Christmas markets have the wonderful gift of fantasy. A square filled with Christmas – the scents of meat slowly cooking, spiced wine flowing as mist through the air and that unavoidable sense of childlike wonderment that accompanies the wintertime festivities. It’s like a prelude to the big day – a place where we can unashamedly don our Christmas spirit, quaff as much wine as we can handle and start to expand our tiny (oh one can wish) little tummies in preparation for the feasts that are the trademark of any Christmas day gathering (or Christmas eve if you’re not of the British persuasion).
We’ve overindulged this year – visiting markets in France, Italy, Austria and Hungary – of course though, only to see how well they match up to our favourite markets in England and Germany. We’ve visited no less than 10 Christmas markets in 2015 in our search for the perfect wurst, eaten pork from the bone and from the stick, drank desserts (oh Austria) and found out that food is really what Christmas is all about….
We visited Budapest for the first time this year and have realised what an incredibly wonderful city it is – beautiful architecture, an incredible riverside and some fantastic restaurants and bars – but the star of the show this winter for us were the Christmas markets. The main market is in the central Vörösmarty Square, and is big enough to spend an entire evening exploring. Our favourite food here was easily the Goulash served atop a Kartoffelpuffer or potato pancake and the Paprika Chicken. Most people want to try the Goulash served in a bread – and though it’s good we’ve had much better at the Viennese Christmas Market in front of the city hall in Vienna and in London’s Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park. The bread served at this market was far too shallow – where as the one in Vienna particularly was served in generous portions with well cooked slightly crispy bread!
The two pictures below are Töltött Káposzta – or stuffed cabbage, which is cabbage literally stuffed with minced meat and herbs, and Kürtőskalács – or Hungarian Chimney Cake – which was delicious when seasoned with cinnamon.
Our favourtie Christmas market in Budapest however was the gorgeous market in front of St. Stephen’s Basilica. It’s a little more old fashioned and – I have to say – had the very best wurst of our entire trip. Spiced sausage served how you like it and a little over a foot long – delicious!
Now we move on to Vienna and our favourite find from every market this year – the wonderful Apfelstrudel punch at the Schloss Schönbrunn Christmas Market. A delicously decadent punch that tastes like an ever so slightly alcoholic, drinkable version of an Apple Strudel – and topped with a generous dollop of cream. Sublime.
We weren’t generally impressed with the larger markets in Vienna – but the smaller ones, in particular the new addition at Stephansplatz in the city centre were beautiful and small enough to feel cosy and inviting – a feeling amplified ten fold by the illuminated St. Stephen’s Cathedral that towers above the wooden market stands.
Annecy & Lyon
We began our slow travel adventure more than a year ago in the beautiful little town of Annecy in the French Alps and one of our absolute favourite experiences there was the winter when the mountains became draped with snow and the historic town centre was adorned with Christmas lights and two small, but wonderful Christmas Markets. The main market is spread out over several streets of the old town where as the second market is in the new part of town across from the Centre Commercial Courier – and is generally full of locals getting merrily pissed by the side of a small skate rink. Take a peak at this one if you’re exploring the town but stick to the main town centre one if not and be sure to try the incredible cuisine – of which my personal favourites are Diot Au Vin Blanc – take a look at the huge pan full of sausages below – and Tartiflette – which is basically potatoes absolutely drenched in Reblochon cheese with lardons and onions.
The absolute best time and reason to visit the Christmas Market in Lyon is during the incredible Fête des Lumières. A 3 day festival of light and sound that takes over the entire city (though it was minimised in 2015 due to safety concerns – hopes are that it’ll return to its full repertoire in 2016). The Christmas market is big enough with lots of food and drink – our favourite of which was the ridiculously filthy Aligot – a mashed potato VS cheese affair that literally stretches as you pull it on to the fork.
We visited Lyon’s Fête des Lumières in 2014 – click here to read more about it and see our photos.
Florence’s market was a bit of a let down – despite its wonderful location right in front of the gorgeous Santa Croce Basilica – the atmosphere just wasn’t quite there. Perhaps something to do with the +10 temperatures? The food was good though – in particular the sticks lovingly wrapped in big chunks of succulent pork and apparently soaked in all kinds of butters and oils – which was absolutely gorgeous. However, the typical Italian dish here would seem to be Stinco di Maiale – a ham hock – of which you’ll find plenty scattered around the market.
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