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.
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