Monday, December 22, 2014

Strasbourg: The Oldest Christmas Market In Europe

Away from the hustle and bustle of the holiday
festivities the city is still beautiful
My favorite part of the past few weeks has been making the rounds of the European Christmas markets. Whether large or small, local or international, these markets are a European tradition and are sure to instill the spirit of the holidays in everyone who visits them. And my favorite adventure to date took me to Strasbourg, France and the oldest Christmas market in Europe.

Located on the Ill River along the German border in eastern France, Strasbourg's location is reflected in everything from its architecture to its food. It is truly a diverse city that feels a lot like Germany while being located in France. The historic city center is essentially an island surrounded by the flowing canal like river making me think of Brugge. In 1988 the entire city center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site marking the first time an entire city center received such an honor. Strasbourg is capital of the Alsace region, the official seat of the European Union Parliament and home to the Grand Mosque, the largest place of Islamic worship in France. There is also a grand cathedral, broad squares and winding cobblestone streets and alleys where you can get pleasantly lost for hours at a time. And if shopping is your thing you are in luck because here you can find everything from upscale designer boutiques selling "Paris" fashions to gourmet shops filled with local wines, foie gras, cheeses and chocolates. (You will never go hungry here).

Welcome to the markets
And then there is the Christmas Market. Or more correctly the markets because there are eleven of them spread across the historic city center. Strasbourg bills itself as the "Capital of Christmas"for good reason. The markets date back to 1570 when the first Christmas market in Europe took place here. In 1605 the tradition of decorating fir trees was introduced to the advent festivities. The tradition continues with a giant tree being erected in Place Kleber each winter. The city center also boasts several hundred kilometers of Christmas lights and decorations which turns the entire city into a Christmas wonderland.

Today,with over 300 individual stalls spread out over eleven markets, the Christmas market of Strasbourg is collectively one of the largest in Europe. The stalls are divided into themed markets which include a Village of Sharing (a market filled with NGO vendors such as UNICEF) and a Children's Village where the smallest visitors are treated like royalty. There are markets dedicated to selling the speciality items of Alsace (lots of hand crafted wooden items, foie gras and wine sold here). And each year a different country is invited to set up a market dedicated to highlighting their country's products. This year's guest country was Belgium where chocolates and pomme frites were on display. And the food. Whether it be spicy gluwein (of both the red and white varieties), baguettes slathered with cheeses and meat or cookies and baked goodies of every shape, size and flavor are there for the eating and enjoying.

Roasting chestnuts

Sweet treats of the chocolate variety

Build your own nativity 

Traditional Alsace houses

So if you want to get into the holiday spirit, are looking for something special for yourself or someone else or simply want to experience a traditional European Christmas, visit the Christmas markets of Strasbourg. I went this year and plan on returning again.

If you go:

Place Broglie
67000 Strasbourg, France
+33 (0)3 88 52 28 28
From 28 November to 31 December 2014 (check dates for future years)

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