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Travel

5 chic Christmas markets

Innsbruck, Austria

From fairy-tale settings to stylish stalls, here’s where to head for Europe’s most charming seasonal markets. By KATE WILLS

Lifestyle

Innsbruck, Austria

Christkindlesmarkts pop up in nearly every alpine village in Austria, but Innsbruck’s Old Town offering might be the most spectacular. A 46ft-high, crystal-studded tree glitters in front of the city’s landmark medieval house, the Golden Roof, and the 200-year-old Cafe Munding transforms its 24 windows into an advent calendar, each scene designed by a local artist. Traditional Austrian folk bands get shoppers into the Christmas spirit, while stalls sell handmade wooden puppets, knitted angels, colorful loden slippers and kiachln – piping-hot donuts filled with sauerkraut. If you’re lucky, you might catch a Krampus parade, when demon-like creatures from Alpine folklore march through the streets in elaborate costumes. With the Alps in the background, it’s impossible not to feel festive. Innsbruck’s Christmas market runs until December 23

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Trento, Italy

Italians tend to do Christmas markets la dolce vita-style, with not a tacky key ring in sight. But the medieval city of Trento, nestled in the snow-topped Dolomites, has become so known for its festive flair that it’s been nicknamed Città del Natale – or Christmas City. Here, stalls are spread over two central piazzas, and you can pick up red boxes of panetonne, wooden sculptures, velvet slippers, huge glass baubles and hand-poured candles. Don’t leave without trying I sapori del mercatino – the flavors of the market. Local delicacies include sheep’s cheese, dried orange slices and such rib-sticking fare as the tortel di patate fried potato pancakes topped with meat and melted cheese. A whole section of the market is devoted to children. Here, you’ll find Santa in his grotto, plus chalets offering arts-and-crafts workshops or fairy-tale story times. Grab a vin brulè and settle in. Trento’s Christmas market runs until January 6

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Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia

For Christmas card-worthy views it’s hard to beat Tallinn’s medieval Old Town, which is a Unesco world heritage site. Especially when it’s sprinkled with snow and lit with twinkling fairy lights. Small wooden huts sell handmade wooden toys, sheepskin rugs, seagrass animals, wicker baskets and local honeys. But the star of the show is the Christmas tree, which has been displayed on the same spot in front of the town hall since 1441, making it the first Christmas tree ever to be shown in Europe. Local merchants serve up Estonian winter warmers, from black pudding and sour cabbage (which, honestly, tastes better than it sounds) to freshly baked gingerbread. At the weekends, choirs from both Estonia and abroad appear on the market stage, with around 3,000 performers belting out carols. Audience participation is encouraged. Tallinn’s Christmas market runs until January 7

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Bath, UK

Over 150 wooden chalets set up shop beneath Bath’s famous honey-colored Georgian architecture, offering everything from handmade paper lanterns to bauble-blowing. This award-winning Christmas market is regularly voted the best in the UK, and only leading local craftspeople are selected to take part. It’s the place to pick up foraged sloe gin, cashmere snoods and hand-thrown pottery to fill your stockings. Alongside the obligatory hog roasts, there’s also a vegan food chalet, as well as a pop-up après-ski bar serving mulled wine and fondue. This year, there are two charity chalets supporting different local causes each day, and the market is making strides in sustainability – it’s already single-use-plastic free. Bath’s Christmas market runs until December 15

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Colmar, France

If there’s a town that takes Christmas markets seriously, it’s Colmar – situated on the Alsace wine route on the border of France and Germany. Each of its six (yes, six) Christmas markets is a separate mini-village, with its own artisanal theme. Throughout them all, light projections illuminate the 14th-century timber houses, with their brightly tiled roofs, and you can wander down cobbled streets and along small canal paths. The best place to start is Place des Dominicains, where you can pick up a cinnamon-infused vin chaud to keep your hands warm while you browse handmade notebooks, antiques and prints. Don’t miss the gourmet village in the Place de la Cathédrale, where local chefs give demonstrations and you can sample oysters, apple crêpes and, of course, a glass of the local sparkling wine, Crémant d’Alsace. Slip on skates to whizz around the ice rink and then visit the wine bar that’s also a carousel. Head-spinning stuff. Colmar’s Christmas markets run until December 29

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