It’s the magical Christmas market season! All over France cities stage these fabulous mixtures of shopping, community and carnival to capture the traditional magic of Christmas as a season of light, good food and family feeling. The markets are really worth a visit for both their atmosphere and the great shopping - no wonder so many Francophiles and lovers of traditional Christmas spirit go every year for a market mini-break. So where are this year’s Christmas market hotspots?
Strasbourg market is really the daddy of them all. Dating back to 1570, it’s the oldest Christmas market in France and one of the largest. As if that weren’t enough, the setting in front of Strasbourg Cathedral is quite breathtaking. A must-see on a visit to Strasbourg market is La Petite France, a cosy neighborhood of timbered fairy-tale buildings with Christmas shops and a gingerbread bakery.
Mulhouse market reflects the typical architecture of the Alsace region with half-timbered stalls featuring exceptional fabric and other French products. The whole shopping experience gets even better while sipping mulled wine and snacking on "bredele" (small typically Alsatian cakes) or Christmas biscuits. Also in Alsace, Colmar market takes place in the Old Town at no less than five different venues: Petite Venise for children, Place des Dominicains, Place de l'Ancienne Douane, Place Jeanne d'Arc and inside the Koifhus, the old customs house.
Even more easily accessible from the UK are several markets in Northern France. Lille is the largest here and is a popular destination for British visitors because of the Eurostar link. Arras, the town renowned for its tapestries of the late Middle Ages, holds a spectacular Christmas market on the splendid Grand Place.
Béthune is an attractive small town in Northern France with a Christmas market that features around 40 Flemish-style chalets selling festive crafts, regional produce and other gifts. The market is located by the Belfry tower in the central square of the city and is regarded as one of the best in the region.
Turkeys are the main event at Licques, the town that's famous for its traditional turkey parade, and the market reflects this local speciality with high quality, traditionally-reared organic poultry on sale. You’ll also find various foodstuffs and regional produce, beautifully packaged sweets and chocolates, traditional decorations and local crafts.
One of the largest in northern France, Amiens Christmas market has a distinctive alpine flavour, despite being many miles from the actual mountains. Instead of the traditional wooden crafts you’ll find Le Creuset kitchenware, fine crystal and hand-made glass, as well as Angora sweaters. For fish lovers, the market is home to many stalls selling eel, shrimp and trout, as well as duck, Beauvais chocolate and Amiens macaroons. How can you resist?
For anyone who fancies a trip further south, the markets in Bordeaux, Toulouse, Avignon and Menton are all celebrated events with a real local character – and easily accessible by TGV train.
Most markets run from around the third week of November to either Christmas Eve or New Year’s Eve. Lots more comprehensive information on markets, places, dates, self-catering accommodation, hotels and travel at our Guide to Christmas Markets in France