Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Christmas Markets - Lille, Amiens, Arras

Continuing on our Christmas Market crusade, next stop was the French town of Lille.  While Lille was much bigger than Bruges, it still met many of the requisite fabulous European city features including a lovely tower in the town square, and of course a big, beaming, old church nearby.

Lille had many of the name stores that Paris has, but also had many pedestrian only streets to make for user friendly shopping. Not only that, but we walked into a French specialty food store, and they immediately asked if we'd like to join them for a free foie gras tasting.  Bien sur!

A chocolate tasting followed in a beautifully outfited candy shop complete with full tea room in the back.

The town was all lit up for the holiday season with lights filling many streets and buildings.

You could even find rides, a colossal ferris wheel and enormous tree.

The Christmas Market itself was compact and fenced in to one area of town.  Once we step foot inside, we immediately dove into some serious eating.

I had never seen spiced pork with mushrooms served at a market, so in the name of research, I ventured in, and was not disappointed with the sweet, and spiced mix, served on crusty French bread.

A familiar carb friend we were all happy to see was the enormous vat filled with potatoes and pork.  Lille upped the ante by drizzling warm raclette all over the top like a nacho dream...or nightmare, depending on if you were still eating or already finished.

Then there were the plethora of desserts, which ranged from waffles (been there) to fried dough balls from Holland (good, but not great), as well as the little pita like waffles filled with a sugary spread of our choosing.  Luckily there were 4 of us at this point, so there was lots of sampling and sharing going on.

There's always vin chaud to wash it all down, but we also enjoyed the cider enriched with a little Calvados - it was an extra buffer against the cold, and it is after all, about survival at the markets.

Next stop was Amiens.  The town centerpiece is their gorgeous cathedral.  It is the tallest, complete cathedral in France, reaching almost 139 feet in the air.

While a cleaning of the cathedral was being done in the 1990's, they learned that the facade was once adorned with multiple colors.

We were lucky to be there during one of their light shows when they use targeted lasers to recreate what they believe the cathedral once looked like in its full color glory days.

The interior was quite impressive as well with its tall Gothic columns and sculptures.

Most of the stained glass had been destroyed or lost, but what was left was beautiful.

While they didn't have a large clock tower in Amiens, this one still worked just as well, with its ornate detail.

The Christmas Market had many stalls that lined the packed, pedestrian only streets.  The town was full of festive people, and while we were some of them eating and drinking all we could, we couldn't compete with the elaborate Santa outfits.

We saw some of the usual suspects in the food world at Amiens.  What we hadn't seen before is how they make our favorite potato dish in this city.  Instead of coating the top with raclette as they did in Lille, they cut up what looked like brie (but wasn't) and tossed it into the vat.  How many wheels did they include?  15.  Yes, 15.  Sometimes it's best not to know this much about your meals.

There was also an addition to the market fare of the Québécois dish, Poutine.  It's in the same family with the potatoes and cheese regulars, but they throw in gravy on top as a warm, salty bonus.

With all this food, it wasn't surprising to see some activities that didn't involve eating or drinking like running around bubble wrap tubes in the town fountain.  We hadn't had enough to drink for this.

However, watching holiday wrestling was a huge crowd pleaser for all ages.  You just don't see outfits and hairdos (or don'ts) like these very often in France.  Le mullet is priceless in any country.

By the time we hit Sunday morning, we were suffering from potato and pork laden hangovers, but we felt we weren't quite ready to head back to Paris yet, so we made an impromptu stop in Arras, for one final Market.

We were told that they literally roll out the red carpet here and that they did.  The village was in the middle of their beautiful square, and we were blessed with sunshine that day, though the temperature stayed brisk.

This market had a really nice, neighborhood feel, and we welcomed ourselves to their little manmade restaurant near the ice rink.  You might think we were ready for large salads at this point, but we went out with a bang and ate a huge vat of fondue.  At least we switched it up from the raclette that was also available.

A fun week-end of Christmas markets in picturesque towns.  Now it's time to eat some salads!


  1. But which was your favourite? I am heading to one of them on a day trip on Saturday... or even to Bruges?! Help! :)

  2. My favorite place to see the best Christmas Markets is Colmar or Strasbourg. If those are too far for you, Amiens was also nice with the cathedral show and market in the streets. Bruges was definitely the most beautiful city, but the Christmas market was very small. They are all special in some way. It just depends on what you're looking for. Enjoy your trip!