As Bing Crosby’s “Silent Night” slowly fills the chilly, wintry nights, the smell of freshly baked pudding wafts in the air, the entire world gears up to usher in the festive season. While many prefer the warmth and love of home for Christmas, for the rest, the tolling bells bring about the travel times. Whether you are the stay-at-home or the traveling kind, it will pay to give some of these unheard of locales a visit this time around.
Christmas Markets owe their origin to Germany, Austria, North Italy and South Tyrol although they have long stretched their geographical boundaries and spread all over Europe. However, with popularity, business was swapped for authenticity. What used to be an alternative to shopping at stores before has become predictable now. Things that are sold as “locally handcrafted” are actually made in Asian countries. The snacks are all too sugary while Christmas carols are being replaced by techno hits. However, there are still quaint rural markets you might have never heard of, small village fairs that never make it to the “Top Ten” lists and are largely frequented by only the locals. Here are some of those hidden gems:
Esslingen am Neckar: Germany being the origin of Christkindlmarkts, my first pick is from the southern part of the country. Drive 9 miles southeast of Stuttgart or take the S-Bahn to reach this fairy tale land beside the river Neckar with narrow lanes snaking around the town dotted with half-timbered houses.
The Town Hall Square is nothing short of a portal to the Middle ages. 180 odd stalls look as though they have been brought right out of the sixteenth century. Local merchants, artisans and craftsmen bring out their very best – you will find unique Medieval handicrafts and even some food cooked to the theme from that era.
The local craftsmen done rustic dresses and speak in antiquated language as they sell leather goods, silver jewelry and dyed products. At every other corner, there is a musician playing unearthly tunes using instruments you might not even know existed. The true showmen are the street performers though – magic, sorcery, fire-eating, all of it. If you believe in them (and I suggest you do). There happens a torchlight procession to Esslingen Castle when the road to the castle transforms into a sea of light.
- Welcoming Winter Solstice by playing medieval music in the castle courtyard.
- The historical merry go round for the kids
- The performances by the fire eaters
If you go:
Dates: 10. December 2013, 11:00 – 20:30 o’clock until 22. December 2013, 11:00 – 20:30 o’clock
Location: Esslingen am Neckar, Esslingen am Neckar
The rural market of Prien Am Chiemsee
Prien Am Chiemsee: For that perfectly cozy and romantic white Christmas feeling, head to Munich. But we are not here to visit the Christmas market. Munich makes for the most convenient stop towards Salzburg, Austria. In between you will come across the charming town of Prien on the banks of the very scenic Chiemsee – a popular tourist attraction in Bavaria with an above-average visitor count.
In the winters however, even the last straggling tourists are long gone. The Christmas market is a favorite and well guarded secret of the locals. It would be an absolute crime not to taste the Glühwein here – a kind of German mulled wine. Or, try the watered down version - Kinderglühwein.
A short boat trip from Prien to Frauenchiemsee is a small island surrounded by the lake just opposite Herrenchiemsee island that is home to the castle of the same name. On this elvish land live several artists, craftsmen, and fishermen. It is not difficult to imagine how amazing the Christmas market here turns out to be! The market features only about 60 stalls. But these are loaded with local goodies.
- For those with a sweet tooth, do taste “Dampfnudeln” – a sweet dough submerged in hot vanilla and chocolate sauce.
If you go:
Dates: December, 13 – December 15 and December, 20 – December 22 Friday/Saturday/Sunday: 1 pm-9 pm
Location: Priener Tourismus GmbH, Alte Rathausstraße 11, 83209 Prien am Chiemsee, Telephone: +49 (0)8051 6905-0 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
The Alpine Christmas
Sarentino Alpine Christmas Market: Up in the snowy Alpine peaks, it is a small affair. This rural market with 20 odd stalls is hidden under a rock. A 30 minute drive from Bolzano will take you to the quiet village of Sarentino or Sarner in South Tyrol. Local handicrafts and carefully crafted food delicacies steal the show here. South Tyrol shares its border with Austria and Switzerland and most inhabitants speak German giving the Christmas markets a distinctive German flavor but often well seasoned with Italian charms.
- Live Nativity scene from 2 PM to 6 PM.
- Romantic ride on horse drawn carriage.
- Traditional Klöckeln will happen on 19th December. This means people dress up as traditional characters and go from house to house.
- The workshops that are held by local artisans to demonstrate their work.
- Must Buy: Sarnar Toppar (warm slippers) and Sarnar Janggar (woollen cardigan)
- Must Try: Krapfen (pastries but with sweet fillings), Apfel Kiechl (apple fritters)
If you go:
Official opening November 29 at 5 pm November 30 to December 1 and December 7-8, 14-15, 21-22: 10 am to 7 pm
Christmas Market in Porvoo: In the southern part of Finland is the quaint town of Porvoo. You will find a small bustling town, where shops and houses are all decked up for the festivities to kick in. Boosting the business of local Finnish people is highly emphasized in these markets. What you get is the most authentic and locally made produces. There are actually several markets in Porvoo starting from November 16th and going on till December 23rd. I recommend the Old Time Christmas Market and the Porvoo Christmas Market at Old Town Hall Square. Admire the tastefully decorated shop windows, or chat with a local who might invite you for a drink at their house and dabble in their customs.
- Must Buy: Vintage Christmas cards, antique porcelain pieces, and flavored truffles.
- Visit the Old Station Depot for weird but wonderful Christmas gifts.
If you go:
Dates: 14-15 Dec Porvoo Christmas Market, Old Town Hall square 10am-4pm 14-15 Dec Old Time Christmas Market, Vanha Palokunnantalo
While the popular Christmas Markets of Berlin, Munich, Bruges, Vienna and Prague will still get their share of thousands of tourists this year, take a leaf off the seldom visited locales. With almost every city or town having their Christmas Markets, novelty has gone global.