Christ­mas mar­kets: Fes­tive cheer in Europe

Sell­ing a trip to one of Europe’s ‘Christ­mas Cap­i­tals’ can bring plenty of fes­tive cheer to agents, says Jean­nine Wil­liamsom

Selling Travel - - Contents -

Brows­ing through the wooden chalets topped with twin­kling lights I have one eye firmly fixed on my watch.

It’s just be­fore noon and as I walk through Stras­bourg’s Christ­mas mar­ket, the crisp air is filled with the tempt­ing aro­mas of ginger­bread and food stalls sell­ing the fa­mous Al­sace three-meat baeck­e­offe stew, made with mut­ton, beef and pork.

Home to the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment and head­quar­ters of Europe, Stras­bourg dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son also makes a strong claim for be­ing the ‘Cap­i­tal of Christ­mas’.

Founded in 1570, the Christ­mas mar­ket is the old­est in France and I feel as if I’m in a win­ter won­der­land as I stock up on tra­di­tional wooden toys, crafts and hand­made gifts to take home.

Over­look­ing the mar­ket is Stras­bourg’s dis­tinc­tive one-tow­ered cathe­dral – the money to build the sec­ond spire ran out – and I head in­side to join the crowd gath­ered around the 60ft astro­nom­i­cal clock, one of the largest in the world.

Bang on 12.30pm, a me­chan­i­cal cock­erel crows and the amaz­ing time­piece that also charts the ex­act po­si­tion of the sun and moon comes to life, pro­vid­ing the one chance each day to see the 12 Apos­tles and other fig­ures move around.

Af­ter­wards, and much to my re­lief, there’s still plenty of time to con­tinue my Christ­mas shop­ping.

Christ­mas cheer

Fes­tive mar­kets are guar­an­teed to fill clients with a lit­tle Christ­mas cheer. Ger­many is the heart­land of the yule­tide mar­ket scene but there are plenty of oth­ers to choose from in­clud­ing an in­creas­ing num­ber in the UK.

Pa­trick Mil­lar, Kirker Hol­i­day’s Mar­ket­ing Man­ager, said: “The Baltic States are back on the radar for many dis­cern­ing trav­ellers, and make ex­cel­lent al­ter­na­tives to the more well­known Christ­mas mar­ket des­ti­na­tions in Ger­many and cen­tral Europe.

“Tallinn of­fers pic­turesque me­dieval cob­bled streets; Riga’s Art Nou­veau fa­cades make an el­e­gant back­drop to its pretty mar­ket and Vil­nius is one of the most un­der­rated cap­i­tal cities in Europe.”

The mar­kets ap­peal to all age groups, not just cou­ples, and can also cover sev­eral coun­tries, said Matthew Her­bert, Prod­uct and Yield Di­rec­tor, Shear­ings Hol­i­days.

“Our coach tours visit more than one des­ti­na­tion dur­ing a trip, pro­vid­ing much more of an ex­pe­ri­ence and the chance to en­joy all the scenery along the way.

“They pro­vide an ex­cel­lent hook to travel at a time of year when agents can be qui­eter and look­ing for sales op­por­tu­ni­ties.

“Christ­mas mar­kets al­low agents to con­nect with their cur­rent cus­tomer base and sell them some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, along with pro­vid­ing a great op­por­tu­nity for cross-gen­er­a­tion travel, such as mother and daugh­ter trips.”

Ger­many

As the home of Christ­mas mar­kets, most towns of­fer fes­tive shop­ping op­por­tu­ni­ties: in Cologne alone there are seven mar­kets, in­clud­ing a gay and les­bian one.

Dres­den’s mar­ket dates back to 1434, mak­ing it one of the old­est in Ger­many, and a nov­elty is the 45ft nutcracker that’s the tallest in the world. An­other his­toric mar­ket is in the toy-mak­ing city of Nurem­berg where food stands sell the city’s fa­mous slim sausages – there’s three in ev­ery bun.

Top tip: Sug­gest a river cruise such as Tauck’s (tauck.co.uk) new Hol­i­day Magic fam­ily itin­er­ary, from Mu­nich to Vi­enna, or re­verse. Ships stop close to the heart of towns and within walk­ing dis­tance of the mar­kets.

Aus­tria

Vi­enna’s 20-plus Xmas mar­kets in­clude one by City Hall, where chil­dren can learn how to make cook­ies and can­dles, and a Christ­mas vil­lage in front of the grand Belvedere Palace. Inns­bruck’s Fam­ily Christ­mas Mar­ket at Mark­t­platz has pup­pet shows and a pet­ting zoo, and in Linz the Volks­garten mar­ket fea­tures a life­size crib and half-hourly na­tiv­ity plays.

Top tip: Rec­om­mend ex­cur­sions dur­ing the day when at­trac­tions such as art gal­leries and mu­se­ums are of­ten qui­eter than at other times of the year. In Vi­enna the Kirker Concierge ser­vice (kirk­er­hol­i­days.com) can book con­cert, bal­let and opera tick­ets in ad­vance.

“Christ­mas mar­kets ap­peal to all ages and are a great op­por­tu­nity for cross-gen­er­a­tion travel, like mother-daugh­ter trips” Matthew Her­bert, Prod­uct and Yield Di­rec­tor, Shear­ings Hol­i­days

Scan­di­navia

With its links to fairy-tale au­thor Hans Chris­tian An­der­sen, Den­mark’s cap­i­tal Copen­hagen is a mag­i­cal place to visit when the Tivoli Gar­dens are trans­formed into a Christ­mas mar­ket.

In Swe­den, Stockholm’s Old Town mar­ket boasts a quirky liv­ing ad­vent cal­en­dar. At 18.00 daily in the count­down to Christ­mas, a dif­fer­ent win­dow is opened in a build­ing in Stor­to­get square.

The Nor­we­gian cap­i­tal Oslo has a stylish mar­ket fea­tur­ing clothes and prod­ucts made by lo­cal de­sign­ers.

Sell it: Best Served Scan­di­navia (best-served. co.uk) of­fers the three­night B&B Copen­hagen’s Christ­mas Mar­ket break. Priced from £655pp, it in­cludes flights and a Tivoli Gar­dens tour.

Baltics

Fes­tive shop­ping in the Baltic coun­tries of Es­to­nia, Latvia and Lithua­nia of­fers ex­cel­lent value for money. With one of the best-pre­served me­dieval town cen­tres, UN­ESCO-listed Tallinn pro­vides a pic­ture-post­card back­drop for shop­ping. It’s said the first Christ­mas tree was put up in Riga in 1510 and mag­nif­i­cent ex­am­ples grace the two main mar­kets. A large and colour­ful Christ­mas tree that’s dec­o­rated dif­fer­ently ev­ery year is also the cen­tre­piece of Vil­nius mar­ket.

Sell it: Get two Christ­mas mar­kets for one with In­ntravel’s (in­ntravel.co.uk) new three-night B&B itin­er­ary in Helsinki, with the op­tion to take a ferry to Tallin for the day. It is priced from £465pp in­clud­ing flights.

UK

Christ­mas mar­kets have be­come an es­tab­lished fea­ture of cities and towns across the UK. From an es­ti­mated 30 mar­kets in 2007 the num­ber grew to more than 100 in 2017 and there will be more still this year.

Birm­ing­ham hosts what it claims is the largest ‘au­then­tic’ fes­tive mar­ket out­side Ger­many and Aus­tria while Lon­don events in­clude the Nordic-themed mar­ket in Rother­hithe. Other mar­kets can be found through­out the coun­try in­clud­ing in York, Bev­er­ley (prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar fes­ti­val of its kind in York­shire, with over 100 stalls), New­cas­tle, Ex­eter, Bath, Lin­coln, St Al­bans and Strat­ford-upon-Avon. Themed breaks are sold through op­er­a­tors in­clud­ing New­mar­ket Hol­i­days (new­mar­kethol­i­days.co.uk).

Top tip: Boost earn­ings by book­ing an ex­pe­ri­ence such as a Lon­don West End show or a Prosecco af­ter­noon tea at Marco Pierre White’s Bar­dolino in Birm­ing­ham through Do Some­thing Dif­fer­ent (dosome­thingdif­fer­ent.com).

Best of the rest

En­joy fes­tive treats such as panet­tone cake in Italy where Venice’s mar­kets of­fer the chance to buy stylish Mu­rano glass and gourmet good­ies. In the French culi­nary

“The Baltic States make ex­cel­lent al­ter­na­tives to the more well-known Christ­mas des­ti­na­tions in Ger­many and cen­tral Europe” Pa­trick Mil­lar, Mar­ket­ing Man­ager, Kirker Hol­i­days

cap­i­tal Lyon the spec­tac­u­lar Fes­ti­val of Lights is held in De­cem­ber, with amaz­ing il­lu­mi­na­tions pro­jected onto the fa­cades of his­toric build­ings.

The aptly-named Wences­las Square pro­vides a per­fect fes­tive set­ting for the sea­sonal mar­kets in the Czech Repub­lic’s cap­i­tal city Prague. Run­ning from De­cem­ber 1 to Jan­uary 6 2019, the win­ter won­der­land set-up will fea­ture gift items like cut-glass or­na­ments and del­i­cate dec­o­ra­tions made from straw.

For those clients who just can’t make up their minds where to go, Shear­ings Hol­i­days (shear­ingsagents.com) has a new week­long Four Coun­tries Christ­mas Mar­kets Tour tak­ing in Ger­many, Aus­tria.

Sell it: Ram­blers Walk­ing Hol­i­days (ram­bler­shol­i­days.co.uk) of­fers a seven-night half-board Christ­mas hol­i­day in Venice. Priced from £1,225pp in­clud­ing flights and din­ners in lo­cal res­tau­rants.

Trier Christ­mas Mar­ket, Ger­many, a town on the banks of the Moselle River

Clock­wise: Strøget, Copen­hagen’s main shop­ping street; Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions in the town square, Vil­nius, Lithua­nia; hand-made gifts on show in Riga; ginger­bread hearts in Nurem­berg, Ger­many; Manch­ester’s Christ­mas mar­ket will fea­ture more than 300 stalls

Above: Col­mar in the Al­sace re­gion of France, near the bor­der with Ger­many, has five Christ­mas mar­kets. Right: hot choco­late at a Mu­nich Christ­mas mar­ket

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