Catch them fast: Brief Christmas markets

While many of Europe’s biggest and best Christmas markets pop up at the end of November and stay open until the holiday, other cities and towns choose to hold such events just for a single day or weekend.
Stately homes and castles are also often the sites of such shorter-running affairs. Germany’s smaller towns and villages often hold modest events with a charm all their own.
Here is a sampling of Christmas markets that are open for a limited time. Round out your research at christmasmarkets.com or check town or regional websites.


Elsinore (Helsingor): Kronborg Castle Christmas fair, Nov. 28-29 and Dec. 5-6; admission 50 Danish krone (about $7.15)


German youth hostels offer deals for families

What makes a society tick? A recent study focusing on general welfare in Germany listed the German Youth Hostel Association within the country’s top ten institutions and organizations contributing to the common good, putting it nearly on par with such good things as fire departments and the German Red Cross.

While a common perception of hostels is that they’re mainly the domain of boisterous school groups and the odd backpacker, they are also firmly oriented toward families. Many offer special programs attractive to those with young children, particularly leading up to public holidays and during school vacation weeks. Activities offered to the younger set might include holiday craft preparations or a hike by torchlight. Playgrounds, ping-pong tables and sandboxes represent other ways to keep kids active. High chairs, cribs and dishes for the smallest guests are also often available on site.

Vintage shopping in Utrecht

Should the folks on your Christmas list prefer antique brooches and velvet capes to iPads and and high-tech gadgets, Utrecht, Netherlands’, Vintage Collectors Fair might be the place to pick up unique gifts with a colorful past.

Billed as Europe’s major vintage event, this biannual fair offers over 2000 stands across five halls. To help visitors navigate, exhibition space is allotted by category, including antiques, books, coins, postcards, stamps, toys, glass, furniture, and much more.

Cocoa heaven in Turin

While a visit to Turin is a treat for sweet tooths year round, they can bask in their element at the city’s annual fair known as CioccolaTO.

Chocolate takes center stage through Nov. 29 at this fair dedicated to chocolate, particularly high-quality brands produced in the Piedmont region. Gianduja, a creamy chocolate spread containing hazelnut paste, is a local specialty.

Europe’s Christmas markets herald start of festive season

With north European weather as mild as it’s been lately, it’s hard to believe Christmas is just over a month away. While our stateside brethren will soon make for shopping centers, malls and department stores in force, those calling Europe home have a much more relaxed alternative when it comes to shopping and generally soaking up that holiday atmosphere: Christmas markets.

Over the coming weeks, many a European city’s most picturesque square will bustle with activity as workers erect wooden chalets around the size of garden toolsheds. These gaily decorated little huts will serve as retail space for a grand assortment of treasures from edibles such as Stollen fruitcakes and sugared, roasted almonds to decorative items such as tree ornaments or glass figurines. Once shoppers tire of eyeing socks, ceramics, spices, carved wooden toys, wind chimes, costume jewellery, scarves and hundreds of other items, they’ll head off for refreshment in the form of roasted sausages, potato pancakes or hearty stews, perhaps washed down with a steaming mug of mulled wine known as Glühwein.

Ice sculptures usher in winter fun

 Fans of Star Wars can sidle up close to frozen forms of their favorite figures in Liège, Belgium, the site of an Ice Sculpture Festival opening Nov. 14. The event’s website notes the show represents the first time the fantasy world of Star Wars has been reproduced in the medium of ice.

Thirty artists from 12 countries were commissioned to transform 500 tons of ice and snow into images from the long-lived franchise. Fifty-eight sculptures ranging from 6 to 20 feet in height depict objects, heroes and villains from an X-Wing to Qui-Gon Jinn to Darth Vader. A giant marquee kept at 21 degrees Fahrenheit keeps the intergalactic decorations from turning to slush.

Christmas comes to Valkenburg

Holland’s hot contender for the wearing of the Christmas crown is the city of Valkenburg. From Nov. 13, the city coins itself Kertststad, or Christmas Town, with offers ranging from underground Christmas markets in the Municipal and Velvet Caves, an above-ground Santa’s Village, seasonally themed sand sculptures, a chairlift ride above the city, and a Christmas parade on Wednesday and Saturday evenings. Charges apply to visit most of the above-noted attractions. Get info about the activities and pricing at www.kerststadvalkenburg.nl.

Gourmands might wish to experience a “Route d’Amuse,” a walking tour in and around Valkenburg in which amuses, or appetizers, are sampled at five different catering establishments along the way. There are four different routes ranging from 2.5 to 3.5 miles in length to choose from, each offering its own setting and restaurants. The countryside route, for example, runs through the grounds of a 12th century castle and along the banks of the Geul River and calls in at a pancake restaurant and one of the city’s oldest bars. Each walk takes around four hours to complete.

Museum Night in Amsterdam

There’s plenty to do and see on any given night in Amsterdam, and all the more so on the first Saturday of November, as the city’s annual Museum Night unfolds.

From 7 p.m. Nov. 7 until 2 a.m. the following day, visitors to the Dutch capital will find late openings and special programs at over 50 museums and cultural institutions including the Anne Frank Huis, Artis, de Hortus, Eye, Hermitage Amsterdam, Rijsmuseum, Van Gogh Museum, and many other places. In addition to viewing both permanent collections and temporary exhibitions, one might watch a concert, performance or film, take a special tour of a unique venue, or enjoy food and drinks in unexpected settings.

Let ski season begin!

Winter sports fans, your time has come. From early November, several of Austria’s Alpine resorts, particularly those near glaciers, can boast of just enough white stuff to jump start a new ski season. Many choose to do so with weekend-long events incorporating concerts, raves and other outdoor parties with the opportunity for visitors to test the latest gear of top manufacturers. Here’s a preview of what’s coming up on the slopes of your favorite ski resort this month:

Kaprun opens with a party called Wow Glacier Love powered by Fridge Festival. Through Nov. 6-8, thousands of winter sports fans will flock to the slopes of the Kitzsteinhorn Glacier in the Zell am See-Kaprun region to check out musical acts and DJs on five stages and professional freestyle athletes showing their stuff. The best will compete in The Fridge Freestyle contest, taking place on the glacier from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Nov. 7. The newest gear is also on hand for trying out; bring along an ID to serve as deposit. Those who plan to watch the concerts will need festival passes. A pass for Nov. 7 costs 49 euros (about $53.50), whereas one encompassing all days of the party goes for 79 euros. Details at www.wowglacierlove.at/en



About the Author

Karen Bradbury has lived and worked in Europe for more than 15 years. She has called Moscow, Copenhagen, Rome and now a small wine-producing village along the Rhine in Germany home. When she's not working, whatever the season, she's probably traveling.

Email: news@stripes.com