I love christmas markets – they are truly a magical window into a centuries old tradition. The lights, the joyous decorations, the hot mulled wine – and most importantly the unmissable festive feeling in the air, there’s not a lot I can’t like about them!
If you’d like to visit one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, do consider the charming town of Strasbourg, where the 300 chalets and stalls of the traditional markets have become a kind of pilgrimage to people from all over France, Germany and other parts of Europe.
Called the Marche de Noel in French, Weihnachtensmarkt in German but often referred to as the Christkindelsmarik in the local Alsacian tongue, these markets have been around since the 1500s, when the region was part of Germany.
Strasbourg, despite its very German sounding name is the capital of the Alsace region in Eastern France. If the name of the region hasn’t already rung a bell, think sweet white wines – Gewurtztraminer, Riesling.. yes – now you have arrived.
Through history, the city and much of this region has been disputed between the French and the Germans and has swapped hands, flags and languages at least a half dozen times. Like most European cities in that region, Strasbourg has its share of bloody history and destruction, but the singular most popular association with the city these days are its vibrant Christmas Markets.
Unlike the markets we had seen in New York and Paris, the ones here sell mostly local, hand-made and very often traditional handicrafts – be it figurines for the decoration of mangers, tree decorations or simply freshly made local delicacies. These are reputed to be among the more traditional markets.
Visiting Strasbourg is an easy ~2.5 hour train ride from Paris. Once there and well-oriented with a local map, it was easy to set off on a full-day of walking through the narrow streets lined with shops, lights and more decorations. The central square hosts the city’s prestige – the 30-metre high Christmas tree. We wandered about, sampled the treats on the streets, indulged in a few little purchases, and yes, sampled some Alsacian wines. I don’t usually like white wines and definitely not the sweet kind, but – there is something to be said about their local produce.
Uday and I particularly liked the view of the roof-tops from atop the town’s cathedral. This cathedral is a classic gothic structure, beautiful by day and eerie by night. It is well worth the 330+ steps of climb to the top. The steps are not as bad as they sound – we did take breaks along the climb to gawk at the views and let other visitors descend. The climb also affords very rewarding views of the unique Strasbourg skyline of multi-colored tiles lining the rooftops. It forms a wonderful palate and I imagined a magnificent water-color painting coming to life.
Here are a few memories from the trip.
Next up – the utterly quaint little towns of Colmar and Kaysersberg, right next to Strasbourg and combinable for a perfect 3-day visit. Stay tuned!