Alsace: Magical Traditions
The next stop on our enchanting holiday whirl through France is Alsace, the northeastern region that is in fact the cradle of most of the Christmas market traditions observed throughout the country. Culturally both French and German, since it has belonged to both countries at various points in history, the influence of Germanic cultural elements come through in the cheerful markets that bring the region to life each year. The magical ambience is not unlike something you’d find in an old European fairy tale: stroll through chalets strung with lights and bursting with colourful toys, sweets and decorations; take in the warm whiff of gingerbread and gluhwein (the German term for hot wine, made with heady, wintery spices including cinnamon and clove) and enjoy the medieval backdrop of Alsace’s grand city and storybook-style villages.
Best Markets in Alsace?
There are numerous markets to explore throughout the region in November and December (see a full list here)– but the two most outstanding markets are probably in Strasbourg and Colmar.
The capital of Alsace, Strasbourg is one of Europe’s most beautiful and historically important cities. Its breathtaking medieval cathedral dating to the early 15th century looms over the city, and is especially magnificent during the Christmas period, when the whole city comes alive with soft light and holiday warmth.
The Strasbourg Christmas market is Europe’ oldest (having debuted in the mid-sixteenth century) and largest, making the city’s claim to be the “capital of Christmas” a valid one. Some 300 wooden chalets are installed each year in the historic city center, which oozes with so much holiday cheer and festive ambience that even hardened “grinches” and Scrooges will likely find themselves charmed.
Specialising, of course, in traditional Alsatian crafts, gourmet goodies, old-fashioned toys and Christmas decorations, the stalls make the perfect pit stop for last-minute holiday shopping. Each year a programme of live music, Christmas carols, theatrical performances, appearances by Santa, the unveiling of a large Christmas tree and other festive events brings the markets to full life.
Dates in 2018: This year, the Strasbourg Christmas market is open from the evening of 23 November through 30 December.
Meanwhile, Colmar is a medieval, cobblestoned town whose own “marché de Noel” is world-famous for its magical and festive qualities. The old town centre is bathed in hundreds of warm lights, and the pedestrian-friendly town counts not one but several fantastic Christmas markets, including one especially reserved for children, one dedicated to Christmas trees, and other focused on local handicraft and artisanal decorations. While many tourists never make it to this humble Alsatian town, it’s simply one of the most beautiful places to enjoy an end-of year getaway in France.
Dates in 2018: This year’s markets in Colmar are open from the evening of 23 November through the 30th of December. On inauguration day, 23 November, visitors can enjoy free guided tours of the historic town centre and learn more about local Christmas traditions.
Luxurious Suggestions, Pre or Post-Markets
Alsace is a wonderful region to focus on during a high-end holiday in France, and there are numerous ways to make your Christmas-time excursion in the area ultra-luxurious.
Home to fantastic wine cellars and local vintnering traditions, Alsace is particularly well-known for its balanced, aromatic whites, especially Riesling and Pinot Gris. Why not embark on a bespoke French wine tour of this noble but under-rated region, exploring fine cellars and tasting some of the area’s best bottles?
Related: Why to Explore the Alsace Wine Route With Our Private Guides
Alsace is also home to many wonderful gastronomic restaurants, including the acclaimed Auberge de l’Ill, a three-star Michelin restaurant located in close reach of Colmar that has been called one of Europe’s best restaurants. Housed in the 5-star Hotel des Berges, guests at the restaurant can also stay in one of the magnificent rooms here, enjoying a relaxing trip to the onsite spa and treatment rooms. This might be the perfect way to cap off a day exploring nearby Christmas markets: a wintery treat that includes top-rate French gastronomy, and a little self-pampering.
We can unlock many more exclusive and luxurious destinations in the region for you: this is only a single example of the possibilities that await!