In the centre of the Grand’Place in Arras which is covered with a festive red carpet is a German style winter bar with the tallest tower in Europe for one of these types of buildings. Lit up and rotating, it is charmingly kitsch and a magnet for revellers. Inside, the chalet style bar and stalls with fluffy covers are alluring. The scent of hot gluhwein makes cheeks rosy in anticipation, and even rosier once it’s been consumed.
Thomas Delforge who owns and runs the bar is on fine form as he ladles out a hot mug of wine or adds a shot of Baileys to coffee. “Everyone is happy here, it makes me happy too” he says. And he is typical of the people who are here to sell at the Christmas market. Many of them have come a long way and with good reason. This is one of the most popular Christmas markets in France. And with good reason. Arras really embraces what the spirit of Christmas is all about.
There are more than 140 stalls and the sellers are local, regional and from further afield.
A top chef from the Vosges is creating the most amazing cheese tarts and pies. The aroma fills the air and people who attempt to walk past simply stop in their tracks to sniff and then to try.
An artisan from Corsica is selling all sorts of delicacies from the south of France including fabulous cold meats, cheeses and olives. His tapenades get a lot of attention including a tapenade de Noel which he assures me goes perfectly with sheep cheese. Marshmallow fans will be in their element. This is the real stuff, not mass produced sweeties but gorgeously flavoured, some is dipped in chocolate, different shapes and sizes. It’s a veritable Willy Wonka dream come to life. “Tonton” (Uncle) as he is known to fans, is selling the most delightful nougat. Sellers come from Canada, Russia, Lithuania, Belgium. There are Swedish teddy bears, artisan made jewellery of the highest calibre, scarves and hats, gloves and slippers all made with French flair.
Cakes fit for a President
On one stall I spy darling little cupcakes, Severine the stall holder proudly tells me that her husband Gregory makes them. “He used to make tarte tatin for President Valery Giscard D’Estaing” she says. I can’t make my mind up which cake to buy. So, she tells me a bit about them “the rum baba, that’s an old patisserie. You know they were making it in the 1600’s. But, we put real gold leaf on top, edible of course.” She doesn’t need to say any more – that’s the one. I can’t tell you how utterly delectable it was. Oh alright I can. It was scrumptious, quite possibly one of the best cakes I’ve ever had (and I have had a lot).
Delicious gourmet produce
A man with a honey stall tells me about his 350 bee hives on top of Arras Mairie. Denis Pascal started the hives because he was worried about the fate of bees in Europe. Now he makes the most delicious honey.
There are amazing chocolate tools from Outils en Chocolat, spanners and hammers, nuts and bolts, keys and scissors. They look so real it’s incredible, they taste delicious.
A man from Cognac is selling a huge variety of Cognac based products. I try a salted caramel version which I’m instantly hooked on – it’s incredibly delicious. He has a 60cm tall bottle of Cognac with a glass lady inside which attracts a lot of attention. “We have a legend” he grins, “if anyone can drink the whole bottle, the lady can escape”. The artistry of the bottles with their glass bunches of grapes and figures is typically French, the Cognac even more so.
A little way away a Normandy cider producer has hot apple cider, apple juice and pear cider on offer. I promise you, the scent is mouth-wateringly lush.
Loads of activities for the whole family
In the middle of the red carpeted square is a Ferris Wheel, there’s an ice rink with real ice and a sled slide. There are selfie stations with polar bears (not real ones of course), elves and giant sweets. A carousel turns and music plays. In a photo studio, whole families and groups of friends don funny glasses and hats for a souvenir.
Around the corner in the centre of Place des Heroes is Father Christmas’ home and a queue of excited kids, eyes wide, peep through the windows as they wait their turn. Inside it looks exactly how you’d imagine the front room of one of the world’s most loved characters to look, charming, quirky and vintage Christmas!
The streets are strung with lights and on weekends bands play. All the bars and restaurants are lit up and decorated. This is Arras at Christmas and if you love Christmas markets then this is going to make you very happy!
Arras Christmas Market
From end November to end December the Arras Christmas takes place on the Grand’Place.
Arras Tourist Office website: arraspaysdartois.com