Christmas markets with a difference – in Italy

Alpine Italy lights up for the Christmas season with some of the most interesting Christmas Markets on offer in Europe, combining Mediterranean flavours and German traditions, festive food and wine, gift ideas, decorations and local handicraft.

angel

Here is a selection listed by region.

ALTO ADIGE (South Tyrol/ Süd Tirol)

www.suedtirol.info

Bolzano/Bozen: Alpine – Mediterranean Christmas

Savour the magic of Christmas in the traditional mercantile town of Bolzano, at the meeting point of north and south, where the cultures and traditions of central Europe and the Mediterranean. Bright lights, scents and sounds steeped in tradition pervade the medieval centre, with its romantic arcaded streets and picturesque lanes emanating their nostalgic atmosphere. Emotions are heightened by the backdrop of the Rosengarten Dolomites!

Venue Piazza Walther/Waltherplatz

Open from 24 Nov. 2016 to 6 Jan. 2017 (25 Dec. closed)

Bressanone/Brixen: Art and history

The venerable Cathedral with its 800 year-old Gothic cloister lends a unique aura to the Christmas market, taking place in the Cathedral square. You will be fascinated by the bustle of activity and the myriad of colours, seasonal aromas and music, or by the crib exhibition in the Episcopal Palace (Hofburg) emanating tradition and history. You can tour the village on horse-drawn carriage on Saturdays and Sundays during the pre-Christmas period.

Venue Piazza Duomo/Domplatz (Cathedral Square)

Open from 25 Nov 2016 to 6 Jan  2017 (25 Dec. closed)

 

Merano: Sensual Delights and Relaxation

Relish contemplative moments while rejuvenating body and soul. Discover traditional handicrafts at the Christmas market and savour local sweetmeats. A wealth of attractions for children! Enjoy a festival for the senses and leisure, enveloped in the magical pre-Christmas atmosphere of Merano.

Venue Passeggiata Lungo Passirio/Piazza delle Terme (with its ice-skating rink)
Open from 25 Nov 2016 to 6 Jan 2017 (25 Dec. closed)

Brunico/Bruneck: handicrafts and tradition

Discover traditional handicrafts and seductive delicacies ensconced between the four main gates of the medieval town walls. Should you wish to combine a visit to the Christmas market with winter sports, then the superb slopes in the Kron-Platz ski resort are just outside the town.

Venue Via Bastioni, Parco Tschurtschenthaler and at “Oberstadt”

Open from 25 Nov 2016 to 6 Jan 2017 (closed 25 Dec.)

 

VIPITENO/STERZING: LIVING TRADITIONS

The impressive “Zwölfer-Turm” tower built in 1486 watches over the Christmas market in this medieval mining town, itself at an altitude of almost 1,000 metres. It also features a special exhibition related to the history of mining in the nearby high mountains. The atmosphere is enhanced by the quaint town buildings with their characteristic bay windows.

Venue Piazza città/Stadtplatz (Town Square)
Open from 25 Nov 2016 to 6 Jan  2017 (25 Dec. closed)

TRENTINO

www.visittrentino.it

TRENTO

The Trento Christmas Market in Piazza Fiera is one of the most famous festive markets of the region.  The market also extends to Piazza Cesare Battisti with a great number of stalls and mini-chalets offering a wide selection of Trentino’s many excellent foods, wines and crafts.

Open:19 November 2016 – 6 January 2017  (closed 25 Dec)

www.mercatinodinatale.tn.it

ARCO, Lake Garda

It is the time of lights, of colours and Christmas flavours, mulled wine and Christmas bakery. Forty market booths, spread all over the centre of Arco, offer Christmas tree decorations, ideas regarding Christmas presents, handicraft products and local delicacies. Various events taking place in the evenings complete the offer of the Arco Christmas Market.

A ride on the back of the camel Ali or a little pony will make  children’s eyes sparkle. Moreover there are crafting workshops, a parade with Santa Claus who walks across the roads together with his reindeer, as well as a ride with one of the colourful little trains driving through Arco. On the occasion of the Immaculate Conception on December 8, there is also a huge firework in the sky above Castello di Arco.

Open: 18 November 2016 – 8 January 2017 (closed 25 Dec.). Historic centre of Hapsburg Arco

ROVERETO

Renaissance town of Trentino, Rovereto mixes tradition and avant-garde,  together with peace, dialogue and hospitality and reveals itself as a meeting-point between peoples and cultures worldwide, especially during Christmas-Holidays.

That’s why Rovereto hosts year after year a lot of artisans from all around the world.

Christmas in Rovereto become a research for the deep sense of holiday, with its traditions and feasts; art is a mirror of the different cultures that meet each other in the name of solidarity and dialogue. That’s the true meaning of “Christmas of peoples”.
Little wooden houses, smell of resins, fresh air, starred sky  and a dust of snow, will take you into the magic atmosphere of Christmas. Walking across the streets you will find different items: artistic handcrafts, clothing, sweets, typical food and wines in the whole historical centre between  palaces, squares and museums.

Open 25 Nov 2016 – 6 January 2017 (closed 25 Dec.) Centre of Rovereto.

www.visitrovereto.it

 

LEVICO TERME

The fairytale-like Habsburgs Park of Levico, every year hosts a large number of market booths. The Austrian tradition reflects former times, when the Habsburgs have chosen Levico as their summer domicile. Especially when it snows or if the landscape is snow-covered, this park changes into a fairytale-like area: some 30 market booths are spread all over this park between the huge trees and it really seems to be a winter wonderland. Local handicraft products, Christmas tree decorations, ideas for Christmas presents as well as local products such as honey, “Luganega”, a local meat product as well as boar ham. Music and entertainment with folk music groups, Elf Village for the kids and an exhibition of more than 100 cribs as well as concerts complete the wide offer of the Christmas Market.

Open: 19 November 2016 – 6 January 2016 (closed 25 Dec).

VENETO

www.veneto.to

CORTINA D’AMPEZZO

In the shadow of the Tofane, the advent period takes on its traditional colours thanks to the Cortina Christmas Market, which brings lights, colour and a festive atmosphere to the main street, Corso Italia. The famous pedestrian street lined by renowned national and international shops, will be scattered with small wooden huts where artisans and local producers exhibit their products. All accompanied by mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and traditional sweets. Inside each of the characteristics wooden huts, a variety of seasonal merchandise, representing the crafts and traditions of the area, will be exhibited and offered for sale. To complete the atmosphere, and to make the browsing and shopping even more enjoyable, there will of course be music to fit the mood, in the form of all the most cherished and traditional Christmas songs.
Open: 7 December 2016 – 8 January 2017

ASIAGO

The gardens of Piazza Carli host the Asiago’s  Christmas Market, several huts will sell traditional decorations in glass, wood and ceramic, typical Asiago patisserie, natural products and the famous Asiago cheese. There will also be huts selling local dishes and mulled wine.

Open: 12 November 2016 – 8 January 2017 (open from 15.30 on 25 Dec.)

VERONA

Verona hosts each year a Nuremberg Christmas Market in the central Piazza dei Signori. The German styled market will have all the traditional huts, elegantly illuminated and decorated selling typical food, handicrafts, Christmas tree decorations, cribs and serving specialities such as mulled wine, Stollen and Lebkuchen cakes, bratwurst and more.

Open: 18 November – 26 December 2016 (closes at 5pm on 24 Dec and opens at 3pm on 25 Dec.)

www.nataleinpiazza.it

BELLUNO

From November 29 to December 24 2016 the traditional Christmas Market of Belluno will crowd and light up the gardens of Piazza dei Martiri, one of the most beautiful squares of the city, with its wooden stands, decorations, and bright, colorful lights. Called Christmas Gardens, the market sells wool and wood handmade objects, original gift ideas and local and regional specialties.

There will be about twenty stands and many outdoor refreshment areas with mulled wine, sandwiches and hot chocolate. In the weekend there will also be entertainment such as music, games for children and shows.

AOSTA VALLEY

www.lovevda.it

AOSTA

The successful recipe of the “Marché Vert Noël”, one of the most known Christmas markets of the Alps, is explained by the location. A coloured alpine village surrounded by music and lights, with roads, squares, bridges, wooden chalets and a true fir forest, is recreated in the “heart” of Aosta. Visitors will be able to walk around the “streets” of the village searching for a gift or simply admiring the traditional handicrafts such as ceramics, wooden items, clothing accessory in wool, felt, leather and hemp fabric, Christmas decorations and typical gastronomic products.

Even this year, the colourful and suggestive scenery of the Christmas markets in the City of Aosta will take place throughout the Christmas holidays from November 26 2016 to 6 January  2017 (opens at 4pm on 25 Dec.)

FRIULI VENEZIA GIULIA

www.turismo.fvg.it

TRIESTE

In Trieste you can experience the old charm of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire in its Christmas Market in Piazza Sant’Antonio and surrounding streets: typical Trieste foods and wines, Christmas decorations, artificial snow, songs and music to accompany the visitor during the festive season. Open: 8 to 24 December 2016. From 12 November 2016 to 8 January 2017 you can visit the “Porto Piccolo Christmas Market” where you can find a skating rink with sea-view as well as typical food and crafts.

 

UDINE

Enjoy the magic and the charm of the Christmas songs, markets and the fabulous atmosphere in the fascinating setting of the city of Udine.

Open: 2 – 16 December 2016 in Piazza San Giacomo

SAURIS

The Christmas Market in Sauris re-lives each year the tradition of this delightful mountain village. Along the narrow streets and the quaint squares Father Christmas and wooden hut selling festive food and wine, toys and decoration will animate the atmosphere. Not to be missed is the opportunity to discover the old Sauris on a horse-drawn carriage.

Open: 5-8 December 2016

CHRISTMAS IN THE CITIES

Christmas is a well loved tradition all over Italy and traditional Christmas markets and fairs can be found all over the peninsula in the most important cities.

VENICE

Christmas fairs in various piazzas (campo) in Venice: Campo S.Bartolomeo, Campo San Salvador, Campo San Luca, Campo Manin, Strada Nuova (where you can find the “Venice Christmas Fair”).  You can also find a Christmas Market in Mestre with ice rink in Piazza Ferretto. Another ice rink is located in Venice in Piazza San Polo.

On the Island of Murano you can find “Christmas of Glass” from 5 Dec 2016 to 6 Jan. 2017, with hand-crafted baubles and the Tunnel of Lights, a spectacular glasswork regatta.

FLORENCE

Mercato Tedesco di Natale (German  Christmas Market)

Piazza Del Carmine

This Christmas Market is inspired by the tradition of the German city of Heidelberg, wooden huts and stalls selling Italian and German delicacies, decorations, handicrafts.

Open: 30 November 2016 – 18 December 2017

www.firenzeturismo.it

 

BOLOGNA

Fiera di Santa Lucia

Portico of Chiesa dei Servi in Strada Maggiore

The Santa Lucia market takes place at Portico dei Servi at the Church of Santa Maria dei Servi in the heart of the centre of Bologna. In front of the church building there is a airy space surrounded by porticoes of tall marble columns.

This traditional Fair dedicated to Christmas, stalls full of decorations for the Xmas tree, the nativity crib, food and wine and other delicacies.

Open: 17 November to 26 December 2016

NAPLES

Nativity Cribs in Via S. Gregorio Armeno

This narrow street is famous all over the world for its handcrafted Nativity Crib figurines, from the traditional ones to the most sophisticated, it buzzes at Christmas time with Neapolitans and tourists alike.

TURIN

This traditional market returns with many new exhibitors and full of joy, colour, tradition, celebration, solidarity, peace, light and sweetness: a wide range of gift items for Christmas, together with tastings and selling of culinary delights and specialities of Piedmont producers and other Italian regions.

Open: 4-23 December 2016 in Piazza Borgo Dora, 34.

“Sogno di Natale” is another market with  Father Christmas village open in Piazza D’Armi, with an ice rink and festive street food, open from 26 Nov. 2016 to 8 Jan. 2017

www.turismotorino.org

MILAN

Il villaggio delle meraviglie

Giardini Indro Montanelli, entry from Corso Venezia.

Christmas market and other seasonal activities for adults and children takes place in these gardens in the centre of Milan, with a skating rink and shows with various performance artists throughout the festive season.

Open: 3 December 2016 – 8 January 2017

Milan also hosts every year the “Oh Bej Oh Bej” fair during the celebrations of its Patron Saint, Saint Ambrose, in the area near the Sforza Castle. It is a very traditional market fair with typical Milanese artisan food, wines and other products.

Open 7-10 December 2016

Source: Press Release Stefania Gatta for TravMedia

 

Highlights of Bordeaux

Forget everything you might have heard about Bordeaux being grimy and run down. Since several years ago, that image is a thing of the past. On my latest visit to the city on the banks of the Garonne, I could see for myself what a bit (or rather a lot) of sandblasting and tons of fresh paint can do to turn Cinderella into a shining beauty. Add to this miles of pedestrian shopping streets, a cable and noise free tram, green zones and parks, not to mention delightful river cruises and you have a city worth visiting for more than just a few hours, mostly spent at wine tastings.

With over 300 historical 17th and 18th century buildings (only Paris has more) Bordeaux is a paradise for history and architecture fans like myself.

Sadly, I only had half a day but it was enough to get am impression of the highlights which now make Bordeaux so attractive to locals and tourists alike.

Rather than exploring on my own, as I usually like to do and due to the limited time, I went with a tour guide. Great choice! The delightful Bruno Beurrier who likes to be addressed as Mr. Butterdish ( www.bcommebordeaux.com) was full of details and stories and certainly knew how to show as around.

Meet Bruno Butterdish

Meet Bruno Butterdish

Starting point was the elegant Grand Theatre on Place de la Comedie. Opened in 1780 the building was designed as a temple to art by Victor Louis.

teatre

Prevailing performances are and have always been ballet, but it also served as an opera house. In 1991, the interior was restored to its original colors of gold and blue and the result is breath taking. Thanks to Bruno, we had the chance to sneak into one of the balconies and get a glimpse of the rehearsal to a very modern ballet version of The Tempest. I would have loved to see the performance but, sadly, there was no time.

ceiling

gallery

seats

Opposite is the equally grandiose and restored Grand Hotel with a restaurant run by Gordon Ramsey on the ground floor.

grandhotel

Place de la Comedie marks one end of the mile long Rue Saint Catherine, a pedestrian shopping street lined by countless shops from designer to economic. I could escape for a moment to look at librairie mollat, a 120 year old massive bookshop where I could habr browsed for hours.

Bookshop Mollat

Bookshop Mollat

Meandering through the historical center in the direction of the river, Bruno stopped at one remaining black wall to point out to us the before and after of Bordeaux’s face lift.

We passed the huge Cathedral of St. Andre dating from the 11th century although the majority of the construction and looming towers are from the 14th and 15th century. In the setting sun of the afternoon, the sandstone just glowed.

cathedral

Bordeaux also features some striking  examples of modern architecture which of course didn’t need any sandblasting. One is Europe’s longest vertical lift  bridge, Pont Chaban-Delmas which spans the Garonne.

Vertical lift bridge

Vertical lift bridge

Another, surprisingly, the Court of 1st Instance, a cone shaped courthouse with courtroom located in pods.

cimg4574

And, finally, Bordeaux’s latest attraction: La Cite du Vin, a museum cum amusement park  which only opened this year.

Cite du Vin

Cite du Vin

Bruno timed his tour perfectly, because as night fell, we came to the highlight of highlights: Place de la Bourse and the water mirror in front.

Seeing the beautifully illuminated historical buildings arranged in a semi circle reflected in the water is pure magic.

cimg4587

What I missed out on are the several river cruises available, starting from Bordeaux. From just a short pleasure trip to longer ones into the vineyards of surrounding Acquitaine and further afield, they would be another highlight to add to the list.

For further information please consult: http://bordeaux-river-cruise.com/

One thing is for sure: I’ll return with more time to enjoy the things I had to miss and certainly to attend a ballet performance in the Grand Theatre.

 

Via del Portico – Sagunt

Approaching Sagunt coming from Valencia you can’t miss the awesome sight of the massive castle on top of the hill dominating the city. It stretchesfor about 1km in length, plenty to walk around and explore. Below it on the same hill are other historical sites like the Roman Theatre, the Forum and, near the bottom, the Jewish quarter.

Sagunt castle

Sagunt castle

Roman Theatre

Roman Theatre

Entrance to La Juderia

Entrance to La Juderia

Before undertaking the steep hike up the hill, I went to see a fascinating discovery in the city center itself. Via del Portico adjacent to Plaza Antiga Moreria was the main approach road to Sagunt in Roman times. The perfectly straight road was covered by rubble and layers of other buildings, most recently a football field, until it was discovered when modern apartment and office buildings were constructed on top.

roadbest

Excavations revealed a massive area with the well preserved road, bordered by pillars which once supported a roofed arcade with shops and houses. Canalization is clearly visible as are the imprints of carts which drove along on their way to the prosperous Roman city.

The remains of other houses, side roads , cisterns and even discarded building material and lead pipes give an impression of what it looked like so many centuries ago.

pilars

houses

Discarded Roman bricks

Discarded Roman bricks

Lead pipes

Lead pipes

I had the privilege of a private guided tour by Carmen Antoni Balazan, an archaeologist who now looks after the museum/exhibition and was involved in the excavations. She told me that it wasn’t clear if this access road was a part of the famous Via Augusta which led from Rome to Cadiz but it’s possible.

The exhibition is impressive, because the road and houses are displayed beneath the black pillars which are the foundation of the building which was constructed above. In interesting combination of ancient and modern architecture.

To see this you must make an appointment at the nearby tourist office in Plaza Cronista Chabret.Admission is €1.

 

El colcho – a unique artifact of Sagunt

When I first arrived in Sagunt, I silently dubbed the place ‘The City of Without’. The reason? The river Palancia doesn’t have a drop of water. My hotel had a reception but no receptionist. Starving, I entered a bar only to be told that they didn’t have any food, not even a miserable donut.  Something unheard of in Spain.  Finally, I tried to use  an ATM but… it had no money.

This somewhat  negative start took a dramatic turn for the better the moment I entered the Tourist Office on Plaza Cronista Chabret. The boss, Paco Torrijos, couldn’t do enough to help me with information as soon as he heard what I was doing in Sagunt.

colcho

My eye was caught by glass showcases in the office which contained several artifacts I had never seen before. Naturally, I enquired and learned that these pretty vessels are called colchos and that they were used from the 18th century onwards to carry drinking water by the farmers and laborers when they were toiling in their fields. Unlike other flasks they are made from big slices of cork oak, decorated and held together by brass. Two openings are inserted, one to pour the water in and another to drink from.

The shape, vertical and horizontal cylinders, differ, depending on the owner being male or female. With the disappearance of agriculture and the arrival of tins and plastic bottles, there was no need for the original use of the colchos anymore and by 1969 the art of making them was dying out.

This is where the story gets really interesting. The last craftsman, belonging to the Ortiz family, decided to keep the art alive and to teach it to mentally handicapped people who live in the Centro Ocupacional San Cristobal in the mountains a short drive out of town. That’s where the colchos are made today and sold in various sizes as souvenirs and much coveted gifts for weddings and other celebrations. From practical they have become decorative and provide a great opportunity for the handicapped to use their skills, which are remarkable.

I know this, because I asked Paco if I could visit the center and see in situ how the colchos are made. It took several phone calls and some persuasion, but finally I was allowed to visit. It was a heart warming experience. The guys came forward with big smiles on their faces and each was eager to show me which part of the colcho they were making. I wasn’t allowed to take any photos of the people of course, but the teacher held up parts and finished pieces for me to photograph. They also have other workshops where they paint or make wicker baskets.

horizontalcolcho

verticalcolcho

engraving

chain

Paco, who is a great collector of anything to do with Sagunt, her art and history, owns about 50 colchos, among them a rarity: one made from wicker, also produced by the guys from the center.

wickercolcho

The prices vary from €62 to €20 according to size. They are sold at stands at the weekly mercadillo but, strangely, in no souvenir shop in Sagunt. Even stranger, there is only one: half way up the mountain on the way to the castle.

The only souvenir shop

The only souvenir shop

The center doesn’t have a website but you can send them an email if you want to know more. centroocupacionalsancristobal@gmail.com, FAO Pedro Rubio who is the director.

El Greco’s Toledo

Dominikos Theotokopoulos, better known as El Greco, was born in 1541 on the Greek island of Crete. He started out as a painter of icons, then moved on to Venice where he became acquainted with the works of Tintoretto and Tizian.

It’s unknown how and when he came to Toledo, but it’s in this city where he created his best known works and where he lived until his death in 1614.

My recent visit to Toledo had several purposes and aspects, but on of them was, of course, to see the great master’s works, home and museum. 2014 put El Greco and Toledo in the spot light because of the 400th anniversary of his death and many events, the traces of which persist today, were held in Toledo.

I was always fascinated by the unique style of his portraits. The elongated, serious faces are instantly recognizable. El Greco painted mostly religious scenes and, in Toledo, finally got much coveted and needed commissions to create paintings for several churches and the cathedral.

He also made a name for himself with the aforementioned portraits. What he did little was paint landscapes. One of them is the View of Toledo, which creates a dark and even menacing image of the city.

320px-El_Greco_View_of_Toledo

Naturally, having seen the painting, although only in reproductions, I was curious to find out how and if the reality differs from the image created by El Greco.

It does. The two most famous landmarks of Toledo, Alcazar and Cathedral are not in their real place. The river Tajo meanders in a different way and, most surprisingly, the city walls are missing. Why that is, is anyone’s guess but it’s interesting to compare an artist’s impression with reality. The painting is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, not in Toledo.

I made my way to the modern El Greco museum with a sculpture of the artist in front and lovely gardens inside.

grecomus

garden

elgreco

El Greco, who cherished a rather lavish lifestyle, rented rooms in the Palais of Marques de Villena close by. His famous work The Funeral of Count Orgaz hangs in the church of Santo Tome for which it was created.

220px-El_Greco_-_The_Burial_of_the_Count_of_Orgaz

You can practically go from one church to the next in Toledo and find creations by El Greco in many. Despite finally making a living from his work and a name for himself, he failed to get commissions from King Philipp II, although he tried very hard. He died leaving huge debts.

It wasn’t until the 19th century that his originality and superb craftsmanship were really appreciated and Expressionists were influenced by him.