Alsatian Christmas Markets (and a visit to Basel)

We were so impressed with our trip to Colmar and the surrounding area back in March that we decided to give the region a try with my parents in the winter. And mais oui, quel hiver!

The Theater of Operations

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The Transportation

We rented a car. We would not have done that for just ourselves; we like our little car just fine for us. But with four adults, intercontinental luggage for half of them, and a week’s worth of winter clothing, we opted for something bigger and more comfortable than our little cold, weak, loud station wagon. I rented us something in the Passat class, but we were pleased to see an Audi A6 waiting for us. It felt more difficult to maneuver around parking lots and little European towns, but it was roomy and fancy. And, apparently thirsty for oil. Or at least it thought it was.

 

We pulled over in the dark about a third of the way to Frankfurt to see what we could learn from the owner’s manual about those warning messages. We considered buying some oil from a gas station and adding it, but in the end decided to press on. In the morning, practically on the FRA airport grounds, I called Buchbinder in Regensburg and they directed me to the EuropCar station at the airport. They saw the same warning and added a liter of oil and declared us good to go. 1 An hour later, well on our way to the border with France, the warning lamp came on again and then finally stayed off for the rest of the trip.

The Lodging

We stayed in a little German town not far from the border to France called Rheinhausen (beware, there are dozens of German towns named that). Also beware that there are two restaurants nearby, both named “Schiff.” 2 There are some parky, canal-adjacent walking paths around there, so if you get tired of the crowded Christmas market scene, you can go for a (long!) walk. Or maybe you like amusement parks; “Europa Park Rust” is less than 4 km away.

Rheinhausen   Rheinhausen

This town wasn’t our first choice, but we got moving on the lodging hunt a little late and La Mirabelle was all that was left in our price range near the target towns with two rooms available for the duration of stay in the area. But it was a good choice nevertheless: great breakfast selection, very friendly and helpful staff, and free parking on site were all much appreciated. Other perks of the town: its Thai restaurant was pretty good and the large, well-stocked Rewe opens daily3 from 7am to 10pm.

The Target Towns

Strasbourg

We parked kind of far away from the action, but that didn’t mean it cost less. There were several different markets areas happening here. I snagged some pain d’épice to take home. Warming up with hot chocolate at a café on the river bank was a good idea.

 

   

Ribeauvillé and Kaysersberg

Driving across the border near Marckholsheim was very frustrating. There was construction work on the locks over the river causing long lines of cars in both directions. What’s more, the drivable part was reduced to just a few meters of width, and we were in an unfamiliar rental car tank. But once we got close, we started following signs for the Navette parking, and that was a much better deal: cheaper price, easier parking, so much better on my nerves.
Ribeauvillé   Ribeauvillé   Ribeauvillé

   

Colmar

This was the town that inspired us to come back for wintry visit. We were hoping for a sit-down lunch at place that would serve us choucroute and maybe some munster cheese over potatoes, but we couldn’t find anything halfway traditional, open and not already marked as COMPLET — so we opted for an Indian restaurant. 4 It was pretty good, but I think we would have been happier with some SAUSAGE and SAUERKRAUT.

Colmar   Colmar   Colmar

Basel

Basel was a nice surprise, in more ways than one:

  1. parking was fairly convenient
  2. the city was very walkable, despite streets and hills
  3. the rental car had a CH vignette still valid for 2022 in it!

So we drove down, crossed the border (no one was interested in checking our car), had lunch, cruised some grocery stores and spent our last hour (“Happy Hour”) between 16:00 and 17:00 browsing the Historisches Museum Basel at the Barfüsserkirche on Barfüsserplatz5 for free.

  Basel   Basel

The next day was a big, long, slow, somewhat scary drive home. But the car behaved, and so did all the drivers in our vicinity. We were tired when we got home and very much appreciated the short walk to our favorite local Indian restaurant.

Take a look at the full set of our pictures from this trip if you like.

  1. Except that it was the day of the test of the nationwide Katastrophenalarm, and the blast doors in the parking gar where EuropCar FRA is closed with klaxons and flashing lights going off, trapping us and everyone behind us, for a few minutes until some brave soul got out of his car and simply pushed the blast door open for that long line of cars. []
  2. One of them is good. Guess how we know. We discovered that the Google review for one was attached to the location of the other. You want the one actually NOT in Rheinhausen. []
  3. But not Sundays and holidays of course. It’s still Germany. []
  4. Incidentally, right next door to the Lebanese restaurant Sarah and I enjoyed during our visit in March. []
  5. The fact that that neighborhood in Basel is nicknamed “Barfy” is a little weird, especially for their eating establishments – “Barfy Pizza”, etc. []

Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt 2013

We bid Regensburg adieu on our last night in town for a while from the Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt over on the grounds of the local royalty.

It’s nice to be able to see the hawkers of wares actually making them — that’s what we like best about this Christmas market.

I couldn’t resist capturing a couple shots of iffy depictions of Native Americans and these musicians from a travel agency in the center of town.

We’re going dark for a little while (right when the Solstice is upon us) — have a good slide into 2014.

Scenes from the Christmas Markets




We’ve spent more time out and about among Regensburg’s Christmas markets, since we didn’t hightail it to Turkey, Mexico, Romania, Hamburg or London this year during Advent. If I had my druthers, we’d get the occasional dusting of snow to pretty up the atmosphere a little — years past have been more generous with the picturesque precipitation.

If it just gets too cold, head indoors. We discovered Café Lila, just off Haidplatz, has glorious Einspänner.


Regensburg Christmas Market Opening Hours 2011

Public Service Announcement: Regensburg Christmas Market Opening Hours 2011 are shorter than in previous years — don’t let this ruin your holiday evening plans!

  • The big market on Neupfarrplatz, closes at just 20:00 Sunday through Wednesday or 21:00 Thursday through Saturday until December 23.
  • The Lucreziamarkt, with its artisan goods and small musical stage split between Kohlenmarkt and Haidplatz, closes at just 20:00 every night until December 23.
  • At least the Romantischer Weihnachtsmarkt on the local palace grounds is open later: until 22:00 Sunday through Wednesday and 23:00 Thursday through Saturday. Of course, you have to pay a fee to get in there, but it’s worth it in our opinion: they do a great job of setting the mood with old-fashioned food, drink, and music offerings. Our tip: visit the markets without admission fees first and stop by the palace for a romantischer visit after 20:00 (21:00 on Friday and Saturday), in which case the price of admission is drastically reduced.
  • The Katharinenspital market — not open every day! — mostly afternoons and evenings through December 23 — is still pretty new (this is only its second year). It’s normally a popular Biergarten on the North bank of the Danube, but there’s a small petting zoo there now along with the usual crafts and eats. Wednesday and Thursday: 16:00-22:00, Friday 14:00-22:00, Saturday 11:00-22:00, Sunday 11:00-20:00

If you can navigate the events calendar on regensburg.de, you might already know this. But we have a feeling lots of folks visiting this year will be caught by surprise having a nice long, warm, indoor restaurant meal and still expecting plenty of merriment outside with a little Glühwein dessert. We were dismayed to find it had all shut down by the time we were ready to roll!