Image credit: MTG Archiv
If you fancy the most wonderful time of the year — we mean Christmas, of course — with its crisp temperature and blankets of powdery white snow, Europe is your safest bet when it comes to getting in a gleeful mood.
Come winter, the entire continent starts donning its festive attire, creating a unique ambience and spoiling holidaymakers with local delicacies, special drinks, music and cheer to any traveller’s heart content.
While traditional markets have been on the Christmas radar for centuries, sometimes the quirky and less touristy ones best convey the tight spirit of community and conviviality. Quotient handpicks five of the most unique Christmas markets in Europe famed for their unusual setting, allowing you to enjoy a bona fide winter wonderland with a twist.
Velvet Cave Christmas Market in Valkenburg aan de Geul, Netherlands
It’s not often that Christmastime finds you browsing through heaps of seasonal items in an underground grotto. But in the Netherlands’ little-known and charming town of Valkenburg (located about two hours away from Amsterdam) set on a hill around an ancient decrepit castle, you can literally wander into the bowels of the earth to discover a fairytale-like land bedecked with lovely twinkling lights.
In 2015, from 13th November to 23rd December, the Velvet cave hosts the largest and oldest underground market on the continent, displaying numerous quaint stalls stacked with handmade decorations, homemade produce and unique items galore.
In the cave’s winding galleries, beside the 50 stalls you will also be able to admire sculptures and murals as well as an incredible 18th-century chapel. If you fancy a mug of steaming hot chocolate and munching on tasty sweets, head straight to the cosy café.
Ravenna Gorge Christmas Market, Germany
There are few places in the world that can match the Hochschwarzwald’s allure during winter. Nestled beneath the impressive Ravenna Gorge viaduct in Germany’s enchanting Black Forest near Freiburg, this Christmas market, held every weekend from 29th November to 21st December, encapsulates the Christmas spirit perfectly.
The market’s main asset is the truly romantic setting in a deep, illuminated canyon in the heart of the forest (you will even get to trudge through the snow on a brightly-lit trail that leads to the market in the forest), but the local crafts and entertainment also add to its charm, attracting lovers of winter festivities each year.
Check out its 40 stalls piled up with local specialties and wares, imaginative gifts created by talented craftsmen and don’t miss listening to the beautiful carols and live music performed every Sunday. You will also appreciate the magnificent laser light show enveloping the arched viaduct as well as the old Alemannic customs that have been perpetuated for centuries.
Licques Market and Turkey Parade in Licques, France
Located about 20 kilometres from Calais, the small village of Licques holds a wonderful Christmas market every year. In 2015, pop by on 13th and 14th December to participate in the spectacular Fête de la Dinde or the Turkey Festival, which boasts umpteen turkeys parading through the streets of the town in a unique celebration to honour the Christmas bird.
For a couple of days, onlookers will be transported into another era, as locals take over the city decked out in spectacular regalia, almost convincing you that a you are face-to-face with a veritable Knights of the Order of the turkey.
Other than sticking your neck out to see which turkey gets the prize for being the best bird, indulge in the to-die-for local produce as dedicated producers from all around France gather here to display their amazing gourmet delicacies from the famous local firewater liquorice drink to great wines, champagne, meat, cheeses and cakes — a selection of all the French produce any foodies needs to celebrate a proper gastronomic Christmas!
Christbaumwald im See at Lake Millstatt, Austria
A stone’s throw from the Austrian city of Villach is Lake Millstatt, a picturesque fjord-like lake located high in the beautiful Alps. When the winter’s chill starts setting in, an endearing little market pops up in the pyramid structure atop a platform on the lake with local vendors and just a handful of stalls providing original handicrafts and a packed program of special events.
Here, travellers can stop by from 25th November to 31st December to enjoy the ubiquitous glühwein and seasonal treats such as boiled sausages and fresh farmhouse bread, as well as hot sweet chestnuts outside by the open fire, surrounded by richly decorated Christmas trees with their glistening lights that shimmer brightly on the lake’s surface.
Mount Pilatus Christmas Market in Switzerland
It’s incontestable that when it comes to breathtaking alpine vistas Switzerland is the preferred poster child for mountain beauty. What’s more, every winter, at the peak of the mountain, a cluster of stalls run by local artisans dish up a smorgasbord of foodstuffs, mulled wines, gingerbread and nativity decorations to treat visitors with.
To get to the mountain top, hop on the steep cogwheel railway through alpine meadows along dominating cliffs to visit the market between 20th and 22nd November 2015. As the mountain is 2132 metres above sea level, travellers will also admire fantastic views of the scenery and Lake Lucerne below and conclude their shopping spree by dashing downhill on a sled or snow-bike.