Exploring Christmas markets in Germany…

Brenda onboard the Serenity.

Brenda onboard the Serenity.

Last month, GTO‘s Feature Writer, Brenda Watkinson, was invited by The River Cruise Line to join its ‘Strasbourg Christmas Markets’ three-night cruise visiting not just Strasbourg, but also Christmas markets in both Mannheim and Heidelberg. Brenda was already in Hamberg and made a very easy train journey to Mainz on Deutsche Bahn’s high-speed ICE service. UK groups have the choice of travelling by coach via Eurotunnel or rail via Brussels to the German city to board the ms Serenity. It had been several years since Brenda’s last river cruise and she was delighted with the ship, which was purpose-built in 2006 to offer four-star accommodation. Her cabin was really spacious with a lovely picture window giving wonderful views of the river and beyond – she certainly hadn’t expected such comforts or indeed such a warm welcome on board. As the ship set sail for Mannheim, guests were invited into the restaurant for dinner, prepared by the ship’s Executive Chef and his team. An excellent meal was enjoyed by all – in fact, all the food onboard was a pleasure.

Strasbourg Christmas Market.

Strasbourg Christmas Market.

Disembarking the ship in Mannheim, Brenda was keen to explore the city and discover the first Christmas market on the itinerary. An optional afternoon excursion to Heidelberg was well worth taking too. It was just a short drive from Mainz and the Heidelberg Christmas Market is a ‘must’ for connoisseurs of Yuletide festivities. Returning to the ship, she enjoyed a complementary Glühwein as she glided down the Rhine to Strasbourg. The Strasbourg Christmas Market was founded in 1570 and now features 300 wooden chalets over 11 sites. Brenda was fascinated by the historic Petite France district before wandering to the Place Kléber with its 30-metre high Christmas Tree. On the final evening, the Gala Dinner was a glittering affair and a great finale to a tremendous cruise. The River Cruise Line will be offering ‘Strasbourg Christmas Markets’ itineraries on five dates this December – an ideal festive break for your group.

…and Belgium

GTO’s Consultant Designer, Suzanne Crisp, visited the Ypres Christmas Market at the end of last year, staying at the Hotel Ariane, situated in the leafy suburbs of the historic town. After dining at the hotel, she headed into the town centre where she found a nice and interesting mix of historic buildings with many shops and restaurants. The Christmas Market is held in the Grote Market – the main square, close to the Menin Gate – and there were a variety of wooden stalls decorated as mini Swiss chalets, selling food and drink, clothes, jewellery, gifts and seasonal decorations. Adding to the atmosphere were the illuminations that adorned the market and surrounding streets, and an ice rink. Sue’s favourite part of the experience, though, was enjoying some mulled wine whilst listening to live music outdoors!