decorations supplemented by murals and sculptures. An 18th century chapel is also a highlight.
Stena Line’s Superferries (www.stenaline.co.uk) offers a Dutchflyer rail and sail ticket from £39pp one way, including train travel from London to Harwich and onward travel to any Dutch city.
Two nights B&B at the Parkhotel Valkenburg (www.parkhotelvalkenburg.nl) from 99 Euros pp.
Bolzano, South Tyrol, Italy, November 30 - December 23
Located in the South Tyrol, Italy’s most northerly region, the pretty town of Bolzano is an interesting blend of Italian and Germanic cultures.
The Christmas market reflects this crossover, with German Gluhwein (mulled wine) served alongside nougats and panettone.
Wooden toys and glass decorations are a speciality of this region, making great presents for both children and adults.
But gifts aside, it’s the setting that makes Bolzano’s market particularly special. Framed by the snow-covered Dolomite Mountains, the medieval old town conjures up a nostalgic festive atmosphere.
Monarch (www.monarch.co.uk) flies to Verona from Manchester from £36.99 one way.
The Park Hotel Laurin (www.laurin.it) offers two nights B&B from 211 Euros pp if booked between November 19 and December 23.