Christmas is a magical time of year in France, when markets known as marché de Noël add a sense of tradition and wonder to the centre of towns and villages.
It was in Sélestat, Alsace that the tradition of Christmas trees began with a fir decorated in 1521, and today some of the best markets are in northern France, near the German border.
At Christmas markets, you can wander through mediaeval and renaissance streets and buy Christmas ornaments, festive foods and quality items made by local craftsmen.
France has hundreds of Christmas markets but some of the most popular are not far from Villers-Bretonneux, offering ice-skating rinks, choirs, hot food, street shows, and Christmas shopping.
For opening times it is best to check the Christmas Markets website.
Amiens: The town centre is transformed into a Christmas village with 130 chalets covering 2km and selling Christmas gifts from France and other countries. There are children’s rides, waffles, chocolate pancakes, mulled wine and tartiflette (potato gratin).
Reims: This market on the forecourt of the famous Reims Cathedral is one of the most popular in France. A spectacular light show takes place on the façade of the Gothic cathedral and a large Ferris wheel offers views over the rooftops and spires. Reims is renowned for its pain d’épices, a spiced bread associated with Christmas.
St Quentin: Between Amiens and Reims, St Quentin offers 50 Christmas stalls set against Art Deco architecture and styled as a mountain village, selling gingerbread, paté de foie gras, Quentins (chocolate with almonds and halzenuts), cugnots (brioche) and tartes maroilles (cheese tarts). There are also handmade decorations, jewellery, and nativity figurines from Provence called santons.
Arras: Arras has one of the most important Christmas markets in the north, located in the Grand’Place, a Baroque square in the heart of town that was built to showcase such events. It was bombed during the war but then beautifully restored. There are more than 730 shops nearby and local offerings include coeur d’Arras, a mild cheese, and Arras blue china.
Lille: An hour’s drive north of Villers-Bretonneux, this market on the Belgian border has 90 stalls in the Place Rihour, offering regional specialties, as well as arts and crafts from Russia, Canada and Poland. The ferris wheel is one of the largest in France, standing 50m tall, and the atmosphere is warm and inviting, with many restaurants, brasseries and cafés.