Top 10…Christmas markets
28th November, 2011
Whether you're after an locally reared turkey or a handmade ethical gift, a festive fair is where you'll find them. The Ecologist has the lowdown on Europe's best Christmas markets
Europe’s big bustling affairs might be better known, but Christmas markets have a long history in the UK that predates the English Civil War. Banned by Cromwell in 1664, Christmas markets wouldn’t receive official sanction for another 318 years, when in 1982, Lincoln became the UK’s first official Christmas market. Despite their troubled history, Christmas markets have now become so popular that you’re likely to find one pretty much anywhere you go. Almost 600 years have passed since the first Christmas market was held in Dresen but while many have become commercial shebangs chock full of tacky rubbish, hidden gems focusing on locally made food, arts and crafts remain. From Copenhagen to Derby, we’ve rounded up the Christmas markets that make ethical Christmas shopping a cinch.
Edinburgh Christmas Market, 24th November to 1st January
Especially magical at Christmas, Edinburgh comes alive with parades, stunning firework displays and twinkling lights. It’s also home to an excellent Christmas market, which this year, will have a Scottish heritage theme. From locally produced fare to jewellery and crafts, the Village Market has Yule gifts covered. From the 10th until the 18th of December, the market will get even greener, as it dedicates itself to all things ethical, with everything from eco-gadgets to Fairtrade chocolate on offer.
Where to stay: The cosy Glenora Guest House (www.glenorahotel.co.uk) occupies a charming spot in the Haymarket area of Edinburgh. Their organic take on the authentic Scottish breakfast is the perfect way to start the day.
Getting there: Taking the Caledonian sleeper from London Euston to Edinburgh turns a simple shopping expedition into an exciting event. See www.scotrail.co.uk for more on fares and times.
For more information, go to www.edinburgh.org
La Fête dé Noué, St. Helier, 1st to 11th December
The Norman-French name translates as 'Christmas Festival' and Jersey’s premier festive market more than lives up to its billing. The ‘Spirit of Christmas’ market is full of tastefully adorned chalets from which local craft workers sell handmade gifts and decorations. Delicious crêpes, mulled Norman cider and plentiful coffee will keep you on your feet while you peruse the stalls, before heading off for a spot of festive entertainment courtesy of the excellent Street Theatre. Street entertainers, helpful local tour guides and the spectacular ‘illuminate’ Christmas parade on the final day make La Fête dé Noué an excellent choice for families.
Where to stay: The Radisson Blu (www.radissonblu.co.uk) was the first hotel in the Channel Islands to achieve a Green Tourism Business Gold Award. Close to the marina, it's within easy walking distance of the ferry and offers great views of the waterfront.
Getting there: Take the train to Poole then hop on to the EFDS fast ferry, which takes you direct to St Helier. Slower but cheaper is the Portsmouth Continental Ferry. Travel down to Portsmouth the night before.
For more information, go to www.jersey.com
Magic of Advent Market, Vienna, 12th November to 24th December
Boasting an ultra-romantic street setting, the Magic of Advent market offers a huge range of handmade gifts, tree decorations, sweets, baked goods (including the traditional Stollen) and plenty of warming drinks. The scent of roasted nuts and candied fruit wafts through the narrow lanes, while Vienna’s main square becomes a winter wonderland, complete with giant wreaths, twinkling lights and an enormous Christmas tree. With an extensive array of children’s activities and adult attractions, there’s plenty for everyone to enjoy.
Where to stay: The first hotel in Vienna to receive the European eco-label, the Stadthalle Boutique Hotel (www.hotelstadthalle.at) combines chic looks with a green conscience.
Get there: Take the Eurostar to Paris, then hop on to the overnight City Night Line sleeper train to Munich for an onward connection to Vienna. See www.seat61.com for more information.
For more information, go to www.kristkindlmarkt.at
Fira de Santa Llúcia, Barcelona, 3rd to 20th December
Held every year since 1786, the Fira de Santa Llúcia Christmas market is one of the oldest in Spain. Sprawled in the square at the front of the Catedral de Barcelona, handmade decorations, sweets, candles and small crafts are all on offer. Traditionally, the market was used to generate funds for building material, such as moss, to make mangers for nativity scenes. Although that no longer happens, there are plenty of small nativity scenes to see or buy.
Where to stay: Casa Camper (www.casacamper.com) is taking action to conserve heat and water, has installed eco-friendly lighting and composts waste food. It also recycles wherever possible, uses biodegradable cleaning products and has installed solar panels. Rooms are beautifully decorated and comfortable to boot.
Getting there: Take the Eurostar to Paris, then catch a connecting train to Barcelona from the Gare d'Austerlitz. See www.seat61.com for more information.
For more information, go to www.firadesantallucia.cat
Derby Christmas Fayre, 1st to 24th December
Not entirely surprisingly, given the retro spelling of ‘fayre’, Derby’s 2011 Christmas food fest has a Tudor twist. Serving up a banquet of locally-producted festive food, most good enough to satisfy even Henry VIII’s gargantuan appetite, the fayre will also showcase the work of local craftsmen in Tudor-style chalets. Foodies will be particularly spoilt for choice on the 15th when the fayre will be taken over by local food producers for a festive Farmers’ Market. Expect to find yummy local delicacies such as (ahem) ostrich burgers and poachers’ cheese.
Where to stay: A 40-minute journey from Derby, what Ashbourne’s Beechenhill Farm (www.beechenhill.co.uk) lacks in proximity, it more than makes up in eco-friendly charm. Nestled in the heart of the picturesque Peak District, the family-run B&B on an organic farm serves up homemade (and home-grown) food and has an award-winning, if elaborate, recycling system.
Getting there: East Midlands Trains operates frequent services to Derby from London’s St Pancras International. For more information, see www.eastmidlandstrains.co.uk
For more information, go to http: www.visitderby.co.uk
Tivoli Christmas Market, Copenhagen, 11th November to 30th December
Boasting a wonderful setting in the atmospheric Tivoli Gardens, this year’s Tivoli Christmas Market will have a distinctly Russian flavour, as the park has been transformed into a 2,000 square kilometre Russian city, complete with a replica of Moscow’s St. Basil's Cathedral. The surrounding stalls will have plenty for Danish food lovers to enjoy, as well as Russian specialities such as borsjtj and Stroganoff. Fans of gløgg – the Danish version of mulled wine – will find plenty on offer, while those looking for something a little more filling can head to nearby Nimb, which offers a traditional Danish Christmas lunch including the ubiquitous pickled herrings. Despite the Russian theme, expect to find plenty of local crafts, including Sarah Lund-style Fair Isle knitted jumpers.
Where to stay: Overlooking the Tivoli Gardens is Nimb (www.nimb.dk), a wedding cake of a hotel that just so happens to have excellent green credentials. The restaurant is a highlight and does a super line in seasonal food.
Getting there: DFDS Seaways operates daily ferry crossings from Harwich to Esbjerg , from where you can pick up an onward train to Copenhagen. See www.seat61.com for more information.
For more information, go to www.visitcopenhagen.com
Prague Christmas Market, 26th November to 8th January
Prague is beautiful at any time of year but the festive season is when it really comes into its own. Although the city boasts several Christmas markets, the biggest and best is held in the Old Town Square. Benefiting from fabulous Baroque setting and postcard-perfect cobbled streets, the square is liberally sprinkled with brightly decorated wooden huts selling hot food, cool beer and plenty of handicrafts. Keep an eye out for traditional wooden Czech puppets, which, although not cheap, are made to last and make wonderful presents for children.
Where to stay: Mosaic House (www.mosaichouse.com) was the Czech Republic’s first hotel to use 100 per cent renewable energy and install a greywater recycling system with heat recuperation technology.
Getting there: Take the Eurostar to Brussels, where you can catch the train to Cologne before taking a sleeper train to Prague. See www.seat61.com for more information.
For more information, go to www.praguewelcome.cz
Newcastle Christmas Markets, 21st November to 20th December
Kicking off with a continental market selling everything from Dutch pancakes to Russian dolls until the 6th, Newcastle’s festive fair then takes on a local flavour, with food, gifts and crafts from surrounding Northumberland taking centre stage until the 10th. Next up is a farmer’s market, featuring locally made, organic produce, which is followed by an Arts and Crafts fair from the 13th until the 20th. In short, Newcastle’s popgun approach to Christmas markets means that there really is something for everyone. Stalls pepper the streets around Grey’s Monument, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks, close to the metro and the surrounding city centre shopping district.
Where to stay: Only 20 minutes from the city centre, Riding Farm Bed and Breakfast (www.ridingfarmbedandbreakfast.co.uk) is a Green Tourism Business award winner nestled in glorious Northumberland countryside. Recycling and waste reduction are key priorities along with reducing energy use and composting.
Getting there: East Coast operates frequent, high speed services between London St Pancras and Newcastle. See www.eastcoast.uk for more information.
For more information, go to www.newcastlegateshead.com
Christmas Market Valkenburg, 18th November to 8th January
The Netherland’s only subterranean Christmas market takes place in the cave system hidden beneath the cobbled streets of the mediaeval town of Valkenburg. One of Europe’s most unusual markets, the cave network dates back more than 2,000 years and boasts walls covered in impressive murals as well as an 18th century chapel, the Velvet Cave. Antiques, local crafts (including hand painted clogs) and cosy food spots are all on offer. Visit on a Wednesday or Saturday for the evening parade.
Where to stay: Hotel Kadampa (www.hotelkadampa.com) is set in the beautiful Schin op Geul countryside and is a 35-minute walk (five by bike) from town. Especially good is the vegetarian breakfast buffet made from organic, local ingredients.
Getting there: Take the Eurostar to Brussels and hop on a connecting train to Maastricht. Valkenburg is a short bus or train ride away. See www.seat61.com for more information.
For more information, go to www.kerststadvalkenburg.nl
Munich Christmas Market, 25th November to 24th December
Europe’s oldest Christmas market and a German institution, Munich has gifts, beer, sausage and sauerkraut galore. It’s also one of the biggest, with more than 20 mini-markets spread out through the city and taking in medieval crafts, a workshop for children, an ethnic festival and a flamboyant ‘gay-pink’ market. You’ll also find a plethora of tents offering an exciting mixture of international musicians and cultural performances.
Where to stay: Hotel Laimer Hof (www.laimerhof.de) is a small, family run villa built in 1886, that enjoys good green credentials and does the best breakfast in Germany.
Getting there: Take the Eurostar to Paris, then head to the Gare de l'Est to catch the high-speed TGV to Munich. See www.seat61.com for more information.
For more information, go to www.discover-munich.info
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