Christmas time across the Channel is truly magical. It is still a perfectly good time to visit some properties in France and whilst you are there, the country provides all sorts of exciting opportunities when it comes to buying Christmas presents and getting into the festive spirit.
One of the most popular are the Christmas markets, where you can finds all sorts of delicious cakes, chocolates, cheeses, pates and traditional produce as well as authentic decorations, arts and crafts. You’ll also be treated to a concert, some form of entertainment and a funfair for the little ones.
Picture the scene- the sweet aroma of roasted chestnuts wafting past, the twinkling lights, merry music playing in the background and a warm glass of wine in your hands. It all sounds heavenly, doesn’t it? Many markets are within easy reach of the UK, ideal for a little winter break, or even a day trip, so all that’s left for you to decide is which market you’d rather visit.
Lille Christmas Market is very popular, due to its straightforward access via Eurostar. Being quite small compared to some of its German counterparts, it’s ideal for a day trip, rather than a weekend away. The market is held in the large Place Rihour in the centre of town, bedecked with arts and crafts chalets selling ornaments and toys, and stands peddling crepes, hot dogs, donuts and local produce. Various forms of entertainment include plays, games and a large Ferris wheel offering stunning views over the town. Father Christmas will also be on hand so children can have their photo taken with him, and all can watch as he spectacularly “falls” from the Chamber of Commerce’s 80 metre high belfry. In the Old town the streets may be lined with large ribbons and a glittering disco ball jazzes up proceedings further.
Strasbourg Christmas Market is one of the largest in France and located in front of the Gothic Cathedral with its astronomical clock, a truly splendid site. When night falls the windows sparkle with lights, the shop fronts shine with decorations and the streets are filled with the heady bouquets of spices and cinnamon. This market has been going for 431 years, making it also the oldest in the country. Over the years it has developed to encompass all sorts of festive concerts, exhibitions, conferences and activities. La Petite France for instance offers timbered fairy-tale style buildings and a gingerbread bakery. Try some Gluhwein (hot wine with cinnamon) accompanied by choucroute (pickled cabbage) or a Flammekueche (a flambéed tart) to really get into the spirit of things. Don’t forget to visit the impressive Christmas tree on Place Kleber, go skating on Place du Chateau and visit the Christmas in books and specialist crafts markets.
Paris, the city of light, is always worth a visit, and the festive season is no exception. The largest market will be found on the Avenue des Champs-Elysees, all the way from the roundabout to the Place de la Concorde, with beautiful lights guiding you along the way. As well as the market you’ll find the Maison de l’Alsace, a pop up boutique offering authentic Alsatian festive fare. Other markets open over the season include one at La Defense with over 350 stands, one at the Trocadero which also boasts an ice-skating rink and snow villages, perfect for amusing children, and Santa’s Village at Saint Germain des Pres.
Amiens also hosts a very large Christmas market, with the town centre pedestrianised and transformed into a beautiful Alpine festive scene complete with chalets and stands selling delicious local fare and gifts from the region- from fine crystal to organic sweaters and all sorts of gourmet foods. Smoked eel, shrimp, duck, pates, cheeses and trout find pride of place, as well as Beauvais chocolate tuiles, Amiens macaroons, marrons glacés (candied chestnuts) and praline mousse for those with a sweet tooth. Of course, Marne Valley Champagne is also a must. Entertainment is provided in the form of shows, carol singing and games for the young ones.
Why not also visit the stunning gothic Notre Dame d’Amiens Cathedral (listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in the evening, as it is the centrepiece of the “Cathedral in Colours” light show, held during the festive season and various other times of the year.
Finally if you prefer slightly warmer climes, Avignon provides the very best of Provencal tradition with its grand Christmas market and nativity scenes. The market is set up on the Place de l’Horloge with plenty of stalls selling gourmet delights and charming gifts. The entertainment also takes place in the lit up streets with folk dances, costumes and parades featuring Father Christmas and a host of other characters. The Chemin des Creches is a beautiful walk through the various animated and illuminated nativity scenes, where you will spy the authentic “santons” figures (these are the hand painted terracotta nativity scene figurines). In Provence, tradition welcomes families to assemble around the nativity scene on the 24th of December with all going to midnight mass after the “big supper”, which features no less than 13 desserts!
France is a lovely place to spend the Christmas season- the markets with their traditional stalls and festive fun, the twinkling lights and the mouth-watering regional produce all make for a Christmas to remember.