PARIS I’ve always wanted to visit Alsace Lorraine the picturesque
region of France near the German and Swiss borders where my
ancestors emigrated from in the 1800s so I jumped at the chance to
visit the area’s Christmas markets last December.
On the way there, we stopped in Paris, ostensibly to get over
the jet lag, but really, who needs an excuse to detour through the
French capital, especially around Christmastime.
The City of Lights lived up to its nickname Paris was magically
ablaze in its holiday “fashion.” The trees along the Champs Elysees
glittered with tiny white lights and every hour a dramatic light
show flashed across the Eiffel Tower.
The windows at the Bon Marché department store on the Left Bank
enchanted children and adults alike, and, though the streets were
mobbed, they were filled with holiday cheer and a civility that
seemed refreshing to an American. There was not even much
horn-honking in holiday traffic jams.
From Paris, it’s a quick train ride to southeastern France where
each city’s Christmas market has a different flavor.
Our first stop was Metz, the capital of Lorraine, a city that
has received accolades for the extraordinary nighttime illumination
of its monuments. Add Christmas lights to an already stunning
spectacle and the effect is dazzling.
The Metz Christmas market is next to St. Stephen’s Cathedral,
where the stained-glass windows some of which date back to the 13th
century rival those at the cathedral in Chartres, south of Paris.
Marc Chagall designed some of the windows here.
This Christmas market in Metz is notorious for its great food
and for the St. Nicholas feast on Dec. 6 when the patron saint of
children is celebrated. The market is a great place to watch the
parade when St. Nicolas passes out candy to the city’s
Nancy is the city where art nouveau was born in the 1890s and
some terrific examples of that architectural style can be found
there. The stands at the Nancy Christmas market resemble brightly
lit chalets, brimming with Christmas cakes, cookies, cheese and
grilled sausages for sale.
The food in this region is hearty and wonderful. The Brasserie
Excelsior in Nancy, with its art nouveau chandeliers, is a cozy but
lively, bistro. In the morning, the sight of the sun coming up over
the buildings, with the church bells tolling, was a nice moment to
Colmar is the most romantic city on the Christmas market tour.
It has five Christmas markets and a succession of illuminated
decors that lead pedestrians through the streets of Old Colmar. The
Alsatian-style houses, each glowing with festive displays, give the
city an air of romance.
Locals and tourists wander from market to market, sipping hot
wine or cider while sampling Christmas cakes, roasted chestnuts and
other cinnamon and spice flavored specialties. Master glassmakers,
wood carvers and jewelers sell hand-crafted items at an indoor
market. Strasbourg is the area’s largest and most famous Christmas
market and probably the oldest; there has been a Christmas market
situated near the cathedral since 1570.
Nowadays, an 80-foot-high Christmas tree twinkles with 200
different balls, stars, lanterns and snowmen, all made by Alsatian
There are sausages sizzling on the grill, cookies, candies,
Christmas breads and a glass blower making ornaments. In the cold,
crisp air, a glass of mulled wine goes down smoothly. The
atmosphere is festive, and wherever one looks, there are children
with red, happy faces. The entire city is lit up streets, houses,
church facades, windows and balconies with thousands of colors.
Down every street a different vista beckons.
The markets sell lots of commercial Christmas items, but the
charm is in the aromas and foodstuffs at the various booths, and in
the friendly attitude of the people. The Alsace region has
wonderfully preserved old towns filled with traditional houses with
half-timber facades, Romanesque chapels and Gothic cathedrals.
This time of year, the Christmas markets are a perfect backdrop
for experiencing the history, culture and skilled craftwork of this
off-the-beaten-track part of France.
Maison de la France, Los Angeles