The medieval theme of Esslingen am Neckar’s Christmas market, near Stuttgart, ensures it stands out from the many Advent markets held across Germany each winter.
Stall holders dress in colourful costumes inspired by the clothing worn during the Middle Ages. You’ll see craftspeople at work, using techniques first employed centuries ago to blow glass, beat metal on the anvil and shape silver jewellery. The products they create are sold at stalls ranged on Esslingen’s cobbled marketplaces and in lanes wending between half-timbered town houses that were built for merchants around 500 years ago.
Musicians entertain by playing bagpipes close to stalls selling warm mead in red ceramic mugs. Of course, you can always order a Glühwein, a cup of mulled wine. This region is renowned for the quality of its wines. The aroma of cinnamon, citrus fruits and cloves wafts from stalls into the cold air, competing with the delicious scent of spit roast suckling pork and Bratwurst sausages being grilled over charcoal.
Jesters show off their juggling skills and fire eaters twirl flames as part the daily entertainment programme that continues into the evening at stages in front of the town hall and at the Hafenmarkt.
You can browse stalls for gifts such as handcrafted candles, natural soaps scented with herbs and traditional Christmas decorations. Wandering the streets means being able to breathe in seasonal aromas ranging from the tang of pine sap to almonds being roast in sugar.
Convivial and photogenic, Esslingen am Neckar’s Christmas market runs until 22 December 2016.
What to eat and drink
This part of Germany is known for Deie, a type of unleavened flatbread baked with a variety of toppings. The version with soured cream, chives and lardons is reminiscent of the Flammkuchen served in Alsace and popular with visitors to the Christmas market in Esslingen. They taste their best while still warm, straight from wood-fired ovens at stalls on the marketplace.
Looking inside the Church of St Dionys, which dates to the 13th century, to view the detail of the carvings on seating within the choir and the colourful stained glass windows. The twin-towered edifice bears Romanesque and Gothic elements.
How to get here
Stuttgart Airport (STR) has direct connections to several airports in the United Kingdom and Ireland. Direct flights are available from London (Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick) plus Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh and Dublin. Return flights cost as little as £28.
Esslingen lies 15km south-east of central Stuttgart and is a 20-minute drive from Baden-Württemberg’s capital. Regular trains run between the two cities, some taking just 11 minutes.
Where to stay
Esslingen has several hotels and pensions, Germany’s equivalent of bed and breakfast accommodation. If you’re looking to stay relatively centrally, then try the 4-star Best Western Premier Hotel Park Consul Stuttgart/Esslingen am Neckar (Grabbrunnenstraße 19, 73728 Esslingen am Neckar; +49 (0)711 411110). The hotel has 143 guest rooms and seven suites, and has on-site parking.
Win a festive family trip to Stuttgart
Family Traveller magazine is running a competition for a festive family trip to Stuttgart. You can find details on the Family Traveller website (www.familytraveller.com/competitions/stuttgart-christmas-competition). Entries close at midnight on 11 December 2016.