Filled with the festive spirit of coming together and giving, Bea and I (Emily) have collaborated on our latest article, each giving our four top places to visit this Christmas, ranging from the ski slopes of the French Alps, to the Christmas markets of Germany and even the Amazon rainforest.
Deemed the ‘Capitale de Noël’, or Capital of Christmas, this French city is home to one of the oldest Christmas markets in Europe, and the oldest in France. Lying in the Grand Est region of France, bordered from Germany by the Rhine, the architecture of the city is an amalgamation of both German and French styles, with its half-timbered houses and majestic cathedral. At the yearly Christmas market, one can find more than 300 chalets, housing toys, local Alsatian food, and crafts.
If you’re looking to travel somewhere closer to home, a trip to Edinburgh and its Christmas market is a must. One can find fairground attractions, an ice skating rink, a Christmas tree maze, as well as the usual comforts of a Christmas market, such as stalls selling local produce. In 2021, it was crowned the best festive market in Europe, and encompasses a large part of the city, against the backdrop of the beautiful Edinburgh Castle.
The Christmas festivities in the city of Bruges in Belgium run well into the New Year, ending on 9th January 2022, with the larger market hosting an ice-skating ring and stalls. Bruges itself is known as the Venice of the North, and the whole city is designated as a World Heritage Site by UNSESCO. (Perfect also to co-ordinate with buying Belgian chocolates as Christmas presents!)
4. Rothenburg ob der Tauber
Situated in Middle Franconia, Germany, Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a town that almost feels like stepping into a collection of doll houses, with its half-timber buildings, as seen also in Strasbourg. Rothenburg is home to a Christmas market, which has run since the 15th century, occurring in 2021 from the 26th November to the 23rd December. Enjoy white mulled wine, roasted almonds, Lebkuchen and the music of local brass bands, as well as the regional specialty, Schneeballen, literally translating to mean Snowballs, which are balls of baked, shredded pastry, covered in icing sugar and sometimes filled with praline or coated in chocolate.
My self-professed favourite US city. I’ve only been to four, so I’ll let you be the judge of that but I don’t think that’s a controversial statement. Beautifully set beside the Pacific and a stone’s throw from the snowy North Cascades, Seattle has something for everyone. Known for being the home of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, Seattle still is at the heart of North American’s edgier music scene. Round every corner is cramped bar advertising live music, thankfully spanning all genres now grunge has had its moment. Pike Place Market is the perfect spot to find stocking fillers and Christmas food, or to visit the world’s original Starbucks (you didn’t hear it from me, but it’s the exact same as all the other ones). Seattle is also home to the Museum of Pop Culture, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s passion project, impressive as much for its external architecture as what’s inside. If you’re planning on visiting the Space Needle, be sure to take the short detour to Chihuly’s Garden and Glass exhibition which is as eclectic and eccentric as the city itself. The beauty of Seattle is that it feels like a thoroughly modern American city, whilst still maintaining its alternative underground feel. And if I’ve not convinced you yet, the North Cascades are just an hour and a half drive away and offer some of North America’s best and most underrated skiing.
6. St. Petersburg
No city screams winter like St. Petersburg. Known for the Winter Palace and the frozen Neva River, it’s a city fully equipped for the cold. Although often considered Russia’s only European city, St. Petersburg certainly holds a completely unique charm. From the grandeur of the Hermitage Museum to the colourful Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, the city is visually intense and overwhelming in all the right ways. Famous for its history and art, it’s also the only place I’ve ever visited where vodka is served in a carafe as if it’s meant to replenish your thirst. Having grown up with a family fascinated by Russia, I was always surprised when jokes were made about the lack of interesting food, and felt it was an anachronism tinged with vaguely cringeworthy stereotyping. Any Pelmennaya will leave you ready to roll home from the historically Siberian dumplings and sour cream combo. An exciting and beautiful city, St. Petersburg is like nowhere I’ve ever been.
7. Le Grand Bornand
It feels sacrilegious to include this on a list of holiday recommendations, as it’s long been my family’s best kept secret, but it’s Christmas and Christmas is all about giving. Tucked away high in the French Alps, Le Grand Bornand is home to some of the best off-piste skiing, and my most spectacular snowboarding accident (five years on I still haven’t found my dignity). A remarkably big resort for how small the town is, you can easily fill a week’s skiing with completely different routes. A personal favourite is the Col des Annes off-piste route, which brings you along a knife-edge ridge and down into powdery meadows and finally down steep ups and downs. Only for the fit or foolhardy. Having skied and snowboarded here my whole life, I can safely say I don’t think I’ll ever complete the run without a tumble. Le Grand Bornand is a largely undiscovered resort. In fact, the only reason I’ve ever been is because my dad worked as a washer up there in his heyday (since passed). The lack of tourists makes it a perfect place to practice your French and gives it a charmingly down to earth feel.
8. Manu National Park
If the winter cold isn’t your thing, let me offer you the complete opposite. Deep in the Peruvian Amazon, the Manu National Park is the world’s most biodiverse place. It’s a perfect escape from the monotony of work life. Home to Scarlett Macaws, Bolivian Squirrel Monkeys, and the Jaguar, the Manu National Park is a once in a lifetime experience. Merely the journey into the jungle will leave you aghast. It lies a cool eight-hour drive from Cusco, through the cloud forest and down to the Madre de Dios River. The pandemic has sadly led to further destruction of the environment, but organisations like the Crees Foundation work tirelessly to protect it. Staying in reserves such as these allows you to see first-hand the incredible work of volunteers and interns who live in jungle huts without Wi-Fi day to day. It’s definitely not a place for those who like relaxation, but the wildlife is breath-taking, and a photographer’s paradise. Recently featured in David Attenborough’s Our Planet, it’s no underestimation to say that the Manu National Park is awe-inspiring. Watch out for the insects and snakes though, you’ve been warned!
Emily Ball and Bea Twentyman
Travel Editors of The Definite Article