All the fun of the fair

Why not combine a spot of shopping with a chance to experience France at its most festive? Follow our guide to the best Christmas markets and you’ll discover a host of other things to do in the area as well

Why not combine a spot of shopping with a chance to experience France at its most festive? Follow our guide to the best Christmas markets and you'll discover a host of other things to do in the area as well 1 MULHOUSE 24 November – 28 December Set in the town's impressive central square – Place de la R�union – Mulhouse's Christmas market fills the cosy space between the brightly painted H�tel de Ville and the Temple Saint-�tienne church. The colourful medieval Alsatian houses surrounding the square add to the atmosphere, which is made even more magical by the sparkling lights and steam that emanates from the charming wooden chalets serving up vin chaud. The town has a long history of fabric manufacturing and many of the buildings are adorned with wonderful drapes and decorations made especially for the occasion. In the area: Mulhouse is also famous for its museums. Take some time to wander around the incredible Cit� de l'Automobile and its collection of 400 vehicles, see the enormous Cit� du Train dedicated to the history of railways and the Mus�e du Papier Peint in nearby Rixheim. Tel: (Fr) 3 89 35 48 48 www.tourisme-mulhouse.com 2 STRASBOURG 26 November – 31 December It's big and it's beautiful and, most impressive of all, it dates from the 16th century. Strasbourg's main March� de No�l sits in the shadow of the breathtaking Cath�drale Notre-Dame in the city centre. With a huddle of wooden stalls at the foot of its impressive Gothic fa�ade, there is everything from quaint handmade toys to traditional Advent cakes. Many of the city's other streets and squares are also given over to markets, so get your walking shoes on to wander over to Place Kl�ber for their enormous Christmas tree, Place Gutenberg to admire the wares of Swiss craftsmen (Switzerland is this year's guest country) and Place Saint-Thomas for the market dedicated to children. In the area: Take a wander around Strasbourg's most picturesque area, La Petite France, and admire the 16th-century timberframed houses and les Ponts Couverts – the now roofless bridges that span the canals. Tel: (Fr) 3 88 60 92 93 www.otstrasbourg.fr 3 COLMAR 24 November – 31 December The charming town in the heart of Alsace has arguably the best Christmas markets in France. The pedestrianised town centre is given over to five different markets that run into each other to create a magical winter festival. Each evening the town's illuminations enhance the beauty of the gorgeous medieval architecture and, as you stroll through the chalets selling toys, and sweets and visit Place des Dominicains, Place de l'Ancienne Douane and Place Jeanne d'Arc, you're bound to feel as enchanted as any child. Meanwhile, the historic former customs house, the Ko�fhus, is home to a craft market selling items such as handmade glass and jewellery. In the area: Colmar makes a great base to explore the rest of the Munster valley where the outlying villages of Riquewihr, Kaysersberg, Ribeauvill� and Turckheim each host their own markets and events. Tel: (Fr) 3 89 20 68 92 www.ot-colmar.fr 4 METZ 19 November – 28 December Make your way to Metz by rail and you'll be greeted with an array of festive stalls on the Place du G�n�ral de Gaulle next to the city's impressive listed train station. The steaming vats of cinnamon-scented vin chaud and warm salted bretzels on offer can also be found further on in the centre of town. The timbered Place Saint-Louis is home to a traditional carousel, and the Place Saint-Jacques, where local tradesmen sell artisanal crafted wares including charmingly oldfashioned children's toys. Try fruits confits or kugelhopf cake as suitcase-friendly gifts for the tree at home. In the area: The Centre Pompidou Metz is the place to discover some modern art while the Cath�drale Saint-�tienne de Metz, started in the 13th century, is the most visited attraction in town. Tel: (Fr) 3 87 55 53 76 www.tourisme.metz.fr 5 NANCY 23 November – 24 December Known as a centre of art nouveau thanks to the �cole de Nancy movement, it's only fitting that the Christmas markets in this elegant town should pay homage to their cultural heritage. Place Maginot is the city's main festive thoroughfare set out in a series of stalls housed within chalet huts, where visitors can find unusual wooden carvings alongside local confectionery and handcrafted Christmas ornaments. Visit the Rue Notre-Dame and the Rue Saint-Thiebault for a smaller selection of market stalls, as well as the main Place Stanislas for a glimpse of the beautiful Christmas tree. In the area: Mus�e de l'�cole de Nancy displays the furniture, glass, fabrics and ceramics of the era which brought so much fame to the city, while for a bite to eat, the Brasserie Flo l'Excelsior offers elegant period surroundings where you can sit and take a break from the bustle. Tel: (Fr) 3 83 35 22 41 www.ot-nancy.fr 6 PARIS End of November onwards Spending the run-up to Christmas in the City of Light is like stepping into a magical festive wonderland – even just a simple stroll around the quartier of your choice will afford an impressive insight into how France's capital really throws itself into celebrating No�l. Street lights and window displays aside, each area of the city has a Christmas market with its own individual character. Try the Champs-�lys�es for a bustling large-scale experience, or the winding cobbled streets near the Rue Montorgueil around Les Halles for a cosier feel. In the area: Galeries Lafayette's indoor Christmas tree is a sight not to be missed while skating at the outside rink in front of the Paris H�tel de Ville can help you soak up the festive atmosphere. Tel: (Fr) 1 73 00 77 00 www.new-paris-ile-de-france.co.uk 7 AMIENS 25 November – 31 December The largest Christmas market in northern France, the March� de No�l d'Amiens attracts thousands of visitors each year with more than 130 brightly coloured chalets selling artwork, handmade jewellery and local products. Around the Place Gambetta you'll find market stalls offering vin chaud and freshly made waffles. Throughout the month of December, Amiens' world-famous Gothic cathedral hosts the spectacular Cath�drale en Couleurs show. At nightfall, Christmas shoppers gather round to watch as the building's detailed carvings come to life in a colourful display. In the area: Be sure to visit Cath�drale Notre-Dame d'Amiens during the day to fully appreciate this Unesco-listed masterpiece. Tel: (Fr) 3 22 71 60 50 www.amiens-tourisme.com 8 LILLE 19 November – 30 December The arrival of the Ferris wheel in the Grand Place marks the start of the festive season in Lille. The city seems to come alive with the Christmas spirit, as fairy lights illuminate the cobbled centre and the smell of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts fills the air. Just off the main square at the Place Rihour, the Christmas market takes the form of a winter village, with wooden chalets and P�re No�l's snow-covered grotto. Here you'll find everything from Christmas decorations and handcrafted gifts to homemade pain d'�pices. In the area: Located near the Lille Europe train station, the Eurolille shopping centre is the ideal destination for the serious shopper. With more than 140 shops, including a major supermarket, there's everything you need for some last minute Christmas shopping before hopping on the train home. Tel: (Fr) 3 59 57 94 00 www.lilletourism.com 9 ARRAS 5 November – 24 December This charming northern city becomes even more picture perfect at Christmas time, when the centre's Flemish fa�ades glow in the warmth of festive lights. And the cobbled square at the Grand Place becomes a winter wonderland with pine trees, Alpine chalets and an ice skating rink. With more than 70 stalls, the Arras Christmas market offers visitors the best of local crafts as well as warming winter treats such as tartiflette. On 6 December, La descente de Saint Nicolas is always a highlight, when Saint Nicolas makes a grand entrance by abseiling down the Town Hall's belfry. In the area: The historic capital of Artois, Arras is known for its architecture, including the Flemish-Baroque main squares, the Grand Place and the Place des H�ros, and the H�tel de Ville's 16th-century belfry, a World Heritage listed site. Tel: (Fr) 3 21 51 26 95 www.ot-arras.fr 10 LYON 25 November – 24 December This bustling Christmas market takes place in the Vieux Lyon district at the Place Carnot, where 140 cabins offer the best of the Rh�ne-Alpes region's gastronomy and craftsmanship. Look out for the santons de No�l, typical of Provence. Dubbed the gastronomic capital of France (and the world), Lyon is the ultimate foodie destination, and the Christmas market is no exception. Here you'll find a sampling of the city's fine cuisine and local specialities such as the famous Rosette de Lyon sausages. From 8 to 11 December, Lyon's annual F�te des Lumi�res adds to the sense of occasion, with fantastic light displays across the city. In the area: The city's most recognisable landmark, Notre-Dame de Fourvi�re Basilica, sits on a hill overlooking the city and offers impressive views of the beautiful city below. Tel: (Fr) 4 72 77 69 69 www.marche-noel-lyon.fr