Europe’s Christmas markets elicit thoughts of Germany or Austria, hot mugs of gluhwein and sausages sizzling on grills in tiny wooden houses. But it’s not just Germany and Austria that have Christmas markets worthy of a trip to Europe. France puts on her festive holiday best too, and though Strasbourg is home to France’s most famous Christmas market, it’s the Annecy Christmas Market that we love attending.
The alpine town in the Haute-Savoie, a department of France’s Rhone Alps region, couldn’t be more picturesque. Medieval Annecy was built on a series of canals branching off of Lake Annecy and each Christmas, traditional wooden chalets line the canal between the Church of Saint François de Sales and the Palais de l’Île.
With the scent of pine and vin chaud (mulled wine) in the air, the feel of the crisp mountain air on your cheeks and the sight of the snow-capped Alps hugging Lake Annecy, there’s hardly a more festive and storybook-like setting. It’s impossible not to immediately be in holiday spirits as you eat and shop your way through the wooden chalets.
Many of Europe’s most famous Christmas markets, where the demand from the millions of visitors that descend for the short four weeks that these holiday villages pop up, now have mass produced products for sale from the wooden chalets. The Annecy Christmas Market, though, remains a place for local producers from the Haute-Savoie to sell their handicrafts and products. You’ll find a little bit of everything like leather gloves, wool hats, hand-knitted sweaters, hand-crafted blankets and more. Don’t expect much in the way of Christmas trinkets like nutcrackers, nativity scenes and Christmas pyramids, though.
There is an overwhelming amount of food at French Christmas markets and Annecy definitely doesn’t disappoint in that department. The famous French joie de vivre often involves eating, and that’s one of our favorite parts of Christmas markets too.
I think the Haute-Savoie is one of the best regions in France when it comes to cheese and saucisson (cured sausages). This is the region that borders Switzerland and they’ve put their own spin on the famous Swiss fondue, which is called raclette. Like fondue, the cheese is melted and served with potatoes and cured meats. Unlike fondue, you can get raclette in individual portions at the Annecy Christmas Market. It’s a must try!
And forget those pretzels you get in the US at sporting events that are served with a little plastic cup of gooey melted orange cheese. Go for a reblochon pretzel! It will be the pretzel that changes your life. No, really. I’ve not had as good a pretzel ever since.
We can never resist coming home with loose leaf teas, salami, cheese and chocolate. Well, the chocolate usually doesn’t survive the night. But the other things can be wonderful treats for yourself for later and do make unique gifts for the foodie in your life. And yes, Americans can carry home cheese, saucisson, chocolate and teas – just be sure to pack them in your carry-on.
Of course, you can’t leave the Annecy Christmas Market without trying a mug (or two…or three) of vin chaud. This is the French version of gluhwein, or mulled wine, and in France it actually comes in both red (traditional) and white. We usually prefer the red, but white is always nice in the Haute-Savoie too. Or just try one of each!
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