Salzburg Christmas Markets
I'm starting to feel like all I've done this year is visit Christmas markets! Just before Christmas, we returned to Salzburg and when we weren't climbing mountains, we popped along to the markets. Now, I know I'm hugely biased but I mean it when I say Salzburg's Christmas markets are my favourite. Despite the small size of the city, they're much larger than others I've visited, and they're held in peaceful, pretty courtyards. Just perfect!
The main market is located around the cathedral, in Residenzplatz and through the arches into Domplatz. When we arrived, I was completely taken away by how large it was. I'd anticipated a few stalls in the Residenzplatz square but it also dominates the whole area in front of the cathedral. Not only that, but the stalls are cleverly laid out so that as many as possible can fit into the space. Somehow, however, it doesn't feel crowded or crammed and there's lots of space to move about between them.
For the most part, the market sells everything you'd expect, from gingerbread and Glühwein to Christmas decorations and nutcrackers. There are some surprises though- frequently dotted about are photo booths where, for €3, you can create your own postcard. We had a go just to try it out but Rich looked so confused in the photo that we had to purchase the postcard and show it to everybody we know. Bless him.
There are also some special wares such as the traditional blown egg decorations, hand painted with Salzburg scenes. Or you could just buy this kitschy cat one which is just as good!
The whole atmosphere of the market is lovely. Because it's enclosed on all four sides by buildings, it feels almost like a secret- as if we've wandered down the rabbit hole and ended up in this magical, peaceful festive wonderland.
Something that I'd love to experience but missed out on was the performances. Every day there are choirs and orchestras playing Christmas carols, and on special evenings there are even appearances by festive characters such as St Nicholas and the Christkind. I was particularly excited to find out that the evil Perchten spirits were going to be roaming the market while we were there... and then I got the dates muddled up and missed them. Gutted isn't the word, but I'm sure we'll be going back another Christmas!
SCHLOSS HELLBRUNN CHRISTKINDLMARKT
When I visited Salzburg in August, the Hellbrunn Palace was one of my favourite experiences. It's on the bus route that leads from the city to the Untersberg so on our way back from the mountain, we popped in to have a look around the stalls. Again, I was expecting something quite small and compact so what we actually experienced blew my mind.
It is, without doubt, the largest Christmas market I've ever been to. It more or less takes over the entire area surrounding the palace, with stalls in every courtyard and down side streets. Like the Salzburger Christkindlmarkt, it's self-contained within the palace's distinctive yellow walls so has the effect of being some otherworldly land. Even more than the sheer size of it, we were struck by how much effort had gone into decorating the place. Everywhere you looked were decorated Christmas trees and sleighs laden with presents. The palace itself had even been turned into a gigantic advent calendar with a different number on each shutter. Then there's the Krampus lurking in the stream!
Since the palace is on the city suburbs, it was a lot snowier here than in the centre and added a really magical atmosphere. What's cute about this market is that it's divided up into different areas including a children's market with farmyard animals, a post office to send letters to Father Christmas and a special programme of activities.
There are also a lot more handcrafted goods here than in the city. I was particularly taken by the man hammering personalised horseshoes (a traditional Austrian good luck charm for the new year) with a proper hammer and anvil. I thought it would make a cute, thoughtful gift for my mum so in my best German, I asked for a horseshoe with the word "Mutter"- the German word for mother. He nodded his head, "kein Problem", and got started. After a couple of minutes, my horseshoe was ready so he showed it to me with a flourish... and it said Luther. I then had a very awkward moment writing down exactly what I wanted. He was fine about it and didn't charge us for both (although we gave him some extra for his trouble) but looking back now, I really wish we'd bought both. It would have been a funny souvenir but I was too embarrassed to think clearly at the time. As we walked away, I decided I really wanted a horseshoe for myself so we had to sheepishly return and ask him to make another one- but this time we wrote down exactly what we wanted!
Schloss Hellbraune is by far the best Christmas market I've ever visited. If you're in Salzburg for the festive season, you must get the bus out and experience it. It's an easy journey and well worth the trip!
In the Salzburg area, there are around eight different markets but make sure to check the opening times as they're not open every day. We were looking forward to visiting the small Sankt Leonhard market in the village at the foot of the Untersberg but it was only open at the weekends, as was the one in the courtyard of the Hohensalzburg Fortress. There was also a small market in front of the Mirabell Palace but we didn't get time to visit, although we did drive past in the taxi so that's almost the same thing.
Of course I expected Salzburg to be a wonderful Christmas experience but it completely took me by surprise just how amazing it was. I'm going to try and be disciplined enough not to visit next December (I'm already travelling over in March and June, and then spending three months out there in 2018) but I'm putting it high on my priority list for future festive breaks.
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