The Top 10: Christmas markets
Roast chestnuts, mulled wine and Santas by the sackful. The season of festive fairs is almost upon us. Simone Kane offers a selection
Sunday 22 October 2006
1 Heat and gifts in New Delhi
Adventurous shoppers can experience all the trimmings of a traditional German Christmas market in New Delhi, India, over the weekend of 9 and 10 December. Every year the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce puts up Christmas trees and decorations and sets out stalls laden with European present possibilities in the German House in the diplomatic area of the city. At the heart of the market is a beer garden, where foaming steins, sausages and nibbles are available. There's even carol singing and don't be surprised if Santa Claus shows his face. If all this Christmas spirit isn't enough, keen shoppers can also fill their sacks with goodies from the tailors and traders at the nearby Khan and Sharojni Nagar markets.
How to get there: Indus Tours (020-8901 7320 ; indutours.co.uk) offers four nights at the Oberoi Hotel in Delhi, from £680 per person, based on two sharing, including return flights, accommodation, transfers and a guide.
2 German with a Brum accent
For five days each year Victoria Square and upper New Street in Birmingham city centre plays host to the Frankfurt market. Open daily from 10am-8pm, 16 November-23 December, this year promises to be bigger and better, making it the largest authentic market of its type to be held outside Germany or Austria. More than 75 stalls will sell handmade gifts such as ceramics, candles, jewellery, glasswork and Christmas decorations, and traditional German gifts such as nativity scenes and puppets. Expect plenty of mulled wine and beer, grilled sausages, marzipan sweets and gingerbreads.
How to get there: For information on a wide variety of accommodation packages, contact Visit Birmingham (visit birmingham.com).
3 Brussels without the sprouts
Tour three Christmas markets in three days. First stop the seasonal market in Brussels, set around the beautiful buildings of Grand Place. Next, it's on to medieval Bruges, where you can pick up gifts of Belgian chocolates and local lace. And the final port of call is Valkenburg in the Netherlands, to explore one of Europe's most unique festive markets. The city's Gemeentegrot caves, a network of passageways carved out of limestone dating from Roman times, provides the scene. Lit with fairy lights, the effect will be of a series of grottoes, creating a truly seasonal atmosphere. Above ground, the streets of Valkenburg, full of festive stalls, will echo with traditional music and songs.
How to get there: Leger Holidays (0845-458 5599; legerbreaks.info) offers a three-centre Christmas market tour for £169 per person, including three nights' b&b, return coach travel and most excursions. Departures on 1, 8 and 15 December.
4 Cool cruising on the Rhine
Experience the best of the Christmas markets in and around Cologne on a six-market escorted tour. Each has its unique character and combined they offer seasonal shoppers a huge choice of arts and crafts, gift ideas and decorations. Climb aboard one of the Rhine cruise ships to look around the floating market. Dip into a medieval market set up in the chocolate museum, where you'll find musicians and acrobats mingling among the craft stalls. And don't miss the market in Roncalliplatz, which boasts the biggest Christmas tree in Rhineland. A scenic cruise along the Rhine, past fairytale castles and vine-clad hills, will offer a further shopping opportunity at the market in the pretty town of Rudesheim.
How to get there: Great Rail Journeys (01904 521980; greatrail.co.uk) offers the Cologne Christmas Market Break from £395 per person, based on two sharing, for departures on 27 November and 3 and 9 December. The price includes return rail travel with Eurostar from London via Brussels to Cologne, three nights' four-star b&b, all excursions and a tour manager.
5 All the fun of the fair in Denmark
Join the million visitors who descend on the Christmas Festival in Copenhagen's Tivoli Gardens each year. From 15 November to 30 December, the beautifully decorated gardens will be home to restaurants serving seasonal specialities such as hot and spicy red wine and round pan-fried cakes served with sugar and jam, with fun rides on offer too, such as the world's tallest swing carousel, the Star Flyer. Listen to the carol singers and a band of mechanical Danish pixies, pop in to see Santa Claus and catch the Crazy Christmas Cabaret. Or just browse the villages of shops.
How to get there: Original Travel (020-7978 7333; original travel.co.uk) offers two nights' b&b at the 71 Nyhavn Hotel for £315 per person, based on two sharing. This includes return flights with BA or SAS from London and transfers.
6 Mull it over in Alsace
Travel to Strasbourg in the French Alsace between 25 November and 31 December to enjoy some of the oldest markets in Europe. The city's Christkindl market dates from 1570 and is the largest in France. The pedestrianised streets around the Notre Dame cathedral come alive in the crisp evening air as people stroll around sipping mulled wine and nibbling on spicy sausages, cakes and biscuits, such as the Alsatian bredele. Processions, street shows and nativity plays are performed across the city. The market is particularly good for handmade Christmas decorations such as reindeer, Santas and candles, and finely crafted toys, jewellery and ceramics. Don't miss Petite France, a neighbourhood of timber buildings full of seasonal shops and a gingerbread bakery.
How to get there: The Hotel Beaucour- Baumann Romantik in Strasbourg (00 33 3 88 76 72 00; hotel-beaucour .com) offers doubles from £86 per night room only. Air France (0870-142 4343; airfrance.com) flies direct from Gatwick via Paris from regional airports from £96 return.
7 Take in a Catalan al fresco carnival
Barcelona embraces the festive season with the Feria de Santa Lucia, which is held in the open air below the city's stunning 13th-century Gothic cathedral of La Seu, just off the Ramblas in the centre of town. The stalls will be filled with stunning and uniquely Catalan decorations and ideas for gifts to give your loved ones. Look out for the typical caga tio, a log with a painted face and a traditional hat, which it is customary to wrap in a blanket with hidden sweets and given to children. Nativity scenes, or belenes, are just as popular here as in northern Europe - almost every house, shop and office has one, and with a character of a kind that you will not see anywhere else. Catch the huge nativity scene outside the Betlem church on the Ramblas, then pick up some Spanish figurines to add to your own festive collection.
How to get there: The five-star Princess Sofia Hotel (00 34 93 508 10 00; expogrupo.com) offers two nights' b&b during December for £135 per person, based on two sharing. Flights from Gatwick with easyJet (0905-821 0905; easyjet.com) cost from £85 return.
8 Ale and hearty in the Baltics
Head to the Baltics in search of seasonal shopping in Tallinn from 19 November to 24 December. The beautiful old town, with its winding cobbled streets, is the scene of its Christmas market. Hunt out Estonian handmade decorations, basketwear, woollen sweaters, sheepskin, felt hats and patchwork blankets, as well as antiques, amber jewellery and pottery. If all that shopping proves too exhausting, duck into one of the many cellar bars for a warming mulled wine and a hearty meal.
How to get there: Baltics and Beyond (0845-094 2125; balticsandbeyond .com) offers a three-night winter break in Tallinn from £99 per person, based on two sharing, including three nights' b&b in a four-star hotel in central Tallinn, transfers and a city information pack. Flights with easyJet (as above) from Stansted start from £60 return.
The best winter wonder: chilled out in Gothenburg
The Liseburg Amusement Park in Gothenburg will be transformed into a winter wonderland from 17 November to 23 December for the annual festive market. FlyMe (00 46 770 790 790; flyme.com) flies from Stansted to Gothenburg from £42 return. The four-star Elite Park Avenue Hotel (00 46 771 788 789; elite.se) offers doubles from £94 per night.
The best all-round fun: Scotch on the rocks
Edinburgh's market, brought over from Germany each year, is held in Mound Precinct from 23 November to 24 December. A traditional Scottish market is open nearby, too. And don't miss skating on the outdoor ice rink or a turn on the city's wheel. A Christmas Experience break at The Balmoral (0131-556 2412; roccofortehotels.com) offers doubles from £165 per room per night.
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