You may have recently read that our Christmas spirit was put into gear when we attended a Milanese festival early in December. We continued our drive toward Santa’s big day by slipping into second gear and crossing the border into neighboring Switzerland. Our Christmas spirit grew as we set out to enjoy one of the things we love most about Europe in December – the Christmas markets.
Christmas trees like this are in cities all over Europe – this is in the main piazza of Lugano, Switzerland
It just so happens that one of our favorite things about living in Italy is access to wonderful markets year round. In the spring and summer, we can stroll the markets to buy fresh vegetables and aged cheese. In the fall, we can purchase delicious homemade jams and carefully crafted grappa. However, the winter markets are undoubtedly our favorite. The backdrop is perfect – streets framed with Christmas lights. Good cheer around every turn. Wonderful food and beautiful artisanal goods at each stand. Beyond that, it is perfectly acceptable to walk around drinking the specialty drink of the season, vin brulé. This cooked wine is seasoned with sugar and spices – designed to warm your hands and belly as well as comfort your soul. No market visit on a cold December day would be complete without a cup (or two).
A few of the vendors set up in the piazza
Soon, I will feature one of our favorite towns to visit during Christmas – our very own Lake Como. Before we do that, I’ll showcase another lake town that we love – Lugano, Switzerland. The Swiss do a lot of things right. They’ve pretty much nailed watches, chocolate and banking. They have some of the worlds most beautiful lakes and best mountains. Beyond that, we have discovered that they play host to some of the world’s greatest Christmas markets.
You can just feel the Christmas spirit walking around
The always beautiful streets are enhanced with thousands of sparkling Christmas lights
Lugano is a beautiful city that sits along a lake with the same name, Lago di Lugano. In one of the world’s wealthy countries – Lugano stands out as one of it’s richest cities. The charming city and popular tourist destination recently garnered worldwide fame, brought on by America’s favorite mega star – Oprah Winfrey. You may recall a tale that spread like wildfire this past summer (well, it did here anyway). Oprah was shopping and asked to see a purse, but was refused because the the clerk (not knowing whom she was serving) told her in no uncertain terms that, “it was out of her price range“. Strange, I was told the same thing when I asked to see the very same purse!
Lights frame the arches of a building’s walkway
Julia and dad in front of the tree
We arrived in Lugano in the afternoon, but stayed long enough to watch the sun set over the mountains. The Christmas lights blazed bright and we felt the joy of the season deep in our cores. We strolled through the market and decided to enjoy a Swiss specialty – hot chocolate. In Italy and in Switzerland, the hot chocolate is very thick – almost syrupy. I’m not usually a fan, but there is a shop in the Lugano’s piazza that makes the drink perfectly (still thick, but not obscenely dense and chocked full of flavor). Of course, you know that you’re in Lugano when you pay roughly $8 for a cup of hot chocolate and another $3 for the extra whipped cream that your daughter insists on ordering.
The sun sets on the mountains behind the lake
The trees are trimmed back during the winter, but that doesn’t mean they can’t use a little seasonal festivity
The thick hot chocolate of Switzerland
Julia sure seemed to enjoy it
A tight squeeze in the piazza
They don’t have your “mall Santa” here so we had to improvise. We had her tell this Santa what she wanted
We returned home to Italy full of Christmas spirit, eagerly discussing our upcoming tour of Italy’s best markets and towns for the holidays. But before we drove to the Trentino Alto-Adige region of Italy, I had an early present to unwrap. I had to practice my driving on one of Italy’s most renowned race tracks…