Christmas Markets in Italy, France, and Spain
When people think of Christmas markets, Germany often comes to mind. After all, not only does the country of Germany have a number of them every December, but Christkindlmarkets — inspired by the German tradition — abound throughout the United States as well. But there's also some fabulous Christmas markets in other parts of Europe, too, although not nearly as expansive. Not only do all of these markets feature food and drink, but they're also a great place to do some holiday shopping and to gain some wonderful insight into the particular country's holiday traditions, culinary or otherwise.
Nearly every region has its own holiday market, and some are even influenced by the German tradition, such as Florence's market in Santa Croce piazza. In the capital of Tuscany, the stands are brimming with both Italian and German wares and foods, like German bratwurst and the Italian dessert panforte.
Over in Rome, Piazza Navona is transformed into a beautiful market for six weeks. Fuel your holiday shopping with Italian gastronomic specialties, like roasted chestnuts and porchetta sandwiches. In Venice, go skating in Campo San Paolo before shopping for holiday gifts as well as Carnival masks. Throughout Italy, smaller markets abound as well.
The Christmas markets in France are often referred to as marché de noël, and, like Italy, they can be found around the country, from the bright lights of Paris to small villages in the countryside. There's German influence here as well, particularly in the region of Alsace, since it's situated next to the border of Germany. In fact, time and time again, the market in Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace, has been named one of the best holiday markets in the world. Not only do vendors serve spiced wine here, but also spicy hot orange juice. In terms of food, they're known for their foie gras and Christmas biscuits.
In Paris, the markets abound. Pick up holiday gifts from the largest market within the city's limits, which is located on the Champs-Elysées; one of the vendors here features Alsatian Christmas gifts. Or, head to the Place de la Trocadero to peruse 120 stands; this market also features an ice-skating rink. Both of these markets are worth visiting.
While holiday markets aren't nearly as prolific in Spain as they are in other European countries, the country has its fair share of markets, particularly in the big cities of Barcelona, Seville, and Madrid. There's also a market in Granada that takes place where three rivers meet, and the nativity scene is designed using real animals and live actors. Handmade gifts abound here as well.
One of the more interesting, shall we say, aspects of Spanish holiday traditions and markets is the Caganer, which is most prevalent in the Catalonia region. In Barcelona, for one, it's hard not to notice small statues of a pooping elf available for sale. At one point too, before the city council banned it, a large Caganer was part of Barcelona's nativity scene.
In all of Spain though, Madrid's market is the largest and most impressive with its 150-year-old traditions. Patrons in the market can buy anything from Christmas trees to materials for a nativity scene to statues and ornaments.
While December may be one of the colder months to visit Europe for a cooking vacation, the holiday markets make it all worthwhile. From the unique crafts to the foods, there's something everyone can enjoy, and they're all sure to get you in the holiday spirit.
By Liz Hall