Christmas is on our doorstep again, the days are nearing their shortest and darkest and unlike last year, the first snows of the season have already dusted the caps across Europe. Thoughts can now legitimately turn towards the upcoming festivities and that means a heavy dose of atmosphere, merriment, generosity and laughter, along with lashings of rich, mouth-watering food and deep, mouth-filling wines. It’s a time to celebrate and give thanks, to feed the senses and stir up the emotions, and what better place to garner all these wonderful sensations than at a traditional Christmas market.
Italy might not be the first destination which springs to mind, but think Germany with more beauty, Austria with infinitely superior fare and then close your eyes and conjure up the sights, sounds and smells of unimaginable festive perfection… and you will be half the way there.
Due to its proximity to Austria and Germany, the Trentino-Alto Adige region in Northern Italy has a long tradition of Christmas markets. Everywhere in South Tyrol, but particularly in towns such as Bolzano, Merano, Bressanone and Vipiteno, as well as towns like Trento and Levico in the Trentino province, there is a wonderfully festive atmosphere in the city squares, with stalls selling everything from local food specialities, to woven items, wooden toys, traditional ceramic ware and Christmas decorations and candles. Many of the larger cities also have markets – see Rome, Milan, Florence, Bologna and even Naples, which is particularly famous for its many workshops selling nativity figurines.
Here are a few of our favourites:
Hard to resist this most historic, romantic and seriously stunning of settings at this wonderful time of year when the city is illuminated by thousands of twinkling lights. Nativity scenes from all over the world are exhibited in the passage ways below the Roman Arena and the squares come alive with decorative wooden stalls. Last until the 26th December in Piazza dei Signori.
Arriving in South Tyrol via the Brenner Pass, the first town of the Percorso delle Cinque Stelle is Vipiteno, a colourful medieval town with a magical atmosphere around Christmas. The small town revolves around one street, divided in the centre by the 15th century tower Torre dei Dodici, with the picturesque Citta Nuova street lying to the south and Citta Vecchio to the north.The town prospered between the 15th and 16th centuries when silver and lead were mined in nearby villages, and this mining heritage is reflected in the many stones, crystals and minerals found in and around the Christmas market.
Bolzano lies tucked away at the end of the Isarco river valley and is often cited as one of the best cities in Italy in terms of standard of living. Expect to encounter plenty of tradition, Austrian influence, mountains, snow and the most classical of festive scenes. The action takes places in the centre of the old town in Walther Square. If you have the time South Tyrol Museum of Archeology is worth a visit. It houses Otzi the Iceman, Europe oldest natural human mummy! Runs until the 6th January 2017.
Famous for its quality skiing, chic boutiques and sensational restaurants, Cortina is also home to one of Italy’s most idyllic Christmas markets. Hard to beat a stroll down the picturesque, snow-covered streets, the smell of mulled wine and roast chestnuts, tasting one local delicacy after another and generally being catapulted into the most Christmas of Christmas spirits.