Although Christmas is a distant memory now (and some of us are still paying for it on our credit cards=), the greatest Christmas memory I have from 2008 is, The Strasbourg Christmas Market.
My parents live in a little village called Les Mesnuls in the "Ils De France" region of France, I know, i'm jealous too. This region is considered sort of the "Suburbian" area of Paris. After much debate as to where to vacation in France over Christmas, we had all agreed on Strasbourg. Mainly because it had cheap hotels, was in the wine plenty Alsace region, and really close to the black forest. Thus, our journey began towards the half German half French, big little city on the western border of France.
Let me tell you that the drive from Paris towards Stasbourg isn't exactly breathtaking. You have lots of flat barren land with a few small "cute" French villages inbetween. Once though , you start to enter "Alsace", it gets more into the "rolling hills" pretty-ish area. We stopped in a little town right before Strasbourg called Marlenhiem to do our lovely Vin (Wine) shopping and taste testing.
Our first stop was the Morbach Winery that had some really fantastic Resling and Demi-Sec, and put me back about 100 euros for a few cases. Second, was a last minute "stop the car!" by my sister to a winery called Arthur Metz. In hindsight, it was a fantastic idea because it had some of the best Gerwerztraminer i've ever tasted. Not to mention that it had some pretty top notch Cremant's D'alsace (a psuedo-champange). Yet, it put me back yet another 100 euros so I was frowning a little about that.
Don't worry I will get to talking about the Strasbourg market soon. =)
After my bank account looked scary from all the wine buying, we left Marlenheim on our way to Strasbourg. Just to give you an idea though, this entire area really looks a perfect combination of France and Germany. It's not only the architecture, but the food, the people, the language and tons of other little nuances that are this funky Frenchie-Deutch mix.
Entering Strasbourg is well, lovely. I guess that's the perfect term that works here. It's much larger than expected and has a more "prosperous" feel to it than what you'd think. There is a "circle" that surrounds the city center. This circle is a very posh looking park, with a Tram around it, and beautiful buildings on every turn. As you walk past the circle, you then enter the famous Strasbourg Christmas Market, yay!
Immediately the delious aroma of Breztels, Churro's, and Vin Chaud fill your nose. You can taste the spices and sugar in the air. Lights sparkle of every color imaginable with a welcoming, come hither warmth. The sound of laughter and different languages permeate your ears and your filled with a sense of relaxed excitement.
I'd never been to a "German-esque" type of Christmas Market before , so I really didn't know what to expect. I simply thought, "oh i'm sure i'll be cutesy, and have lots of little vendors and warm food and christmasy things". And, well, it was that, but then again, it wasn't. It really didn't feel "German" and it didn't really feel "French" either. It maybe just felt, European???? I'm sure that feeling is mostly because of the plethora of various nationalities of people spread out in the market stalls themselves.
Immediately you hear French, then Germany, then Russian, then English, then Portuguese, then Spanish, then Chinese etc... It was a total melting pot, and not a rag-ma-tag kind. It was the well-behaved"I'm enjoying myself without being obnoxious" kind.
The first stall we came across that was in front of the gorgeous Opera Hall in the city, was of course a massive food vendor. It had every "market" type delicacy there is and then some. Of course, not wanting to be overly eager from the get go, we walked on into the colorful christmas sparkle lights of other vendors and stalls.
People were everywhere, yet it wasn't claustrophobic. You felt almost soothed with having so many around you. There was still enough room to roam freely while apologizing every now and then for bumping into someone and vice versa.
Trinkets, Nik-Naks, Jewlery, Artsy water fountains, Wooden wine holders, and thousands of Vin Chaud sellers were in abundance. After passing so many of the Hot Mulled Wine (Vin Chaud), signs, you always relent. Who can pass up warm cheap alcohol on a cold winters day? The heat from the large cup fills your hands and travels down your throat with a pleasureable "Ahhhh". You can get any better than that for 2 Euros!
It wasn't just the cathartic booze, or the fun homeade crafts, tons of gorgeous smelling food and pastries, or the hilarious Chestnut vendors screaming in 5 different languages "Get your Chestnuts!" , that made you love this market. I think the biggest "love" you have for it, is the overall ambiance. They really put on quite a show. Massive crystal (yes, real crystal) Chandliers hang in between the buildings and everywhere has the smell of holly and pine needles from all the wreaths.
Local shops from the buildings surrounding the market also take advantage of the fanfare and are open until 9, 10, 11pm! ON Christmas EVE!!!! Street performers play the accordian and guitar with a decidedly Spanish/French feel, while Romany Gypsy's dance and offer lucky horse shoes for a Euro.
The Cathedral outside of the main square where the market itself is situated stands like a guardian for the festivities with a quite beauty that forces you to take a picture of it.
We spent a total of 4 hours walking, talking, looking, tasting, and feeling everything at the Strasbourg Christmas Market, and I would do it again in a heartbeat. I dont know when or how I'll be able to get back there, but I will go back. To me there was nothing typical about it and for those few hours I had perma-smile plastered on my numb face. It probably helped that I was with my amazing family because, this is something you want to experience with loved ones.
After reading the small novel or long short story i've written above, i'm sure you've come to the conclusion that I was utterly enchanted with the Strasbourg Christmas Market. Young,old, married, single, with children, or without, i'm sure as long your not ALONE, it will have cast a spell over you as well. If you are interested in going and planning a trip this Christmas with friends and/or family , keep Strasbourg in mind. Your close to the Alsace region, Baden-Baden, and Heidlburg in Bavaria so there are TONS of things to do!
The Strasbourg Christmas Market 2009
November 1st to December 31st
Distance from Paris to Strasbourg
4 Hours - Train
4 Hours 30 Minutes - Road
Distance from Stuttgart to Strasbourg
About 100 Miles Car or Train
Pictures of Strasbourg
If you ever get a chance to see the Christmas Market in Strasbourg go there. It is situated in the pedestrian area around the cathedral and one of the biggest Christmas Markets in France. With the Alsatian routes being partly German it is dominated by the wonderful Christmas ornaments and wood carvings that are typical for the German Christmas Markets.
And obviously for the German food which comprises the most famous German sausages. In Strasbourg though there is a few very fine distinctions and specialities:
One is the love for "Sauerkraut". Cabbage is the attraction in the Alsace and famous for its variations. On the Strasbourg Christmas Market you will find delicious Kraut mixed with the local sausages and mashed potatoes.
From the French roots you find the "Crepes" the most famous pancakes in this world. And believe me the variations that are shown on this Christmas Market will not be topped by anything else...
Oh yes.. and that Dome and those lights and that River Rhine and those beautiful buildings and the friendliness of the people will make you feel welcome from wherever you are in the world and it will make you want to come back... there is so much to be seen in Strasbourg around Christmas time....