I’ve said this before but I love Christmas time over here. There’s something magical in the air in the lead up and as the famous London lights get turned on and markets and ice rinks start popping up it really makes me feel a bit giddy. This year we headed to Iceland from 22-27 December (blog to come!) so we hadn’t planned any other trips in December.
It was actually Andrew who raised the idea though, of visiting some more European Christmas markets, since we had such an amazing time last year in both Luxembourg and Copenhagen. So where to go? After some research, we settled on heading to the Alsace region in France where the infamous Strasbourg headlines the oldest Christmas market in Europe. We found some pretty decent weekend flights for £70 return to Basel – which is the tri-border airport (Switzerland, France, Germany) and from there we hired a car and set out to explore.
Arriving late on a Friday night we drove about 30mins from Basel to Mulhouse where we stayed just outside of the central city. The guy at the car hire desk suggested we skip the Mulhouse markets and opt for some of the smaller, more authentic, markets east of Colmar. But since we were already there we had a quick drive and wander through Mulhouse in the morning, catching the market just as it was opening.
Then following the recommendations of old mate at the car hire place and after reading through several ‘top markets in Alsace’ lists we decided upon Riquewihr – about 25min NE of Colmar. What won me over was that it was described as an enchanting, fairytale village which is almost unchanged from the 16th century. And it did not disappoint!
The village was absolutely humming with activity. Walking through the old town walls and gates we were greeted by the picturesque narrow streets. I loved the colourful, half-timbered houses which lined the main cobbled roadway which were fronted with the wooden stalls selling all of the wonderful Christmas treats – mulled wine, cheese, cakes and souvenirs.
The smells were amazing and after a wander we tucked into a baguette flambée (which are a market staple here) and warmed up with a vin chaud. This charming wine-village was the perfect way to start our whistle-stop tour of the Alsace markets.
On our drive towards Strasbourg, where we were staying for our second night, we hunted out another Christmas market and stopped in at Obernai. This pretty village was much quieter and while the markets weren’t massive we enjoyed our quick detour here and warmed up with a delicious hot dog from a jolly old man. Even though the language barriers are there it is quite fun (although a bit daunting) interacting with the locals.
After checking in to our Airbnb in Strasbourg we settled in for a nap to recharge – mulled wine and carbs will do that to you! That evening we caught an Uber into the city to take on the markets in 12 locations (yes 12!) dotted around the central area. This is the oldest Christmas market in Europe, first held in 1570. Now it has grown to over 300 chalets and draws in millions of tourists from across the world every year.
We lost count of which and how many markets we went to but after a good few hours we were in need of a warm place to sit down. So instead of eating more market food, we came across a hipster pizza restaurant (after a number of unsuccessful enquiries at more traditional looking French restaurants). It was a nice way to end the night – more carbs and red wine were just the ticket!
On our final day we headed south to visit Colmar and discover what their Christmas markets had to offer. Colmar is a very pretty city with those lovely timbered houses lining its streets and canals. We spent a good few hours exploring all the different markets and then found a gem of a restaurant in the back streets for lunch called La Table du Brocanteur. This quirky restaurant was one of the other highlights of our weekend, the local delicacies were absolutely delicious and the hostess was the kindest lady who talked us through the entire menu (due to our utter lack of French). Highly recommend La Table du Brocanteur if you are ever in Colmar – but remember to make a reservation!
That sums up our weekend break full of Christmas markets in Alsace. I think we visited almost 20 markets(!) across those two days, but we didn’t feel rushed or like we missed out on anything. Each place found its own special place in our hearts (or stomach).
And now I can’t wait until next Christmas!