French Christmas markets: Part Two
Soak up the seasonal atmosphere with a Christmas trip to France. Carolyn Boyd and Zoë McIntyre pick six of the best destinations
21 November to 31 December
Forget Santa’s grotto, Colmar has so much Christmas atmosphere even Scrooge would find it hard to resist a gingerbread man. With five different markets spread throughout the town, it is the perfect place to stock up on food and gifts for Christmas 2014. The best way to enjoy them is to avoid having a plan; simply clasp your hands around a steaming vin chaud and stroll. From the magnificent 14th-century Église des Dominicains in the centre, saunter along the lines of wooden huts brimming with sweets, chocolates and wooden gifts.
In the area known as Petite Venise, admire the pretty bridges over the River Lauch, before stocking up on presents for your little ones at the children’s market where youngsters can ride the merry-go-round and post their letters to Father Christmas. If the winter chill gets too much, head indoors to the covered market in the Koïfhus, a lovely 14th- and 15th-century building where cabinet makers, wood sculptors, milliners, jewellers and antique dealers offer up their wares.
Outside the Koïfhus, in Place de l’Ancienne Douane, a further 50 stalls surround the Schwendi Fountain designed by the town’s most famous son Auguste Bartholdi, designer of the Statue of Liberty. For local gastronomy, Place Jeanne d’Arc is the place to fill your tum, with such treats as wine, liqueurs, charcuterie and foie gras all on offer.
Even without a Christmas list to shop for, it is simply wonderful to explore – with your nose filled with the smell of pain d’épices, hot caramel and warm pretzels – the amazing medieval architecture lit by thousands of twinkling lights. The sheer number of stalls spread throughout the town means that even at the busiest times, the numbers of people add to the buzz, and if all you take away is a warm glow and wonderful memories, then you can consider it a wonderful trip.
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What else to see: Colmar is undoubtedly the place to be based if one Christmas market isn’t enough. A short drive away, the villages of Turkheim, Riquewihr and Kaysersberg offer truly magical Christmas markets on a smaller scale. Head to Bergheim, too, for its nativity trail where some 50 scenes are squirreled away in the village’s nooks and crannies. It’s a wonderful place in which to remind yourself of the true meaning of the festive season. Colmar is also ideal for stocking up on local wines for your seasonal party. The Boutique du Domaine Viticole de la Ville de Colmar at 27 Grand Rue is a good place to start your tasting adventure.
Where to stay: The cosy Hostellerie Le Maréchal (4/6 Place des Six Montagnes Noires, tel: (Fr) 3 89 41 60 32, www.hotel-le-marechal.com). Doubles from €115.
Where to eat: La Table de Brocanteur (23 Rue Alspach, tel: (Fr) 3 89 23 45 57) is a little gem, and offers excellent food in a unique setting with, as its name suggests, charming bric-a-brac decor.