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.

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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

 

Erntedankfest- Germany’s Thanksgiving

It’s Thanksgiving weekend in the US. But, like many other countries, Germany knows how to give thanks too. It’s called Erntedankfest .It’s celebrated at a different date and the traditional food isn’t the turkey, but otherwise, the spirit is the same.

Origin

Giving thanks after the harvest has successfully been brought in, is one of the oldest traditions known to man. Romans, Egyptians, Celts and many other cultures worshipped the gods with festivities and offerings of food and wine. Sometimes the celebrations went on for days and, of course, there was no common date because it depended on the climate and harvest of very different countries.

Erntedankfest as celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church is first mentioned in the 3rd century.  There are basically two dates in Germany: 1st Sunday in October for the Catholics and 29th of September for the protestants. But, German regions are free to change the dates a bit.

Celebrations

Both religions celebrate Erntedankfest in a church. The altar is richly decorated with baskets full of fruit, vegetables and bunches of cereal.

Theatiner Kirche Munich

Theatiner Kirche Munich

After the mass, the food is often distributed to the poor. Or else, particularly in smaller communities, a huge meal is prepared to which each and everyone is invited. Beer and wine flow freely and the whole thing often becomes one big party.

An essential symbol of Erntedank are huge, elaborate crowns, woven from straw, which are often displayed in the church. In southern regions, a procession precedes the offerings and mass in church. Carriages take part, decorated  with flowers, straw, streamers and bows and sometimes horses and oxen participate too.

Another custom is to weave effigies from straw which at the end of the day are burnt.

Food

One traditional dish is chicken. This has its origin in a habit from the times when potatoes were harvested by hand. The farmer had to give a chicken to his laborers once they had finished bringing in the potatoes. Hence this chicken feast was called Potato Chicken or Kartoffelhahn.

Otherwise, there is no really typical Erntedankfest food, as opposed to the traditional turkey in the US.

Happy Thanksgiving to everybody.

First picture source: Steve Collins for Wiki Commons

 

Turron, Cagatios and other Spanish Christmas Treats

Christmas is approaching fast and, like many other countries, Spain has her own sweets and treats. Let’s take a look.

Last week, I made my way to Jijona, also known as ‘the cradle of turron’. It’s in this little village some 20km north of Alicante, in the middle of almond groves, that Spain’s Christmas sweet no. 1, turron, was ‘invented’.

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Surprisingly, the sweet, often called the Spanish nougat, doesn’t have a very long tradition. In the 18th century El Lobo, the most famous company, started to produce turron, grinding almonds, mixing them with sugar, honey  and egg white, stirring and stirring, then cutting it into squares.

turron

The turron museum of Jijona documents the making of turron, all by hand in the beginning, to today’s modernized production. There are basically two kinds of turron: very hard one, often with pieces of almond in it and soft one which is mostly made in Alicante. Over the years, this traditional Christmas sweet of Arabic origin, has undergone varieties. Now there is turron de chocolate, turron with candied fruit and much more.

kessel

logo

muehle

lorry

Let’s turn to a custom which I first saw on a Christmas market in Barcelona. The caragtio is a piece of dried tree trunk, dressed up as Papa Noel and with his backend covered by a blanket. During the time approaching Christmas, the cagatio is fed with apples by kids, because, so the story goes, when he is kept well fed and warm with his blanket, at Christmas he will ‘shit’ sweets and little presents which the kids find under the blanket.

cagatio

If you fear for your teeth, stay away from the hard variety of turron and enjoy polvorones instead. They are little cakes, often compared to biscuits, which melt into almond and butter flavored powder as soon as you get your teeth into them. They are very dry and crumble easily that’s probably why they are wrapped individually and want to be handled with care until they reach their final destination: your taste buds!

The best polvorones are made in Southern Andalucia.

The 6th of January is the day when Roscon de Reyes is eaten all over the country. It’s a large, round bread, glazed and topped with candied fruit and powdered sugar. Hidden in the dough is a coin or a figures of baby Jesus. Who ever finds one or the other will have good luck during the coming year.

tree

Feliz Navidad!

Winter Wonders in Southwest Germany

Christmas is approaching fast and there is no better way to get into the spirit of things than visiting a Christmas market…or two or ten!

Where do you find the best? In Germany of course. Get inspired by this great selection.

dach

The nights are drawing in; the weather has turned; a pre-Christmas tonic is needed. The answer is – a short break in SouthWest Germany. With its half-timbered houses and cheerful taverns, nowhere is more Christmassy than the German federal state of Baden-Württemberg. Shop at authentic Christmas markets; enjoy sunny days and crisp nights; relax in a spa or heated pool in a luxury hotel overlooking a beautiful lake. Or, ride a roller coaster through a winter wonderland. It is all on offer in SouthWest Germany: just a hop away, via daily flights direct to Stuttgart’s convenient international airport.

Heidelberg Christmas Market: November 21 – December 22, 2016

One of Europe’s most beautiful Christmas markets spreads across six historic squares in Heidelberg’s historic Old Town. Decorated with twinkling lights, some 140 wooden stalls are full of temptations, from hand-carved wooden toys and Christmas tree decorations to mulled wine and delicious treats. For skaters, there is a real ice rink on Karlsplatz square, with romantic views of the world-famous castle high above, in the background. The city is on the Neckar River. Perfect for that special occasion is a boat ride up to Stift Neuburg, the ancient Benedictine abbey that holds its own traditional Christmas market.

decorations

cook

More information: www.heidelberg-event.com/events/weihnachtsmarkt/?lang=en

For over 30 years now, the Christmas Market has become no less an integral part of Heidelberg than its venerable university and magnificent castle.

Europa-Park: where winter means fun

It doesn’t get more fun than Europa-Park this winter. What was recently voted “Best Amusement Park Worldwide” for the third year running is transformed into a winter wonderland. There are snow-dusted Christmas trees, the scent of mulled wine, carol singing, thousands of Christmas lights and crackling log fires. Go to Christmas-themed circus shows; eat delicious festive food; take the Snowflake Sleigh Ride; scream on giant coasters, such as WODAN. Germany’s largest theme park opens its gates for the winter season from November 26 until January 8, 2017 (closed December 24 and 25) and again from January 13–15, 2017.

More information: www.europapark.de/en/park/seasons/winter-europa-park

Lake Constance: stylish holiday fun at Hotel RIVA Konstanz

With glorious views of Lake Constance and snow-capped peaks, Hotel RIVA Konstanz is one of Europe’s most romantic destinations. This 5-star superior hotel, a member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World, has 51 exquisitely furnished rooms, a spa and a roof terrace, with a heated pool and lake views. This is a delightful spot to spend Christmas or New Year’s Eve, with gala menus and a glamorous New Year’s Eve ball. Not forgetting RIVA’s Lake Restaurant and Ophelia Gourmet Restaurant, with its two Michelin stars. Stroll the cobbled lanes of Konstanz; shop in the Christmas market and aboard the Christmas ship.

More information: www.hotel-riva.de/en

Stuttgart Airport: get to Winter Wonderland quicker than Santa

Getting to SouthWest Germany in winter is easy from the UK. Fly to Stuttgart, the region’s capital on convenient daily flights from Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick. Fly with British Airways, flyBe, Eurowings, Air Berlin, Ryanair or easyJet. Germany’s sixth largest airport is your gateway to fun. Go Christmas shopping in Stuttgart; pop down to Heidelberg, Europa-Park and Lake Constance. With direct access to the motorway and the efficient rail service, you can relax and enjoy your break just minutes after touching down.

More information: www.stuttgart-airport.com

Please get in touch with us directly:

State Tourist Board Baden-Württemberg
Esslinger Strasse 8
70182 Stuttgart, Germany

As if those aren’t enough, take a look at my personal favorite: a tiny Christmas market in Prien am Chiemsee/Bavaria.

market

Let’s talk Oktoberfest 2016

O’zapft is is rolling around again and with it one of the biggest events in the German Festival calendar. Just to make matters very clear: although it’s called Oktoberfest it actually takes place in September, this year  from September 17th to October 3rd. Munich will again be brimming with visitors, local and foreign, for two weeks of merrymaking, celebrations, eating, drinking and having a great time.

Each year the organizers try to create new attractions and events to make the Oktoberfest ever more entertaining. Let’s take a look at the history and then I’ll give you an overview of the most important things to do and know.

History

On October 12th 1810, the then Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen. To celebrate the occasion all of the citizens of Munich were invited to beer, food and entertainment in the form of parades and horse races. The venue chosen was a huge field just outside the city gates which was named Theresienwiese in honor of the bride.  Since then it has become an annual event, the world’s biggest Volksfest attended by something like 6 mill visitors. It is, of course, no longer gratis!

The name Theresienwiese is locally called Wiesn, the horse races ended in 1960 but the opening parade of people in traditional clothes followed by the horse trailers of the breweries and musicians playing ear busting Blasmusik remains.

As does the opening ceremony: at 12pm on the dot, the incumbent mayor of Munich taps the first keg of Oktoberfest beer accompanied by  the traditional words: o’zapft is!

Tents

You can enjoy the Oktoberfest in two ways. Either you just go there, pay your admission and drift or you choose a tent, run by the most famous caterers of Munich which means you must make a reservation well in advance. To name one of the best and most traditional: the Kaefer Tent.  http://en.feinkost-kaefer.de/index.php?id=5

Seats are much in demand and you must reserve well in advance and be prepared to fork over quite a lot of money.

Drifting from Bierhalle to Bierhalle to enjoy your Stein, ribs, Weisswuerste and other local delicacies may be a bit cheaper but not by much.

Dress up

drin

Half the fun of attending the Oktoberfest is to dress the part. For ladies it’s a dirndl complete with embroidered apron and silver jewelry. For men, yes, why not… Lederhosen!

If you wish to keep the dress, you can buy it reasonably priced in a department store or measure made at great expense in one of Munich’s many fashion boutiques. Or you can hire an outfit at: http://www.bavarian-outfitters.de

Souvenirs

The first thing you do as a guy is to buy your sweetheart a Lebkuchenherz which she will proudly wear around her neck.

It’s edible and perishable, so for a more lasting souvenir you might want to opt for the popular designer steins.

Photo by wirtekruege.de

Photo by wirtekruege.de

They are works of art, hand painted and called Wirtekruege. Each year there is a new theme.

For the full program, events, prices and other useful information please consult: http://www.oktoberfest2016.de/

Where to stay

Munich offers countless hotels in all categories, but, again, during Oktoberfest you are well advised to book as soon as possible. I’ll just mention my personal favorite: the traditional and family run 5 star hotel Bayerischer Hof. https://www.bayerischerhof.de/

I love it not only because of its great location in the heart of Munich but also because it has a fabulous pool and fitness center on the top floor with a roof which opens, a Traders Vic downstairs, several restaurants with excellent cuisine but also a theatre in the basement. Relax and entertainment all under one roof.

Theatiner Kirche near Bayerischer Hof

Theatiner Kirche near Bayerischer Hof

Join the Oktoberfest fans from around the world and enjoy the real thing in wonderful Munich.