Friday, November 6, 2009

Magical Christmas: Markets in France

If you are thinking about a different Christmas experience and want to travel, both literally, as well as figuratively back in time, I would suggest going to one or more of the traditional Christmas markets that are held in Europe from the end of November to the end of December. France, Germany, Austria and the United Kingdom have the greatest number of markets.

These markets conjure the images I remember from holiday books I used to read to my children -- The Gift by Aliana Brodmann, and The Story of Holly and Ivy by Rumer Godden – both wonderful tales and with old fashioned Christmas markets featured in the stories.

France boasts over eighty Christmas Markets, or Marché de Noel as they are called in French. Some towns and villages have one Sunday in November or December dedicated to a Christmas market, but the large markets last for around four weeks and are usually open every day and all day.

Strasbourg, in the Alsace region of northeastern France, is home to the oldest Christmas Market in France - over four hundred years old. The Strasbourg market is today much like it was when it started in 1570, filled with musicians, craftspeople, food, and special events. There are special areas like the “Sharing Village” where sixty charity and humanitarian organizations have information about their work and where on December 14th a Flame of Peace from Bethlehem will be lit. You will find beautiful light displays amidst the stalls and historical buildings.

This year the Strasbourg market is held from November 28 to December 31, and is open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm daily, until 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights. The market is such a tradition that the city has a Web page dedicated to it called Strasbourg Capitale de Noel. On the  “Practical Information” page you can download a PDF map of the practical aspects of the Market from tram routes to market stand locations most of which are located within the pedestrian zone of the city marked in yellow. At the “Editorial” page you can download a fourteen-page program guide listing musical and other performances and exhibits throughout the five-week market.

For green travelers you will be happy to know that Strasbourg is a very biker friendly city with over three hundred miles of bike paths and 18,000 bike racks for parking. Velolocation is a not for profit bike rental program with low cost bike rentals.

Metz, in the Lorraine region of northeast France, is under an hour and a half on the TGV high speed train from Paris with many daily round trips. Known as a Garden City (Ville Jardin), Metz has eleven parks and gardens covering four hundred and seventy acres. It also has one of the largest pedestrian areas in France so walkers rejoice!

Metz hosts a glorious and magical Christmas Market in the old city centre in and around the Place Saint Jacques, Place de General De Gaulle, Place Saint Louis, and the Esplanade. This quintessential Christmas Market with around one hundred stalls and filled with lights, roasted chestnuts, carolers, street musicians and dancers will be held this year from November 21 to December 27, open from 10:00 am to 8:00 pm, 9:00pm on Saturday night.

These are just two of the beautiful Christmas markets in France – I will cover more in subsequent posts – stay tuned.

Photo from the Metz Christmas Market Web site

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