Before you say no, I’m afraid that yes, Christmas is truly coming once again and thoughts of tinsel, turkey and new toys will soon be swirling around our heads. Before that though the ‘S’ word has to be dealt with. Shopping.
It’s a chore to most but it really doesn’t have to be. Christmas markets have become an almost ubiquitous part of the season – it’s hard to remember a time before the fairy-light bedecked small wooden sheds popped up around the country, with the aroma of mulled wine and cinnamon snacks wafting around crowds of shoppers desperately ticking off their Christmas lists. And that’s just in this country. Many of us flock to the original versions of these festive fairs across Germany, Holland, Belgium and The Czech republic. And wonderful they are.
Have you thought though that there might be an alternative? Well, we have.
Slightly further afield, but still within reach for a Christmas short-break, there is a plethora of options. Philadelphia for example, enjoys a delightful state-wide law that means all clothes are tax-free. Chestnut Street is the place to start. City centre and crammed with stores to suit all tastes, from European staple H&M to places like J. Crew, Nine West, Express and Godiva Chocolates. Talking of food, this city is foodie heaven, fast emerging as one of America’s finest culinary destinations.
Or for something slightly less commercial, try the souks in Marrakech. For gifts with a difference, this chaotic, colourful and potentially overwhelming shambles of stores, markets and pavement-sellers is the place to go. We suggest you start in Djemaa- El-Fnaa, (The Central Square) with a mint tea at a café to just sit and watch and absorb the rhythm of the place. Then get your haggling head on and dive in. Don’t buy the first thing you see as you will find the same objects again and again. Decide your price and stick to it. Most of all, enjoy it, soak it in and remember, what you buy will have to be taken home, somehow.
If it’s gold you’re after and a bit of sun to-boot, then Dubai could well be the destination for you. The Gold Souk in this surreal city can supply you with bejewelled gifts for everyone – and importantly, at a very good price… if you haggle for it. Don’t be tempted by the street vendors as they are almost certainly selling fakes. The Souk however, is tightly controlled by the government, so what you buy will be genuine. Even if you’re not in the market to buy, it’s worth a visit to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the bustle. If you’re not fussed about vibe, but want to save even more money, then try the Gold and Diamond Park in Sheik Zayad Road.
Some beautiful hotels in Dubai
Although the perception all European Christmas markets are of the aforementioned sheds-with-lights variety, southern Europe can offer the savvy shopper some wonderful experiences. Nice quietens down at this time of year, but as does so many parts of France, it has some lovely markets. One of the town’s liveliest areas is in Old-Nice, The Cours Saleya, where flowers, fruit and vegetables produce heady scents, including in the winter, Mimosa. Although not ideal for gifts it’s well worth a visit. For brocante or unusual nick-knacks and gift ideas try Marché a La Brocante Saleya or Marché Artisanal Nocturne - the perfect evening market for a retail stroll.
Check out some Nice holiday offers
Our last suggestion is Barcelona where food is the main ingredient. The Boqueria Market, by their own reckoning, is one of the best markets in the world – and we wouldn’t argue the point. There has been a market here from 1217 and the ensuing centuries have imbued it with an unrivalled authenticity and atmosphere. This is a Christmas market just for you. The piles of colourful fruit and vegetables, the cheeses, seafood and meats, the aromas, the tapas stalls, restaurants and food stalls will hold you in their thrall for hours on end. Go, enjoy and wish yourself a very merry Christmas.