It can be difficult to get into the Christmas spirit in the UK but there are plenty of great options available for anyone wanting to get away from it all and start feeling a little more festive. Something that caught my eye recently are the Christmas markets you can enjoy when on holiday in Switzerland. Just a two hour flight from the UK, Switzerland boasts some of the most atmospheric markets in Europe. The choice of great excursions and day trips in the surrounding areas mean you can take a pre Christmas short break that combines shopping with some great sight seeing.
Montreux’s Christmas market, on the edge of Lake Leman in a fairytale setting, has a real alpine atmosphere and is considered to be the most beautiful market in Switzerland. Over 130 decorated chalets display unique gifts and crafts under colourful Christmas lights. Set above Montreux is the Mountain Christmas Village where children can visit the reindeer park and a giant nativity scene. A trip to Father Christmas’s grotto at the top of Rochers-de-Naye Mountain is another must for the little ones and a treat for the grown ups too who can enjoy the spectacular panoramic view across Lake Geneva. Excursions around Montreux include a scenic day trip by train from Montreux to Interlaken. The train takes you from the lakeshore through a changing and beautiful landscape to your destination in the Bernese Oberland. And for a taste of a white Christmas, a trip to the Glacier 3000 above Les Diablerets will transport you to a world of snow and ice. From here you can enjoy a stunning view of more than 24 peaks over 4,000 m high including the Eiger, Jungfrau and Matterhorn. The four star Grand Suisse Majestic Hotel, set on Montreux’s lake shore, offers great value for money and is just 11km away from the Leysin ski resort.
Switzerland’s biggest city, Zurich, enjoys a glorious lakeside setting and with its atmospheric old town and small individual shops is the perfect place to enjoy some Christmas retail therapy. Various Christmas markets take place across the city including an indoor market in the impressive railway station hall. Here a 50ft Christmas tree, decorated with 5,000 Swarovski Crystal ornaments, towers over 160 wooden chalets selling gifts, crafts, food and drink. Every year, the Live On Ice skating rink is set up in the courtyard of the National Museum, surrounded by hundreds of Christmas trees. There’s plenty of mulled wine on offer and it has its very own fondue tent (from 4th Dec). A one hour train journey out of the city takes you to Einsiedeln, celebrated as being the most important place of pilgrimage in Switzerland. Its Benedictine Monastery attracts visitors from around the world and the chanting of the Benedictine Monks is one of its highlights. The five star Zurich Marriott Hotel is located close to Lake Zurich in the heart of the city and would add a touch of luxury to any trip. If you would prefer to save your money for the shopping try the three star Hotel Atlantis Guesthouse.
Other towns to consider for Switzerland’s best Christmas markets are Basel and Bern. Basel is home to the country’s oldest Christmas market, with over 150 brightly lit stands and wooden chalets, and is a great place to go for a traditional Christmas atmosphere. One of the town’s most popular attractions is the Johann Wanner House, the world’s largest producer of handmade Christmas decorations, whose customers include our very own Queen and the White House. Basel’s four star Ramada Plaza Hotel is the tallest habitable building in Switzerland and offers spectacular views of the city and surrounding countryside.
Bern’s Christmas markets are set against the backdrop of the historic old town and its houses dating back to the 15th and 17th centuries. The town has two well known markets with one focusing on arts and crafts and the other on food and drink, with typical Bernese food on offer. Children will enjoy the hourly performance of the historic town centre Clock Tower and the bears at the Bear Park just outside the town centre. For a four star hotel in a great central location on one of the main shopping streets, try the Baren Hotel.