During 12 days in November and December 2018 we criss-crossed the regions of Lorraine and Alsace at the invitation of several Tourist Boards. The journey of this Christmas Trip brought us across France’s north-east region in 10 stages. With lots of photos, I hope this little summary of our trip will give you ideas of places to visit and stay during Advent.
My Christmas trip in Alsace-Lorraine
From the 24th November to the 6th December 2018 French Moments went on a memorable Christmas trip to Alsace and Lorraine.
Then, our journey brought us through all of Alsace, from North to South.
This is an overview of our Christmas trip with links to the Tourist Boards and other cultural attractions that welcomed us. These references are designed to help you organise and plan your own trip there should you be lucky enough to visit at Christmas time!
I plan to update a few existing articles and publish some new ones in the coming months. This will give you a better idea of what to see and where to go for next Christmas in 2019!
What impressed me the most on this Christmas trip
Before going through each of the 10 stages in more detail, let me first give you a few thoughts …
What surprised me on this trip was the great diversity of festive events organised in each destination.
But each destination on the Christmas trip offered its own unique take on Christmas.
Fortunately there is room for everyone. Cities and villages have fared well in recent years with both a more traditional or creative theme.
A few examples…
- With the festivities of Saint-Nicolas, Nancy showed its visitors the fabulous world of Saint-Nicolas throughout the historic town for 4 consecutive weeks.
- In Wissembourg, locals celebrate a traditional Christmas where the round red bearded Santa gives way to Hans Trapp and Christkindel.
- In central Alsace, Sélestat becomes the capital of the Christmas tree during Advent.
- Finally, Mulhouse decorates its Christmas market with a different fabric each year.
It means we are never left seeing the same stalls and drinking the same mulled wine across all the different Christmas markets!
The saying: “When you’ve seen one Christmas market, you’ve seen them all” no longer applies.
Christmas markets set in exceptional architectural surroundings
During the Christmas trip, we also took time to go off the beaten track, away from the Christmas markets to explore the architectural gems of the town centres that are often highlighted at the end of year.
But to see them you have to know where to look and expect some surprises. Whether an architectural feature, a landscape or odd things.
Here is one I stumbled across:
You’ll find lots of quirky fun things like this in Alsace and Lorraine. Just keep your eyes open!
1st stage: NANCY
Nancy was the most elegant destination of our Christmas trip. This is mostly due to the city’s stunning architectural heritage from the 18th century. The place Stanislas, a gem of neo-classical architecture, the triumphal arch, the place de la Carrière and the Palais du Gouvernement. So many prestigious sites that have been listed by Unesco since 1983.
The place Stanislas, momentarily renamed place Saint-Nicolas is the meeting place of the people of Nancy. The royal square is stunning in day or night time, in summer or in winter.
But it is at nightfall that the lighting creates a festive atmosphere. A tall and glittering Christmas tree from the Vosges mountains becomes the centre of attention. It sits on the square by the statue of Stanislas.
The façade of the city-hall is the set for an 8 minute light show called the Rendez-Vous de Saint-Nicolas.
Place de la Carrière
On the other side of the triumphal arch, a Ferris Wheel offers a magnificent view over the 18th century district of Nancy and its beautiful squares.
The Saint-Nicolas market
Further away, near the St. Sebastien shopping centre is a rather different world. The village of Saint-Nicolas is a Christmas market that occupies the recently renovated place Charles III.
The grand St. Nicolas week-end
The event includes a parade with floats in the streets of the old town along with several animations and the arrival of St. Nicolas, Saint Patron of Lorraine.
Since 1477, the capital of the Dukes of Lorraine has been placed under the protection of St. Nicolas by Duke René II. The festival which is celebrated in Nancy is currently in the process of being listed by Unesco’s Intangible Cultural Heritage.
By the way I met Saint-Nicolas himself a couple of times… and fortunately Père Fouettard was not anywhere to be seen 🙂
- Our article on the Saint-Nicolas festivities in Nancy (which will be updated soon).
- The official site of the Nancy Tourist Board: http://www.nancy-tourisme.fr
2nd Stage: METZ
METZ… I have been wanting to visit this town at Christmas for a long time.
I had heard of the Christmas market of Metz as being one of the largest in France (outside Alsace and Paris).
Thanks to Inspire Metz, this dream came true! Here is the second stage of our Christmas trip!
Place d’Armes and the cathedral
Place d’Armes is bordered by the majestic Gothic cathedral. The square hosts a charming Christmas market dominated by a tall Ferris Wheel.
Seated in the Ferris Wheel you are 60m above the ground. You can imagine the fantastic view you get from up there!
The cathedral reveals itself from unexpected angles with several features of its architecture which are nearly invisible from the ground: gargoyles, pinnacles, statues, clocks…
When the gondola is at a stop at the top of the wheel, you can enjoy spotting the main monuments and sites of Metz: the churches of the town-centre, the Centre Pompidou-Metz and the railway station.
But the discovery of Metz doesn’t end there…
Metz has many more Christmas villages and sites to explore:
The Christmas chalets on place Saint-Jacques
The Christmas market of place Saint-Louis and the Christmas pyramid
The gourmet Christmas market at place de Chambre
The ice-skating rink and the Christmas market on place de la République
The railway station square (place du Général de Gaulle)
The trail of lanterns
One of my favourite Christmas sites in Metz. The Fabert Garden by the place de la Préfecture turns into a Christmas wonderland that must be discovered at night time.
Evening stroll through the streets of Metz
- Our article on the Christmas market of Metz (which will be updated soon).
- The official site of the Metz Tourist Board: http://www.tourisme-metz.com/
3rd Stage: WISSEMBOURG
The last time I came to Wissembourg was in the beginning of the 1990s. I used to come here with my parents when we lived in Germany.
During this Christmas trip I rediscovered the little town to the North of Alsace and its enchanting Christmas market.
The Wissembourg Christmas market
Upon arriving on the Christmas market we were welcomed by a lovely scent of fir trees. The chalets take pride in promoting the best traditional crafts: crocheted decorations, kelsch fabric, candles and Advent wreaths… without forgetting the local delicacies: honeys, sausages and cured meats, breads and gingerbreads, and Alsatian Christmas cookies.
The tithe barn (grange dîmière)
We met Brigitte from the Wissembourg Tourist Board at the tithe barn (la Grande dîmière). Over a cup of mulled wine she kindly took the time to describe everything that was to be seen in the town during Advent.
In this old house, decorated with great taste, the volunteers are busy serving mulled wine, hot chocolate and coffee with kugelhopf, stollen and other cakes.
A stroll through the old streets of Wissembourg
As we waited patiently for night fall, I went on a stroll through the old streets of Wissembourg.
I wanted to reach the small district of the ‘Schlupf‘, also known as the Little Venice of Wissembourg. A picture-postcard view of Alsace with the bell tower of the abbey church in the distance.
Back to the main square of the town – place de la République – I marvelled at the great Christmas tree. It felt wonderful to be back in Wissembourg !
The itinerant show of Christmas
An active volunteer association from Wissembourg – Ex Nihilo – organises a very popular Christmas production (reservations required). An itinerant show lasting 1hrs15 which gathers no less than a hundred actors.
This year the show featured characters from the Perrault tales (Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Tom Thumb…) with two guest stars: Christkindel and the evil Hans Trapp.
- Our article on the Wissembourg Christmas Market (to be published soon!).
- The official site of the Wissembourg Tourist Board: https://www.ot-wissembourg.fr
4th Stage: HAGUENAU
We thought we’d seen it all since the start of our Christmas trip… but Haguenau was a big surprise at night fall with enchanting illuminations in the main streets!
During Advent, the town centre transformed itself into a true Christmas market. Clusters of chalets made up several Christmas markets in different sites:
Place de la République:
Place Joseph Thierry:
Cours de la Décapole:
The Neapolitan crib
Haguenau is self-proclaimed ‘Cradle of the Christmas crib‘. In fact a record from the municipal archives dating back to 1420 mentions the creation of a Nativity scene for the parish church. It would be the oldest document that shows the existence of a Nativity scene in all Alsace.
The Espace Saint-Martin displays part of a Neapolitan crib from the collection of Paul Chaland. It belongs to the municipality of Gordes (Provence) and is more than 16m long.
- Our article on the Haguenau Christmas Market (to be published soon!).
- The site of the Haguenau Tourist Board: http://www.tourisme-haguenau-potiers.com
- The official site of Christmas in Haguenau
5th Stage: SAVERNE
The Nativity scenes of the land of Saverne
When preparing my trip to Saverne, I found out about two amazing Nativity scenes.
One of them is situated in the small church of Hengwiller. A true masterpiece made with natural materials gleaned from here and there (wood, leaves, branches…). It took one full week for two volunteers to set it up in the church.
Another one is found in Reinhardsmunster. It occupies the entire choir of the church with smaller figurines.
The Nativity scene in the Haut-Barr castle is set in the little chapel:
The Winter Wonderland of Saverne (La féerie d’hiver)
I don’t recall my last visit to Saverne. Thus this 5th stage of the Christmas trip helped me get to know the town.
The town-centre is not that big but there are many sites worth a visit. I discovered them at night-fall… it was truly a Winter Wonderland (even though there was no snow 🙂 )
The Récollets cloister
The Gothic style cloister dates back to the 14th century. It is one of the most beautiful cloisters in all Alsace.
To attend a Christmas concert in an old and historic church was one of the highlights of my visit to Saverne. Noëlies is an initiative from the Regional Council of Alsace and the religious authorities back in 2002. They take the form of concerts and events organised during Advent in Alsace.
The ‘Path of lights’
The appeal of Saverne is to create a Winter Wonderland atmosphere on the Grand’Rue, from the railway station to place Saint-Nicolas. At night fall a path of lights (Sentier de lumières) illuminates the façades with a play of warm colours (yellow, orange and red).
Note the famous Katz House, a fine half-timbered building from the Renaissance.
The Christmas market and the ice-skating rink
The place du Général de Gaulle (in front of the castle) is where the chalets of a small Christmas market and a temporary ice-skating rink are set up.
- Our article on the Winter Wonderland in Saverne (to be published soon!).
- The site of the Saverne Tourist Board: http://www.tourisme-saverne.fr/
6th Stage: STRASBOURG
Originally I didn’t plan a visit to Strasbourg during this Christmas trip.
But at the last minute, I had the opportunity to include this not-to-be-missed destination… the self-proclaimed Capital of Christmas.
Most of the Christmas sites to discover in Strasbourg are found in the Grande Île, the historic centre of town. There are several Christmas markets spread across the Grande Île: Place Broglie, Place Kléber, Place de la Cathédrale, Place du château, Place Benjamin Zix, Place Gutenberg…
The great Christmas tree of place Kléber
The Christmas market on place de la cathédrale
The Strasbourg cathedral
The cathedral hosts a superb Nativity scene in the South side-aisle. During Advent, 14 tapestries from the 17th century are displayed above the nave.
Rue du Maroquin and place du marché-aux-cochons-de-lait
The gateway to Strasbourg, Capital of Christmas
At the corner of place de la Grande Boucherie and rue du Vieux Marché aux Poissons.
The Petite France district
Rue des Orfèvres and the Carré d’Or
The Christkindelsmärik on place Broglie
- Our article on the Strasbourg Christmas Market (which will be updated soon!)
- The site of the Strasbourg Tourist Board: http://www.otstrasbourg.fr/
- The official site of Christmas in Strasbourg
7th Stage: OBERNAI
Obernai… the start of our Christmas trip down the scenic Alsace Wine Route!
Dreaming about Christmas in Obernai
We had never been to Obernai at Christmas. Yet it was a dream to discover its Christmas market and its illuminations. We were not disappointed!
The picturesque setting of Obernai lends itself beautifully to the enchanting theme of Christmas.
The gastronomy and craft Christmas market
The market is situated on the place du marché at the feet of a great Christmas tree. It offers regional produce (foie gras, gingerbread, Christmas cookies, Alsace wines, jams and Christmas beer).
Two other Christmas markets, smaller but equally charming are situated:
Place Neher, near the ramparts.
Around the belfry and the Tourist Office.
Place de l’Etoile. With a little train for children and Santa’s chalet.
The Nativity scenes exhibition
The Nativity scenes are displayed inside the church of Saints-Pierre-et-Paul.
Night stroll in the streets of Obernai
- Our article on the Christmas market of Obernai (to be updated soon!).
- The site of the Obernai Tourist Office: https://www.tourisme-obernai.fr/
8th Stage: SÉLESTAT
The capital of the Christmas tree
In Sélestat, you’ll find Christmas trees everywhere. There is a reason for this: it was in Sélestat that a Christmas tree was mentioned for the first time. The year was 1521… and today the facsimile is displayed at the Humanist Library.
Sélestat can boast being the third city of Alsace for its rich heritage after Strasbourg and Colmar. In fact, this former Free Imperial City, member of the Decapolis and centre of humanism has kept several magnificent buildings or Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance architectures.
It was such a delight to discover Sélestat at Christmas!
The Christmas itinerary
Each year Sélestat puts in place a clever Christmas itinerary that runs through the main sites of the old town. Lise from the Sélestat Haut-Kœnigsbourg Tourist Board kindly accompanied us along the itinerary. Together we discovered the following sites:
The Saint-Georges Church. A 6 min mapping video is projected onto the main portal. Inside the nave is decorated with Christmas trees suspended under the arches. The crypt hosts a fantastic exhibition on Meisenthal baubles.
The Sainte-Foy Church. In front of the church is a temporary ice-skating rink. A giant Advent wreath stands at the top of a mat on the north side of the sanctuary. Inside don’t miss the stunning chandelier made up of Meisenthal cristal baubles.
The Fir tree garden. The inner courtyard of the St-Lô Mansion (place du marché aux choux) is transformed into a fir-tree forest. At night the garden is lit up to give a mysterious yet peaceful atmosphere.
The place d’Armes welcomes a charming little Christmas market where we drank an excellent mulled wine (from red or white wine!).
The following day I continued my exploration of Sélestat by visiting the Maison du pain d’Alsace (Alsatian Bread House)…
… and by a visit to the Sainte-Barbe complex. Inside some very interesting exhibitions are organised including the highly popular contest of the most amazing Christmas trees. Elegant, poetic, classic, eccentric… There was one for everyone’s taste!
- Our article on the Sélestat Christmas market (which will be updated soon!)
- The site of the Sélestat Tourist Board: http://www.selestat-haut-koenigsbourg.com/
9th Stage: ECOMUSÉE D’ALSACE
The Ecomusée of Alsace is one of Europe’s largest open air museum. It consists of a village made up with traditional houses saved from demolition.
Mélanie from the Ecomusée team explained to us why Christmas is an important time of the year at the village.
We were quite slow to progress through the streets of the reconstituted village as there were so many beautiful things to photograph. Advent wreaths, Christmas trees, countrified garlands… this country-styled Christmas won us over!
We visited almost all the interiors of the houses:
We met volunteers in their period costumes.
We tasted some of the local delicacies from the cooking workshop.
We greeted the farm animals: cows, billy-goats, horses, geese… without forgetting a friendly peacock who served as a guide to me during my visit of the harvest hangar.
In the middle of afternoon we left this enchanting place to reach our very last stage of this Christmas trip: Mulhouse and its Christmas market.
- Our article on Christmas in the Ecomusée (to be published soon).
- The site of the Ecomusée d’Alsace: https://www.ecomusee.alsace/
10th Stage: MULHOUSE
From the Écomusée, we drove to the Park & Ride ‘Nouveau Bassin‘ from where we caught the tram to Porte Jeune. It’s a good thing to do if you wish to avoid driving into the centre of Mulhouse. Most of the Christmas attractions are found in close proximity to the town’s central square: place de la Réunion.
The great Christmas tree and the “catastrophic slide”
From Porte Jeune, we walked on the shopping street of rue du Sauvage until the place des Victoires. There stands a majestic Christmas tree.
At the foot of the tree the children (and me!) were enchanted by an original play called the “catastrophic slide” (la glissade catastrophe). It was created by Alexandra Weisbeck from Mulhouse who made all the elements and characters out of a curious mix of plant residues, and retrieved and transformed objects.
The luminous arches of rue Mercière
We reached place de la Réunion and its Christmas market by walking under the luminous arches of rue Mercière. A not-to-be-missed attraction to see in Mulhouse!
The Christmas market of Mulhouse
The place de la Réunion and adjacent streets host a Christmas market made up of 90 wooden chalets. Every one of them is decorated with the Christmas fabric made in Mulhouse.
The Christmas Ferris Wheel
The Ferris Wheel faces the net-gothic façade of the St. Etienne Temple. It contributes to the festive atmosphere of the Christmas market. The gondolas give a breathtaking view over the market and the roofs of Mulhouse at 38m high.
This was the very last attraction of our Christmas trip.
The fabric of Christmas store
A key site not-to-be-missed: the fabric of Christmas store. It is found on the ground floor of the City-Hall (place de la Réunion). This is where you’ll find the 2018 Christmas fabric of Mulhouse, baptised ‘Hommage’.
Designed by Marie-Jo Gebel, the new fabric is sold in all its variations: napkins, tablecloths, table runner, table and tree decorations… You can also admire the “Christmas fabric collection” from 2007 to 2017 in the shop.
Au revoir Saint-Nicolas!
I had spotted Saint-Nicolas on the first stage of the Christmas trip in Nancy.
And while I was busy exploring the Christmas markets in Alsace and Lorraine, he had completely disappeared…
But he appeared near me again in Mulhouse… as if to say goodbye!
Night in Ensisheim
Before returning home to the French Alps, we stayed overnight in Ensisheim (Hotel La Couronne). Last moments to enjoy Alsace in this historic little town that once was the capital of Further Austria until 1648.
- Our article on the Mulhouse Christmas market (it will be updated soon!)
- The site of the Mulhouse Tourist Board: https://www.tourisme-mulhouse.com
- The official site of Christmas in Mulhouse
And the other Christmas markets?
You could say: “Pierre, why have you not visited the Christmas market of Colmar? And what about those of Riquewihr, Kaysersberg or Eguisheim?“
Of course, they would have their place on a Christmas trip and we definitely recommend visiting them too if you can!
But to answer this question:
- this Christmas trip took me 12 days and it was difficult to extend it longer. You go home with such a huge amount of information and photos that it takes days and weeks to edit it all. Adding more Christmas markets in my trip would have simply been counterproductive for this year. Plus I really wanted to go home and see my daughter and my wife!
- I prioritised the destinations that were unknown or little known to me (Metz, Wissembourg, Haguenau, Saverne, the Ecomusée…) so that I had more resources to share with you.
If I get to renew a Christmas trip in 2019, here are a few ideas of destinations I’d like to feature:
- In Alsace : Colmar, the Alsace Wine Route (Bergheim, Eguisheim, Kaysersberg, Ribeauvillé, Riquewihr), the (new) Forêt Enchantée in Altkirch, Neuf-Brisach
- In Champagne-Ardenne : Reims, Charleville-Mézières
- In Franche-Comté : Besançon, Montbéliard
- In Lorraine : Plombières-les-Bains, Epinal, Sarreguemines, Thionville
- and further away : Freiburg-im-Breisgau, Europa Park, Luxembourg
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Read this article in French on the blog Mon Grand-Est !