Colmar, France

Photo: Samuel Alves Rosa via freeimages.com
Photo: Samuel Alves Rosa via freeimages.com

Still not in the holiday spirit yet? Then it’s time to shop. No, not at the crowded mall, where your blood pressure rises as you search for a parking spot, or online, where you always just miss the best deals. To really embrace the season, you need to a visit an outdoor holiday market—the older the better—where the sights, the sounds, and the smells will have you fa-la-laing in no time. Off to Alsace!

Alsace is one of the smallest regions of France. It sits in the easternmost section of the country, along the German and Swiss borders and the Rhine River. The land changed hands many times, mostly between France and Germany, during the never-ending wars. Despite being damaged or destroyed many times over, the cities were rebuilt time and time again by the strong-willed people who lived here. They fiercely held onto their traditions as well.

One of those rebuilt cities is Colmar, 40 miles southwest of Strasbourg. “Little Venice,” which is full of canals that ultimately connect to the Rhine, was founded peacefully in the 9th century. But it was later hit hard during the two world wars and was the last French town to be freed at the end of World War II. Today, the capital of the Alsatian wine region is a picture-perfect location. The well-preserved old town is set among a maze of cobblestone streets. They’re lined with medieval and Renaissance buildings made of yellow and pink Vosges sandstone with timber framing. Gables and loggias lead to hidden gardens. Churches and fountains, monuments and museums are tucked in between them. While, right now, everything is decorated for Christmas.

The center of Colmar’s holiday cheer is its five Christmas markets, which smell like a mixture of pine trees, powdered sugar, and cinnamon. Stroll through the Christmas Market in the Place des Dominicains in front of the stained glass windows at the 14th-century Dominican Church. See a nativity scene, a carousel of horses, and Santa Claus’ giant mailbox at the Children’s Christmas Market. Find handmade pottery, jewelry, and knit hats in the Covered Market of the Koïfhus. Then sample Alsatian specialties—from kugelhopf and macarons to tarte flambée and quiche to mulled wine and warm orange juice mixed with honey and spices—at the Place Jeanne d’Arc. Don’t forget to pick up bottles of Alsace’s famous white wines, like dry Riesling and Gewürztraminer, along the way.

By the time the light show along the canals begins when darkness falls, your cheeks are pink from being outside all afternoon. Snowflakes are starting to fill the air. Everyone has been checked off your Christmas list. While you find yourself humming along with the festive music. It may have taken you a little while to get into the holiday spirit, but after visiting Colmar, you’re ready for the celebrations to begin.

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