Christmas comes early in some part of continental Europe like Germany and Austria. They celebrate Saint Nicholas on the 6th of December. This is no wonder then that one of the most famous and visited Christmas markets in France are in the East; in Alsace now part of the “Grand Est” region – welcome to Strasbourg and Mulhouse!
Strasbourg – the first of its kind!
Its market is also the oldest in France, possibly Europe. There are indeed records of the special event going back to 1570. The “Christkindelsmärik” is one of the most visited too because it managed to retain the true spirit of Christmas. You will find actually that all the craft available there is related to the festivities, whether it is presents, decorations and specialty food.
Mulhouse – serious competition in southern Alsace
It is difficult to mention Strasbourg and not Mulhouse when covering the most traditional Christmas markets in France. It is just over one hour drive on the motorway A35, both cities are so close yet the markets are so different.
For a start, Mulhouse has a tradition of designing a new pattern every year. Similar to new tartans being introduced for every special occasion. Also, their market have a great wheel which is well set on the main square and gives you a unique view on all the chalets where one can purchase special presents for their loved ones.
Lille – gateway to France
Now, if you live down south and have been to France once or twice, you will know of Calais of course. In its vicinity, the main city is Lille. Less than one hour drive on the motorway, a good stop before hitting Paris – or Strasbourg as the toll is cheaper! They also have one of the most welcoming Christmas markets in France.
Lille’s market is only 26 years old and holds less chalets but you will be able to enjoy a great selection of Christmas products from all over the world, Russia, Italy, Belgium and other regions of France of course! The city itself has far more to offer and is a fun place, in other words a great stop-over if you are crossing the Channel this December!
Paris – cannot be missed
The capital city is only a few hours away be it Calais or Lille. Of course it boasts dozens of markets, whether this is in the heart of Paris or nearby. We visited the one on Parvis de la Défense, at the far end of Métro line 1 going westward and we loved it. It is quite vast and wide spread. The 350 chalets offer innovative presents as well as traditional ones from all over France and abroad. A trip around the world in 80 minutes, not 80 days. Highly recommended, a Sextant favourite!
If you prefer something in the city center then Avenue des Champs-Elysées is certainly a touristic hot spot.
Lyon – 20th anniversary
We are going down south slowly but surely, we think you will have noticed. What to say about Lyon that has not been said already? One thing to remember is that it is the capital of French gastronomy and the market on Carnot square will deliver on the food front for sure – they are celebrating their 20th anniversary. On top of that they have plenty of Christmas decorations, toys and presents of all sorts.
Sarlat – The pearl of the Périgord
Sarlat is in the black Périgord, not far from Brive-la-Gaillarde, which sits between Limoges and Bordeaux. This one is another favorite at Sextant as we know well the area. The market is smaller than the rest but you will be welcome with warmth and goodies. It has to be seen if you are in the area.
Aix-en-Provence – Because it is Provence
There is quite a distance between Strasbourg and Aix-en-Provence, quite a difference too between the ways they celebrate Christmas. This will show in their markets as well. Provence is famous for its “santons” – they are little colourful characters made of terracota for nativities. There also is the thirteen desserts which in itself is worth a full article. We will cover what this is about, but here is a hint, they are very tasty!
Last but not least, Merry Christmas in France, is “Joyeux Noël!”