I CAN’T imagine anything that puts me more in the mood for seasonal merrymaking than a good, old fashioned Christmas market filled with handmade arts and crafts and delectable seasonal biscuits, cakes and chocolate confections.
What with myriad neighbourhood markets and larger affairs in cities including Montreux and Basel, opportunities to shop, mingle and make merry with a glass or two of steaming mulled wine (or spicy chai tea) are coming at me faster than I can write up a Christmas list and check it twice.
Château de Coppet Christmas Market
I’m lucky to have the Market at the Château de Coppet just down the street from me. I stopped in yesterday for its first day and as usual, there’s an excellent selection of artisans and small businesses offering their high-quality wares.
The food market housed in the caves, where jazz concerts are held throughout the year, features homemade honey, cakes, pannetone, spices, gourmet nuts, and of course, excellent chocolate confections from Phillipe Pascoet and Coppet-based chocolatier Guillaume Bichet. Meanwhile, children are entertained with baking and crafts courses in the caves’ kitchens (unless they prefer to enjoy the nearby skating rink on the Château’s garden grounds).
In the outdoor garden area, food stalls offer hot meat pies, fish ‘n chips, crêpes, champagne, mulled wine, and East Indian baked goods (I love the green tea-and-chocolate biscuits).
Indoors under the vaulted ceilings and wooden beams, some seventy merchants sell a wondeful array of Christmas baubles, Nativity scene figurines, Swedish-inspired gifts and decorative items, candles, Christmasy items for home and chalet, jewellery, hats, linen and cotton tableware, East Indian caftans, and munchable goodies galore.
The market continues every day up to and including Sunday as follows: Thursday, 3rd and Friday, 4th December from 2 – 8pm: vendors and skating rink open. Saturday, 5th, December from 10am – 9pm: vendors, skating rink, baking workshops for children and an afternoon visit from Saint Nicholas in the park just off the courtyard. Sunday, 6th, December from 10am – 6pm: vendors, skating rink, baking workshops for children and an afternoon visit from Saint Nicholas.
Check out the market’s homepage and refer to “Accèss-Adresses” for travel information (by car or better still, by train), “Animation” for childrens’ baking workshops, and “Restauration” for the Café Viennois and Restaurant des Alpes.
Morges Christmas Market
The biggest covered Christmas market in the Swiss Romandy opens tomorrow, the 4th of December at the voluminous, old wooden hall of the CFF railway station at Morges.
Glittering chandeliers make for a cocooning ambience in which the 160 participants, most of whom are local artisans from the Swiss Romandy, offer a tantalizing range of goods. From handmade soaps and candles, to leather goods, paintings, sculptures, glasswork, knitwear and of course, mouthwatering preserves, cakes, food and drink, its all here for you to enjoy.
I found the best ever homemade Swiss Christmas biscuits at the stand Les Biscuits de Séverine. Instead of settling for the packaged stuff at your local grocery store, opt to buy a few bags of Séverine’s handmade zimtsternli (cinnamon stars), brunsli (soft, dark chocolate), chräbeli (anis-flavored), and sablés (shortbread). She also makes the best Basler lackerli outside Basel.
The market is open the 4th – 6th December and again from the 9th – 13th December. Opening hours are Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 4pm-10pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am-7pm. The market is closed on Monday, 7th and Tuesday, 8th December.
Christmas in Carouge
Christmas in Carouge is always a special affair if only because the setting is unfailingly charming. The annual Carouge Christmas Market on the 11th (11am to 8pm), 12th (9am to 8pm) and 13th of December (9am to 6pm) will offer stands in the village squares filled with seasonal goodies, as well as sleigh rides, bell ringings, pony rides, clowns, free concerts at the local churches, and a visit or two from Saint Nick. Some 150 shopkeepers in Carouge will also keep their doors open on Sunday the 6th, 13th, and 20th of December, so the tempation to indulge in some serious shopping may be too great to resist.
Montreux Christmas Market
You cannot mention Christmas markets in the Swiss Romandy without adding the sprawling outdoor market at Montreux, open every day until 24th December and featuring 150 illuminated chalets along the quay and under the wooden “big top” nearby.
This year’s special guest of honour is Hungary, which will showcase its traditions and regional produce. The Matyó will introduce their folk art and the “Magyar Csárda” (Hungarian Inn) will offer popular Hungarian dishes.
Visit the homepage to find out about market hours, the “Medieval Enchantment” at the Château de Chillon, the Christmas Village at Caux, and Santa’s House at Rochers de Naye as well as Santa’s flying exploits over the quay every evening between 5 and 7pm.
Christmas Market at Basel
To me there’s something extra special about Christmas in the German part of Switzerland, probably because the medieval buildings, which are more prevalent there than in Geneva, offer such a romantic backdrop for wooden chalets strewn with Christmas lights. I also have a particular affection for the Christmas Market at Basel, where I lived for six years and which I visited annually with visiting family and friends.
Considered the largest and prettiest outdoor fair in Switzerland, the Christmas Market at Basel, which continues daily until the 23rd December, is primarily found in two locales: around the Barfüsserkirche at Barfüsserplatz and by Münster cathedral at Münsterplatz, where trees are decked with glistening orbs of light, and a massive Christmas tree is decorated with ornaments by Johann Wanner, a year-round Christmas shop at Spalenberg 14 that is an institution in the city. (Tip: You might want to visit this shop or its “Christmas Parlour”, which includes a little café, at Schneidergasse 7. Almost directly opposite, at Schneidergasse 2, you’ll find one of my favourite boutiques specialising in Swiss handicrafts, Heimatwerk.)
Over 180 traders and artisans offer their wares at the Basel market and culinary delights include waffles, glühwein, Basel Läckerli, Swiss raclette and of course, grilled bratwürst.
Visitors can also head over to Kleinbasel (Little Basel) on the right bank of the Rhine to delight in some Christmas delicacies and the festive ambience at Claraplatz. Additionally this year, Basel offers a new “Advent street” in Rheingasse featuring stalls selling food, beverages and Christmas trees, and offering a special children’s programme.
What with all the wonderful markets and shops opening their doors in the run-up to Christmas, you won’t find yourself empty handed when it comes time to put your gifts under the tree this year!