I love christmas markets – they are truly a magical window into a centuries old tradition. The lights, the joyous decorations, the hot mulled wine – and most importantly the unmissable festive feeling in the air, there’s not a lot I can’t like about them!
If you’d like to visit one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, do consider the charming town of Strasbourg, where the 300 chalets and stalls of the traditional markets have become a kind of pilgrimage to people from all over France, Germany and other parts of Europe.
Called the Marche de Noel in French, Weihnachtensmarkt in German but often referred to as the Christkindelsmarik in the local Alsacian tongue, these markets have been around since the 1500s, when the region was part of Germany.
Strasbourg, despite its very German sounding name is the capital of the Alsace region in Eastern France. If the name of the region hasn’t already rung a bell, think sweet white wines – Gewurtztraminer, Riesling.. yes – now you have arrived.
Through history, the city and much of this region has been disputed between the French and the Germans and has swapped hands, flags and languages at least a half dozen times. Like most European cities in that region, Strasbourg has its share of bloody history and destruction, but the singular most popular association with the city these days are its vibrant Christmas Markets.
Unlike the markets we had seen in New York and Paris, the ones here sell mostly local, hand-made and very often traditional handicrafts – be it figurines for the decoration of mangers, tree decorations or simply freshly made local delicacies. These are reputed to be among the more traditional markets.
Visiting Strasbourg is an easy ~2.5 hour train ride from Paris. Once there and well-oriented with a local map, it was easy to set off on a full-day of walking through the narrow streets lined with shops, lights and more decorations. The central square hosts the city’s prestige – the 30-metre high Christmas tree. We wandered about, sampled the treats on the streets, indulged in a few little purchases, and yes, sampled some Alsacian wines. I don’t usually like white wines and definitely not the sweet kind, but – there is something to be said about their local produce.
Uday and I particularly liked the view of the roof-tops from atop the town’s cathedral. This cathedral is a classic gothic structure, beautiful by day and eerie by night. It is well worth the 330+ steps of climb to the top. The steps are not as bad as they sound – we did take breaks along the climb to gawk at the views and let other visitors descend. The climb also affords very rewarding views of the unique Strasbourg skyline of multi-colored tiles lining the rooftops. It forms a wonderful palate and I imagined a magnificent water-color painting coming to life.
Here are a few memories from the trip.
Next up – the utterly quaint little towns of Colmar and Kaysersberg, right next to Strasbourg and combinable for a perfect 3-day visit. Stay tuned!
Beautiful pics Uday, Good eye catching that sneaky Santa
Felt like a part of your experience in Strasbourg! Especially the climb up :-) The carousel from up there looks really pretty. Loved all the photos. You’ve really captured the spirit of Christmas so magnificently celebrated there.
Glad you liked it :-) Strasbourg at night was so beautifully lit up – must admit, the French are masters at lighting..
My husband has often talked about Elsass (as it is known here) and we have been meaning to go there for as long as I can remember. It’s interesting, that for you coming to France, you see all the the German influences and for us, coming from Germany we notice all the French influences. “Fachwerk” buildings are also very typical in Germany (mostly in the middle…not really the north or south) and your photos remind me of the kind of places we often visit during the autumn when we love to go hiking in the countryside. It is indeed often like a fairy tale. Christmas Markets are of course very German known as the “Weihnachtsmarkt” as Priya points out but this is the typical name in northern Germany. The name of the Christmas Market in Strasbourg is actually the same as that used in southern (catholic) parts of Germany “Christkindlmarkt” (in southern Germany, it is the Christkind that delivers the presents on 24th December).