Where to find the best holiday treats, mulled wine, food, and hand-made ornaments at Italy's Christmas markets.
November and December are in-between seasons in the Italian Alpine regions. The colorful autumn foliage is gone, but the snow has not yet arrived, save for on mountaintops and the highest slopes in the foothills. The days are short and the temperatures chilly, making it the perfect time to feast on steaming cups of mulled wine and hot sausages at one of the many Christmas markets in Italy.
The idea of Christmas markets may not be Italian in origin; it was borrowed from our neighbors beyond the Alps, Austria and Germany. But Italy has made it its own, and these days you’ll find stalls selling local cheeses and Sicilian cannoli alongside Glühwein and Lebkuchen.
Alto Adige (South Tyrol) has the lion’s share of Italy’s Christmas markets – from Bolzano’s famous Christkindlmarkt in Piazza Walther to the cute market on the shores of Lake Braies, every town and village in the region seems to set up a market at the beginning of Advent. There are also many interesting markets in Trentino and Veneto, where you’ll be able to enjoy mulled wine or Veneto’s famous red wines like the rich Amarone della Valpolicella.
Here are Italy’s five best Christmas Markets from the Alpine lands in the north – and trust me, choosing was tough!
The best Alpine Christmas markets in Italy
Italy’s most famous Christmas market is in Bolzano, held in the beautiful Piazza Walther. Fairy lights decorate the trees around the square and the cute house-shaped wooden stalls sell loden coats, traditional winter slippers, decorated Christmas cookies, and many other goodies. The market is quite large and spills out to the streets surrounding Piazza Walther.
Every weekend there’s live music in the square, including musicians playing the traditional horn. Bolzano’s Christmas Market is open from the end of November until the Epiphany, or January 6 (in 2016, Nov. 24-Jan.6). Families are in for a treat: a section of the market is dedicated to children, and there are opportunities to meet Santa and go on pony rides.
Lake Braies Christmas Market
If Bolzano is a bit too busy for you, and you are looking for a truly Insta-worthy setting, head to Lake Braies, famous for its turquoise waters and gorgeous mountain backdrop. The Christmas market on the shores of Lake Braies is open every Saturday and Sunday in December until Christmas, as well as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on December 8 (when businesses close down in Italy) and 9. Thirty local artisans offer their products for sale, including handmade Christmas decorations, zolten (a local kind of Christmas cake) and – naturally – lots of mulled wine. Santa comes over to visit every Saturday afternoon, and there’s also a petting zoo with donkeys and sheep.
Trento Christmas Market
Outside of Alto Adige, the Christmas market in Trento is definitely the largest and most important in the Italian Alps. There are over 70 stalls between Piazza Fiera and Piazza Cesare Battisti, and the whole town seems to be embracing the Christmas atmosphere, with horn concerts and the battlements of the mighty Buonconsiglio Castle covered in twinkling lights. This Christmas market is perfect for foodies. One of the highlights of the event is “I sapori del mercatino,” or “Flavors of the market,” a section of the market dedicated to local products where you can taste Christmas sweets, schnapps, wine, cured meats, cheeses, and more. Open from mid-November until January 6 (begins Nov. 19 in 2016).
Asiago Christmas Market
One of the prettiest Christmas markets in Veneto can be found in Asiago, called “Giardini di Natale,” or “Christmas Gardens,” as the atmosphere in Piazza Carli and Piazza II Risorgimento is reminiscent of a magical winter garden with wooden houses, Christmas lights, and pine trees. Artisans from Asiago and the surrounding towns sell their wares to tourists and locals. Besides the usual Christmas market merchandise, you can find organic beauty products, children’s clothes, and Parampampoli, a local drink served in a flaming cup that makes a great alternative to the omnipresent mulled wine. In addition, Asiago is located in the hills of the happiest holiday drink, Prosecco! Just an hour and a half to the west is the territory of Valdobbiadene, where the top DOCG denomination of Prosecco Superiore di Valdobbiadene is made. No holiday toast would be complete without these bubbles. In 2016, the market will be open from November 12 to January 8.
Marché Vert Noël
Due to its proximity to France on the western side of the Alps, Aosta’s Christmas market is full of French flair. It’s also worth a visit because it may very well be the only Christmas market in Italy surrounded by Roman ruins. From late November until January, at the entrance of the Roman theater archeological area in Via Porta Praetoria, fifty wooden chalets transform this corner of the city into a Christmas wonderland. Products for sale include candles, handmade soaps, ceramics, felt and woolen accessories, and exquisite wooden sculptures, among the very best in Italy.
Food is French rather than German-inspired. Expect tartiflette, a French Savoy dish with potatoes, reblochon cheese, onions, and pancetta; lots of melted Alpine cheeses; and delicious local sweets like micooula, a local version of panettone. In 2016, Marcé Vert Noël is open from November 26 to January 8, 2016.