UPPER RHINE VALLEY, EUROPE, December 9, 2012 – So the shopping malls have got you down and you’ve lost your Christmas spirit. Here’s an idea where the season still lives in a vibrant feast for the senses.
In Europe you can enjoy the magic of Christkindlemarkt or, as we say in English, a Christmas Market.
The best way to make your way through the holiday markets in Europe is by train. Base yourself in two or three cities and do day trips to smaller villages or work your way through a region and visit the markets as you go.
A popular area for the Christmas Market experience is the Upper Rhine Valley which includes Alsace. Many towns along the route may already be familiar, but, as a destination, the Upper Rhine Valley is rapidly becoming a favorite. And there’s no better time than Christmas.
Each market has its own character and personality, but in their individual way, they all feel like Christmas is supposed to feel. For travelers this is one time that inclement weather can add to the experience. Be it cold and gray, or even snowing, the smells of hot spiced wine and grilled sausages manage to merge into a feast for the senses.
Board a train in the Upper Rhine Valley, a region that extends along the Rhine River between Basel, Switzerland and Baden Baden, Germany with France in between, and you will encounter three cultures, superb food, live Christmas music and more treasures than you ever imagined.
As a sample here are five markets along the Rhine which can easily be done in a week to ten days.
Basel, Switzerland: Situated at the confluence of Switzerland, France and Germany, Basel may just be the best kept cultural secret in Europe with more fine museums per capita than any city its size on the continent.
Local trams are guaranteed to make a visit to the city’s Christmas Markets the ideal way to shake off jet lag and start shopping. Visitors to Basel, regardless of their level of accommodations, receive a card valid for free use of local public transportation for the length of their stay.
With two markets, one large and one small, this year-round destination is a great whet your Christmas appetite before venturing into France. (myswitzerland.com)
Colmar, France: Less than an hour by rail from Basel is Colmar with its myriad of half-timbered houses in an old town that transports you back in time. This is Christmas as it used to be.
Featuring five small markets, each with its own theme, Colmar charms visitors with a unique blend of illumination and architecture that seems straight from the pages of Hansel and Gretel.
Vin chaud, the French version of hot, spiced mulled wine is a main attraction for shoppers braving the cold in search of unique arts and crafts produced by regional artisans.
Colmar is situated along the Alsatian Wine Route and justifiably considers itself the capital of that wine region.
Also popular is “breadele” which are tiny homemade, Alsatian Christmas cookies. They are a fantastic stocking stuffer if you can get them home before you eat them all.
Strasbourg, France: When Strasburg’s Protestants broke away from the Catholic church in 1529, it was traditional for St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, to bring them gifts on his feast day of December 6.
Since Protestants have no saints, only Catholic children received presents in December. Over the decades however, Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer gradually tried to diminish Catholic influence by developing a jolly, white bearded character known as Father Christmas (Santa Claus) who would bring gifts for children during the time of the winter solstice.
By 1570, the concept of a Christmas Market to bridge the gap between St. Nicholas Day and Christmas evolved. The rest is history and Christmas Markets have been popular ever since.
Today, Strasbourg has become a true festival of lights with 11 market areas and some 330 stalls.
With its central location, Strasbourg is an ideal place to use as a base when traveling by train.
Freiburg, Germany: Freiburg is the place where the sights of Christmas yield to the sense of smell. Vin chaud becomes “gluewein” and though still hot, still spicy, still good, it is much stronger. With a glass of gluewein and a sausage hot off the grill, you have mastered Christmas in Germany.
Most of Freiburg’s market is located on a square beside the medieval cathedral at the edge of the historic old town. Freiburg is a walkable, university city where the liveliness of youth bring a special ambience to its festival.
Baden Baden, Germany: Baden Baden is a great place to end a Christmas Market tour and to make another base.
This upscale cultural hub in the Black Forest of Germany features the second largest opera house in Europe and a casino that rivals the ambience of Monte Carlo. There are also several museums located in the municipal park that leads to the elegant ambience of its Christkindlemarkt.
Though less lively than some of the other markets, Baden Baden is the ideal way to end a journey and relax before returning home. With two public spas, the Friedrichsbad and the CaracallaTherme, Baden Baden is famous for its health and wellness treatments
The large market area is uniformly designed with elegant, upscale ambience in a subdued atmosphere.
Just 40 minutes by high speed German ICE to Freiburg, Baden Baden makes an excellent multi-night destination. (germany.travel)
European Christmas Markets are an escape from the often harsh realities of the holidays
Just “train yourself,” and when you return home with all your shopping finished, you will most assuredly sleep like a Yule log.
Peabod is Bob Taylor, owner of Taylored Media Services in Charlotte, NC. Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club, which creates, and escorts customized tours to Switzerland, France and Italy for groups of 12 or more.
Inquiries for groups can be made at Peabod@aol.com Taylored Media has produced marketing videos for British Rail, Rail Europe, Switzerland Tourism, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council, the Finnish Tourist Board, the Swiss Travel System and Japan Railways Group among others.
As author of The Century Club book, Peabod is now attempting to travel to 100 countries or more during his lifetime. To date he has visited 70 countries. Suggest someplace new for Bob to visit; if you want to know where he has been, check his list on Facebook. Bob plans to write a sequel to his book when he reaches his goal of 100 countries. He also played professional baseball for four years and was a sportscaster for 14 years at WBTV, the CBS affiliate in
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