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CHRISTMAS

11 Christmas markets to visit in France this winter

After France cancelled most Christmas markets last year because of the health situation, they are back this winter, with health restrictions in place alongside the pain d’épices, oysters and vin chaud. Here's our pick of some of the best.  

Christmas market in France
Eastern France specialises in great Christmas markets. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Strasbourg

The oldest and most famous market in France is back after it was cancelled last year. 

Every year the Christkindelsmärik in Strasbourg gathers around 2 million visitors who come from all across the world to visit the 300 wonderfully decorated wooden chalets

Let yourself be taken away by the typical smells of pain d’épices, marrons chauds and vin chaud (gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and mulled wine) and the traditional Alsatian decorations. 

There are also many different shows, musical concerts and artistic performances. 

A health pass won’t be required for entry but wearing a mask will be mandatory. Unlike previous years where visitors were able to enjoy a traditional pretzel or a vin chaud in front of the chalets, eating and drinking will only be possible at the “food corners” set up for the occasion. There will also be heightened security in place after the 2018 market was the subject of a terror attack.

Dates: November 26th until December 26th

Find out more here.

Colmar

If you’re looking for a traditional Alsatian Christmas market, Colmar is the go-to.  

With 6 markets and 186 tiny Alsatian houses, the festive event will honour the region’s specialties with offerings such as Foies gras, choucroutes and pains d’épice. French chefs will also host culinary shows and winemakers from Colmar will showcase their products.

A children’s market in Petite Venise will include a giant letter box for posting a wish-list to Santa and a 800 square metre ice rink will be set up. 

The whole city will be illuminated with 25 kilometres of Christmas lights. 

A health pass won’t be required apart from to access the “gourmand market”. 

Dates: from November 26th until December 29th.

Find out more here

People ice skate in front of a Christmas tree during the Christmas market in Strasbourg in 2019. Photo by FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP

Eguisheim

South of Colmar, this medieval city with colourful Alsatian houses around the castle is a must-see in the region. Its authentic and traditional Christmas market is an opportunity to discover the local gastronomic products and enjoy a glass of vin chaud with the villagers. 

If you stumble upon the Veilleur de Nuit with his accordionist, he’ll invite you to join him for a tour of the picturesque and illuminated streets and tell you all about the village history and its Christmas traditions. 

Dates: from November 26th until December 23th.

Find out more here

Kaysersberg

Situated 12km away from Colmar, Kaysersberg is one of the most beautiful villages of Alsace. The Christmas market is located in the historical centre, next to the ruins of the castle, which are illuminated for the occasion. 

The wooden bungalows sell typical decorations and local arts and crafts. There will also be plenty of Alsatians specialties and products from the Kaysersberg valley such as honey, charcuterie or eau de vie

Dates: open on November 26th to 28th, December 3rd to 5th, 10th to 12th and 17th to 21th.

Find out more here

Mulhouse

The particularity of Mulhouse’s Christmas market is that it happens in a setting made of Christmas fabric. In fact, thousands of metres of Christmas cloth decorate the frontages, monuments and pedestrian streets in the city’s historical centre. 

A tour on the Ferris wheel will give you a chance to get a wonderful view of the Christmas market and of its wooden bungalows. 

It’ll also be an opportunity to try Alsatian sweets such as the Berawecka – a spongy cake with pears, plums, figs and kirsch – or the Pebkucha – a cake with honey and spices – and get handcrafted products such as wooden toys or Christmas decorations. 

Dates: from November 24th until December 27th.

Find out more here

Customers try roasted chestnuts is Strasbourg. Photo by Bryan R. Smith / AFP

Reims 

In addition to its traditional gastronomic and handmade products, the Christmas market of Reims will offer several musical performances with a jazz group playing on Wednesday and Friday afternoons and various groups playing every Saturday and Sunday afternoons. 

A light and sound show on the façade of the ancient Cathedral will also revisit the history of French royalty on Saturdays (December 11th and 18th) and Sundays (December 12th and 19th) at 7:30pm. 

A Ferris wheel, a night torchlight walk and other fun activities for children are also on the programme. 

Dates: from November 26th until December 29th.

Find out more here

Montbéliard

Montbéliard, a city in eastern France at the border with Switzerland, calls its market “the Lights of Christmas”. During the advent period, its picturesque city centre is illuminated with 115,000 lights. 

The market gathers 160 craftsmen who sell authentic and traditional products. The good fairy of the Pays de Montbéliard Aunt Airie keeps local traditions going by telling her story to the children. 

Children will also be able to attend the Petits Lutins workshops where they’ll make the essential accessories for a successful Christmas before enjoying a hot chocolate.  

Dates: from November 27th until December 28th.

Find out more about the festive event here

Amiens

For more than 20 years, Amiens has been offering a flamboyant Christmas market which competes with the famous Alsatian markets. 

There you’ll find local and gastronomic products as well as Christmas decorations, but what makes this market so magical are its animations, its enchanting shop windows and its mountain village with a sledge run in the middle of a pine forest. 

Don’t miss the bewildering lights and sound night show on the Notre-Dame cathedral.

Dates: from November 26th until December 30th.

Find out more here

Lille

Lille’s enchanting Christmas market is coming back this year after it was cancelled in 2020 due to the health situation. 

About 90 stalls will offer traditional goodies such as pain d’épices, vin chaud and tartiflette. But there will also be plenty of gift ideas as well as the possibility to buy tree ornaments and nativity figures. 

Children will also be able to attend workshops where they’ll learn how to make a Christmas ornament or get festive make-up. 

Don’t miss a chance to enjoy a ride on the Ferris wheel and enjoy fantastic views over Lille’s Flemish-Renaissance architecture, illuminated with Christmas fairy lights. 

Dates: from November 19th until December 29th.

Find out more here

Arras

Every year, the city gets into the Christmas spirit with its red carpet and its forest of green, white and red pines. 

With its 140 stalls, the market offers a selection of handmade jewellery, wooden toys or ceramic decorations.  You’ll also find Christmas decorations with ornaments but also typical candles and music boxes. 

Enjoy local food specialties and don’t miss a ride on the Ferris wheel or a spin around the ice rink. 

Dates: from December 3rd to January 2nd.

Find out more here.

Lyon

On a slightly different note, Lyon’s Fête des Lumières (lights festival) is a magnificent event which has made the reputation of the city. 

Over four days at the beginning of December, the Fête des Lumières invites more than 3 million visitors from across the world to enjoy enchanting walks in a setting of 46 lights and sound creations. 

There’s also a more traditional Christmas market with 90 illuminated chalets which offer local products and arts and crafts. Lyon is known as the foodie capital of France, so enjoy superior food at the market including tartiflette, aligot à la truffe (mashed potatoes with truffle and melted cheese) oysters and escargots (snails).

Dates: Fête des Lumières is from December 8th to 11th, and the Christmas market from November 27th until December 24th.

Find out more about the festival of lights here and about the Christmas market here

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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