Best Holiday Markets in Europe!

The holiday season is a fantastic time to go to Europe, and there are many traditional Christmas markets – some that have been celebrating the holidays for over 400 years! These markets are simply magical, with twinkling lights, incredible aromas, handmade crafts, good food and lots of Christmas cheer!

Vienna, Austria – Magic of Advent

This market at the Rathausplatz has more than 150 stalls festively lit up, and it’s a great place to buy Christmas ornaments, handicrafts and toys. There’s live music, hot mulled wine, roasted chestnuts, fresh pastries, nativity scenes and even an ice rink and paths to skate through the park. All of this in front of one of the most beautiful town halls I’ve ever seen!

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Bath, England  – Christmas Market

Over 200 twinkling wooden chalets fill the picturesque streets surrounding Bath Abbey with traditional British goods from mince pies to handmade wooden toys. Ninety nine percent of what is sold is locally handmade. There are choirs and carols by candlelight as well as children’s shows. This uniquely British market has won several awards including Vogue’s favorite Christmas market!

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Dresden, Germany – Striezelmarkt

This is the oldest continuously run market in Germany dating from 1434. It’s known for its array of crafts made from local artisans including nutcrackers, prune figures and smoking wooden men that breath out incense.  It’s named after and is famous for Stollen, a traditional fruit cake that was traditionally sold at the market. The thing that makes this market stand out is a giant candle pyramid that’s almost 50 feet high! They also have the world’s largest nutcracker.

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Strausbourg, France – Christkindelsmarik

Strausbourg is known as the Capital of Christmas, and this festive market dates from 1507. The incredible Christmas tree is almost 100 feet tall and is decorated with fairy and flashing lights, huge baubles, stars and other decorations! This is one of the largest Christmas markets in Europe with over 300 stalls spread over 11 sites. They have a variety of sweets including strudel and Bredeles– delicious little spiced biscuits in the shape of stars as well as a variety of local food, beer and mulled wine. They sell everything from pottery to spices for cooking!

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My Vote For Prettiest Fishing Village in Southern France!

Last May I had a few days to fill before meeting up with my French group in St. Remy. I was flying into Marseille and wanted to find a place on the Mediterranean close by.

Luckily, I chose Cassis, a small seaside-fishing village only about an hour away by SNCF train. There’s a train station right near the airport with a shuttle in between, so even with a change of trains in downtown Marseille it was relatively easy. A quick cab ride to the waterfront, and I was there!

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I stayed at the Hotel Liautaud right on the harbor. It’s a 2 star hotel that’s simple and clean. But, the real reason to stay there is the view! I was fortunate enough to get a top floor corner room with two balconies. WOW!

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Pastel buildings lined with outdoor bars and restaurants surround the delightful harbor. It’s almost impossible to stroll around the port without stopping in one because of the incredible aromas! I had a tasty thick bouillabaisse fish soup with croutons that was to die for. And, who can go to Cassis and not try Crème de Cassis? This sweet dark red liqueur is made from black currents and is heavenly added to a little sparkling wine or champagne.

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The Cassis area boasts a lot of vineyards. I went on a wine tour of Clos Sainte Magdeleine, high on a cliff just outside town. The vineyards are on terraced slopes, stretching right to the sea and because of this, the wine has a slightly salty taste. It’s a historic place that was founded in 1896 and I don’t know what I expected, but it was a shock to go down to the wine cellar and find state of the art stainless steel tanks!

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The real star of the area is Calanques National Park. The park has steep limestone cliffs that rise out of the sea. There are dozens of fjord-like bays that are only accessible by boat or hiking. The first one, Calanques de Port-Miou, is only a 20 minute walk from the port through pretty neighborhoods and by pebbly beaches.

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The best way to see the rest is to take a boat tour. There are several tour companies in the center of the harbor offering trips to between three and eight calanques through out the day. I chose to take the half-day eight calanques cruise, and it was one of the highlights of my trip. Each narrow inlet we turned into was surrounded by towering walls of limestone. The water was crystal clear, and I could even watch the fish swimming around. The strangest thing I saw swimming though were two wild boars in the middle of the bay! No one could tell me why they were there, but they were entertaining to watch!

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The central harbor has a little Petanque court (similar to Italian bocce), a public beach, and a great tourism office. Towering over all of this is the Chateau de Cassis, a fortified castle built in the 14th century. Unfortunately it’s not open to the public, but it’s truly spectacular to look at especially at night when it’s lit up.

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Right next to the public beach is Cassis a Velo. Run by two incredibly friendly women, they rent e-bikes complete with self-guided tours of the area. The maps are easy to follow, and it’s an exhilarating way to see the beautiful vineyards, cruise down country lanes and cycle through pine forests. It’s a hilly area, and it was so fun to effortless pedal up the hills!

 

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I was able to spend my last morning at the bi-weekly outdoor market. Market days in Provence are my absolutely favorite thing about the area. A Provencal market has fruits, vegetables, cheeses, olives, jams, honey, desserts, breads, wine, olive oil, lavender products, soap, tablecloths, clothes, flowers and so much more! It’s a perfect way to immerse your self in the best that Provence has to offer. You can eat your way through and gift shop at the same time! What a wonderful way to end my time in Cassis.

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