Touring Switzerland's Christmas markets ...

It's not easy to be in the only city that has no snow, after spending the previous winter escpaping to the white carpet of slopes at your back door at every opportunity. When Jules visited from London last weekend, sledging was quickly scrapped from the agenda - and umbrellas got yet another outing. What best to do when you're in the only snowless place? Content yourself with Gluehwein. Its warm, silky texture and spicy, wintery taste are all you need to feel good from your head to your toes. We started with Zurich's market - a pretty poor excuse for one, with it's main market being inside the station (not what I'd call atmosperic) and with plastic-looking stands with white bin bags draped across them to resemble snow. Artistic license isn't illegal, you know, Zurich Christmas Market planners? For an expensive city, Zurich is very trashy, in many respects.

We listened to some out-of-tune singers do renditions of Christmas carols whilst clustered inside the 'singing christmas tree' and then stumbled home to escape the rain. The following day, we visited Basel - with a reputation for atmospheric Christmas markets. It didn't disappoint. On the way, we stopped in Rheinfelden (for a quick dose of wellness at the local thermal bath) and in the village, there was a lovely, creative market. Huge Christmas trees lined the oldy-worldly streets and each had individual character, with decorations made by local children. My favourite had lots of bright pink stars.

Basel didn't disappoint either. One market was beneath the Muenster (the minster) and the cutesy wooden huts were sheltered by a rooftop of trees. Clusters of lights gripped to the branches like snowflakes. Stalls sold handmade crafts, there was an ironsmith entertaining children and a hut where you could design a gingerbread man. Open fires had been lit too, and the whole had a wintery, snug feeling. Below in the city was a much larger market, filled with all the smells of Christmas and indulgence. We sat in a cosy hut for a while to eat some Bratwurst, and warmed ourselves with more Gluehwein. One interesting feature was a carousel converted into a bar, which was slowly spinning while the people inside thought they were more drunk than they were!

The highlight of our tour came on Sunday though, when we journeyed an hour down Lake Zurich to Rapperswil - a beautiful, medieval town at the other end of the lake. Overlooking the unattractive chipboard that the stalls were made from, the market had heaps of character. Lots of different warm drinks were available - our favourite was the Toddy, a version of Gluehwein made with whisky, oranges, lemons and spices. Yum. The town's buildings provided a higgledy piggledy backdrop of crooked rooftops and unsymmetrical church spires. We walked up to the church and looked down across the lake, then enjoyed Roesti for lunch - followed by a very naughty crepe with Nutella. Again, the smells, the buzz, the atmosphere: it all makes Christmas. Jules treated us to some warm chestnuts for the journey home - to keep us in that Christmas spirit.

One night in Davos ...

For a hotel review I needed to write, Tim and I spent Saturday night in Davos. First impressions as we arrived on the train were pretty grim. The valley was sinking in cloud; it was cold and wet. Since we had planned a ski weekend, and there was no sign of snow, our spirits were low. The hotel, however, was stunning. It's brand new and very glossy, with masculine decor in shades of maroon, olive and black. I was interested to learn that some of the wooden panelling on the walls was from restored ceilings of disused mountain huts.

Our room was simply divine. It was huge, with a balcony around at least half of it. It was divided into a bedroom and sitting room by a sleek cabinet, with a rotating flat screen TV on the middle shelf - so it could be watched from bed or the settee. It was all bronze, taupe and mauve, with faux fur throws and cushions on the bed. It's Hotel Grischa, in case you're interested. It had that slightly generic feel of modern hotels trying to resemble the traditional mountain lodge, but it exceeded comfort. We were just disappointed that of its four restaurants, we couldn't eat in any because they were fully booked - not something you expect when you have a room in a hotel.

We ate at a traditional restaurant in Davos, and I had pumpkin ravioli in a cream sauce - it was delightful. In true Tim and Emily style, we did some wellness. The public swimming baths were quite lovely, and had a warm outdoor pool. The only disaster was the swimming pool with people swimming up and down, whilst kids jumped off the diving board at the other end. Talk about lack of health and safety. In the evening we visited a lovely Christmas market and had some tasty Gluehwein. It was selling all kinds of lovely homemade treats, like cakes and jam, as well as homemade crafts with wood and stones.

The following day, the sun finally came out, and we had an energetic walk around the lake, as well as doing some ice skating at the local outdoor rink. I have to say, Davos is one of the least picturesque places I have been. Normally, surrounding mountains can make anywhere look attractive - not Davos. The architecture is modern, ugly and lacking in character. We didn't discover an old town, and struggled to find anz personality about the place. It attracts business people with big events like the World Economic Forum. I can't say I'd ever holiday there...

Nowhere does a Christmas market quite like Germany ...

Best laid plans and all that ... Tim and I had scheduled an early season ski trip for last weekend, but alas, no snow fell. Taking the next best option, we went to Constance in Germany on Friday to visit its Christmas market - and take advantage of the cheap Euro. It is a pretty town, with a large old town and a range of shops. It is tucked beside Lake Constance, where the Rhein flows into the lake. The lake is so big, the place has the feeling of the seaside. There is a rather garish statue above the lake of a muse wearing not much at all, crafted in stone and spinning around. The Christmas market was huge and packed with stands selling all kinds of wonderful treats. Divine smells filled the air. We enjoyed a Moroccan stew for dinner: it was made with vegetables and ginger. Then we sampled Honigmet, a delicious alcoholic honey drink - very warming on a winter's night.
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