Pretty much every town in France holds a Christmas market, some are tiny and last a few hours, some are huge and last for several weeks. We take a look at five of the best Christmas Markets in France, chosen for authenticity and sheer loveliness. From the oldest and one of the biggest in stunning Strasbourg in north east France to the small, authentic and quirky Turkey Festival of Licques in northern France…
Strasbourg – Capital of Christmas
The oldest, held since the Middle Ages, and one of the largest Christmas markets in France, the Strasbourg Chrismas market spreads throughout the city. With more than 300 stalls, this is the place to buy great arts and crafts – glass paintings, marquetry, music boxes, embroidered tablecloths and earthenware pottery. The food stalls will certainly tempt you with spiced bread, kugelhopf cake, berawecka cake, traditional bredle cakes, mulled wine and, of course, foie gras.
Every year, in Place Kléber, a Christmas tree, reputedly the largest in Europe, is decorated with colourful ornaments and shimmering lights. The city is adorned in its most beautiful finery and the houses are richly decorated. At nightfall, the magic comes alive. The windows light up and the streets and squares, all connected by a network of light, give off their different scents amid sparkling decors. The “Carré d’Or” is especially spectacular, such as the rue des Hallebardes, with its magnificent crystal chandeliers. Throughout December, Strasbourg is the most illuminated city in Europe.
Festive French Fact: Sélestat in Alsace is said to be the birth place of the Christmas tree (Sapin de Noel) and it specialises in a Christmas tree market. It is said that the idea of the tree came from Alsace, then part of Germany, in the 14th century and was apparently introduced by Princess Hélène de Mecklembourg, on her marriage to the Duke of Orléans, heir to the French throne. The first recorded mention of a Christmas tree can be found in a document dating from 1521 which is on display in the Bibliothèque Humaniste in Sélestat.
The original decorations for a Christmas tree were fruit and nuts – mainly apples and walnuts. Legend has it that in 1858 the harvest failed and the glassmakers of Meisenthal made glass versions of the traditional fruit and nut decorations. The glass decorations were a great success and so the manufacturers carried on with their production and soon the decorations spread across the world.
Licques Turkey Festival, northern France
Licques is about 40 minutes’ drive from Calais. The Fete de Dindes or Turkey Festival hoards of turkeys parading through the streets of the town in an extraordinary celebration to honour the Christmas bird. Accompanied by local dignitaries and brotherhoods decked out in all their splendour, it’s an authentic, charming and colourful and memorable day out. It’s also the place to go for a huge tented and fabulous gourmet Christmas market, full of producers from regions across France as well as local. It’s a great chance to taste and buy great wines, champagne, cheese, meats, cakes, biscuits, and sweets – pretty much all the French produce you’ll need to make it a proper gastronomic Christmas!
The market is held mid December, the turkey parade starts at about 11.00 a.m. – grab a glass of warm local liqueur called “licquoise” from the enormous cauldron in the high street and celebrate in style at this authentic and distinctly fun and delicious Christmas event. www.licques-vollailes.fr
Champagne is perfect to toast your friends and loved ones at Christmas and Champagne the region is the perfect place to enjoy a traditional Christmas celebration.
The ‘World Nativity Scene Route’ is an astonishing collection of crib scenes of all shapes, sizes, materials and origin, from hand-knitted scenes to historic hand-carved figures, all with their own unique charm. The cribs are on show throughout December in and around the churches of 46 towns and villages between the coronation city of Reims, Epernay capital of Champagne, Châlons-en-Champagne and the historic town of Fismes.
Many of the towns and villages taking part also have a programme of fabulous Christmas illuminations, festivities and events, such as Christmas markets, exhibitions and concerts.
The full programme, including the dates and times of the animations can be found online at www.champagne-ardenne-tourism.co.uk
Reims: Christmas Market (‘Le village de Noël’)
The Christmas market at Reims is the biggest in the region and amongst the largest in France with 135 chalets offering a range of gourmet products, arts and crafts and creative gift suggestions. What makes this special is that it’s held in the tree-lined, beautifully illuminated and decorated pedestrian streets around Place d’Erlon and offers spectacular views over the city from a Ferris Wheel.
From November to December: More details: www.reims-tourism.com
French Festive Fact: Reims was the site of the first French Christmas celebration when, in 496, Clovis and his 3,000 warriors were baptized. Bishop Rémi had purposely chosen the day of the Nativity for this ceremony.
Chateau Vaux Le Vicomte, Ile de France
The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château located in Maincy, near Melun, 55 km southeast of Paris in the Seine-et-Marne department of France and at Christmas this truly lovely castle becomes a festive wonderland…
Wander along a tree-lined avenue festooned with lights. Inside this beautiful chateau you’ll find fairy tale decorations and beautiful garlands adorning the lights, chimneys and tables – 8000 decorations to be precise! In the centre of the Great Hall instead of the usual 8 metre high tree, in 2015 there’s a Ferris Wheel instead giving amazing roof top views!
At dusk, the famous gardens, designed by French gardener André le Nôtre, are illuminated and on some nights a theatrical event takes place.
Throughout December – see website for details: www.vaux-le-vicomte.com
Lille at Christmas
The centre of Old Lille with its cobbled streets and wonderful architecture… and 4000 shops is perfect for a spot of Christmas shopping and festive fare! There’s a small but sweet Christmas market at Place Rihour with stalls selling local arts and crafts plus regional food specialities such as Maroilles cheese, macarons, biscuits, and sweets like babeluttes (soft caramels). Nearby at the Grand Place take a ride on the 164ft high Ferris Wheel and enjoy a bird’s eye view over the square with its artificial snow village and the city with its beautiful Renaissance architecture and twinkling lights. Celebrate in Lille’s Champagne Bar in a 17th Century convent, spoil yourself rotten with a massive choice of superb restaurants, bars and brasseries and rest your feet in one of the many museums in the city. November to end December: The Lille Tourist Office has special deals for accommodation and shopping check out the details: www.lilletourism.com
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