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Cruising Europe's Festive Christmas Markets

July is actually a great time to start thinking ahead to the festive season, and maybe even plan your Christmas in July party! This unofficial holiday is celebrated on July 25th and originated with residents from the southern hemisphere where Christmas falls in summer. They started throwing Christmas parties in July (their winter), and now towns all over the U.S. celebrate Christmas in July too.

December and January are very popular times to travel as many people maximize their vacation days from work for their travels. Now is a great time to book your own holiday plans, and the Christmas markets of Europe are ideal for anyone who loves all things Christmas! There are amazing markets throughout Europe, and one of the best ways to experience them is by river cruise. Your ship brings you right into the heart of cities along the Rhine or Danube Rivers, and it's truly one of the most enjoyable ways to spend the holidays! The open-air markets were established in Germany in the 14th century in honor of Advent, and now town squares across Europe are filled with stalls brimming with crafts and gifts, mulled wine and plenty of holiday cheer. Here are just a few for you to explore.

Article excerpt below by Susan B. Barnes originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of Virtuoso Life.

Cologne, Germany Cologne lauds the season with an impressive seven Christmas markets. The four most popular – Cathedral, Angel’s, Old, and Harbour – are centered around downtown. Hop on the Christmas Market Express, an old-fashioned trolley that weaves through the city, stopping at all four. Cathedral is home to the city’s tallest Christmas tree (82 feet), and Harbour is the place to go for Flammlachs (fresh grilled salmon), but the highlight is Angel’s – the city’s oldest holiday market – where artisans sell crafts inside twinkling chalets and “angels” dressed in white wander through the crowd, tossing glitter in the air and posing for photos with awestruck children. Buy This: A Weihnachtspyramide, or German Christmas pyramid. The carousel-style candleholder, found in stalls throughout the market, is decorated with Nativity scenes and characters from German folklore.

Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany The Rüdesheim Christmas Market brings international flair to the western German town, with 118 stalls that showcase holiday crafts and traditions from Germany and 15 other countries. Swing by the Hungary stall for langos (deep-fried flatbread), or buy handmade clothing from Mongolia and Australia. Over on Drosselgasse, one of Rüdesheim am Rhein’s tavern-lined, cobblestoned lanes, parents sip glühwein (mulled wine) while kids explore the petting zoo and Europe’s largest Nativity scene – the life-size display covers more than 1,000 square feet. For aerial views of the winter wonderland, hop the Rüdesheim cable car for the annual “silent ride” over the market. Try This: A mug of Rüdesheimer Kaffee, topped with whipped cream and spiked with a splash of flambéed Asbach Uralt brandy. It’s available at stalls across the market.

Strasbourg, France Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik (the Market of the Infant Jesus) dates to 1570, when preacher Johannes Flinner set up stalls in front of the Strasbourg Cathedral for vendors to sell saddles, gingerbread, Christmas trees, and other wares. Now the entire city feels like it’s in on the tradition, and Strasbourg calls itself the “Capital of Christmas.” Christkindelsmärik, the main market, still stands in front of the cathedral, but several others are spread throughout the city, including the Market of Christmas Treats in front of Palais Rohan, and the Sharing Village on place Kléber, where visitors can learn about, and lend support to, local nonprofit organizations. Buy This: Limited-edition handblown glass Christmas ornaments made in nearby Meisenthal each year – find them in the Christkindelsmärik.

Colmar, France Colmar may be smaller than Strasbourg, but that doesn’t mean its residents skimp on Christmas celebrations. This cozy Alsatian town hosts a handful of markets, each set in its own fairytale-like village and all walking distance apart. Stroll from place des Dominicains – backdropped by the Gothic-style Dominican Church – to place Jeanne-d’Arc, sampling traditional Alsatian treats such as kouglof (a semisweet Bundt cake with raisins and almonds) along the way. Stop in at the indoor, arts-and-crafts-focused Koïfhus Market before taking a spin on the carousel at the Children’s Christmas Market at Little Venice. Buy This: A handmade miniature wooden train set from local artist Bernard Aubry, found at his stall in the Marché de Noël.

Basel, Switzerland While it’s revered for its annual art festival, Basel throws a party at Christmastime too. Since 1978, the city’s pedestrian-friendly Old Town has filled with festive decorations and wooden chalets in Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz. Stock up on handpainted glass ornaments (Swiss artist Johann Wanner’s are the ones to find), and when it’s time to refuel, grab some Basler Leckerli (gingerbread). Across the Rhine on Claraplatz – a 15-minute walk from the city center – a smaller and newer market skews more culinary than crafty, with stalls serving grilled sausage, waffles, glühwein, and more. Try This: Raclette, a hearty dish of melted cheese served with potatoes, charcuterie, and vegetables.

Call or email me when you're ready to plan some holiday cheer!


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