Reading Time: 6 minutes
With the holiday season in full swing, it’s tempting to huddle up on the sofa with a warming glass of mulled wine and a good film, and simply watch the world pass by outside your frosted windows. But stop! Don’t do that… there’s so much beauty in the world at this time of year, and one thing everyone should experience at least once at Christmas time is a French Christmas Market! With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to know where to head to for the best, most bedazzling festive experience… so it’s lucky I’ve taken the time to review five of my favourites for you…
The oldest and most historic of Christmas markets, Strasbourg’s Christkindelsmärik dates back to the 16th Century and has thousands of people flocking to the ‘home of Christmas’ each year! This spectacular market features over 300 small wooden chalets, offering local products and delicacies. You’ll be able to nibble on gingerbread and sip hot mulled wine, whilst wandering around the various squares of Strasbourg discovering what made this market ‘Europe’s Best Christmas Market’ in 2014 as voted by Europe Best Vacation. Each year, a different guest country is welcomed to promote their goods, making the market a true multi-cultural delight.
Discover the magical winter wonderland of Bordeaux, where 150 illuminated log cabin stalls line the Allées du Tourny – the perfect spot to while away the hours whilst picking up a few original gifts for your loved ones. Particular treasures you’ll find here include artisan perfumes, bottles of local wine and Landes foie gras. Father Christmas can be found in his grotto for children to visit, and the market also offers free sleigh rides – an enchanting experience!
Avignon in December is a great place to be if you are looking to discover Provencal Christmas traditions! As well as the usual market stalls lining the streets, overflowing with wooden toys, gastronomic specialities, artisan crafts and jewellery, this lively Christmas market dedicates space for traditional Provence performers to dance, act and sing transforming Avignon into a sparkly performance arena! You will be welcomed to attend a local midnight mass or nativity celebration on Christmas Eve in the city, which is a lovely way to experience Christmas the way the locals do.
A second Alsatian offering, which is only fitting when you consider that Alsace is the birthplace of the Christmas tree! In a pretty, fairy-tale setting, the fully pedestrianised streets of Colmar lend themselves perfectly to a typical festive market. The quaint illuminated town welcomes tourists to explore their five different market areas including a Children’s market in Little Venice (look out for the children’s choirs singing carols on brightly lit boats on the canals!), the markets of the Place de l’Ancienne Douane, and Alsatian gastronomic delights at the food markets at Place Jeanne d’Arc. A Christmas ice skating rink at Place Rapp finishes off this spectacular market, where you can enjoy the childlike joy experienced from skating in such a dream-like setting!
Reims is said to be where the first French Christmas celebrations took place in 496BC when King Clovis and his 3000 warriors were baptised on Christmas Day! Reims’ Christmas market involves over 125 fairy-lit chalets, offering Christmas gifts and local produce. Street entertainers such as carol singers and magicians entertain the crowds, and there is a grotto where children can meet Father Christmas. Look out for Biscuits Rose de Reims – ‘pink biscuits’, traditionally dipped into Champagne – the distinctive feature of these biscuits is they don’t break even when wet. They’ll be the perfect accompaniment for your Champagne on Christmas day. It would also be a crime not to visit some of the esteemed Champagne Houses whilst in the region, as well as exploring the smaller producers, where you are able to purchase a bottle of Grand Cru Champagne for as little as €15 a bottle – the perfect opportunity to stock up for the festivities!
Grape Escapes is a specialist wine tour operator offering a broad selection of holidays and trips to the premium European wine regions. Contact the team for more information about wine tour holidays via their website www.grapeescapes.net, on +44 (0) 1920 468666 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Due to the current backlash against online dating, traditional matchmaking is enjoying a renaissance. The demand for a more refined, respectful way to date has created a new generation of Professional Matchmakers, many chasing fame and fortune; vying to be the next ‘Millionaire Matchmaker’. However, with almost thirty-five years in the business, matchmaker Heather Heber-Percy possesses the kind of wisdom and understanding that can only be acquired through time.
Heather credits a brain-storming session at the school gates – back in the ‘80s with fellow mum, Geraldine Turner – for kickstarting her career in dating. At first, Geraldine and Heather tasked themselves with finding dates for lonesome farmers, using Heather’s home as their H.Q. The two became a formidable duo who still work together today at Heather’s exclusive agency, The County Register. In recent years, Heather’s daughter Zara has also become a highly respected matchmaker, under the tutelage of her mother.
We wanted to find out a little more about what it takes to achieve such longevity within a competitive and emotive market-place…
Meeting Heather, it’s clear to see that this is a woman driven by empathy… and a work ethic that is second to none. Much of The County Register’s success is down to the close and authentic bonds Heather, Geraldine and Zara build with their clients – “We aim to provide a truly personal service.” Heather explains, “We never offer a membership to anyone we don’t feel we are the right ‘fit’ for.”
Heather’s clients trust that when she recommends a potential new life partner, that person is worthy of both time and effort. Traditional dating was never a ‘numbers’ game and the County Register doesn’t play it as such. For Heather, Geraldine and Zara, matchmaking is about the finer details, resulting in quality introductions.
“Being a matchmaker can be incredibly fulfilling – ultimately you’re helping people to find love and what’s more important in life than love?” Zara asks – “What I find rewarding about my job is that it rests on my ability to really get to know my clients – I have to understand who they are on a much deeper level than the persona they present to the world; what really motivates them in life, what their true values are as well as their dreams and aspirations. Sometimes being a matchmaker is also about challenging my clients, breaking down preconceived ideas about the sort of person they want to meet – that ‘type’ may be where they’ve gone wrong in the past and they need to open themselves up to new possibilities. What I also love about my job is that chemistry is unpredictable, all we’re doing is increasing people’s chances of meeting the right person by getting them out there again, but the rest is down to that inexplicable mysterious process that happens between two people when they click – it’s alchemical and thankfully, indefinable.”
To contact The County Register, please call 020 8994 3500
Reading Time: 3 minutes
Ann Snapes has been an avid follower of fashion for a number of years, and has an extremely stylish wardrobe of stunning designer clothes, shoes and handbags. Ann is now bringing her passion centre stage, and has set up a unique designer outlet DressXchange, to lend her experience to all women who are in need of a fashion ‘makeover’ or looking to buy and sell their clothes on a regular basis.
DressXchange is an excellent concept where women can experiment in the art of ‘dressing up’ with Ann’s diverse collection of ‘preloved’ fashion items, sourced from women, who similar to Ann, like to update and recycle their designer wardrobe regularly, and share Ann’s passion for fashion. You can also sell your clothes through Ann’s company, which facilitates an online ‘shop window’ to buy and sell fashion items at the press of a button.
I visited Ann at one of her pop-ups in Beaconsfield and browsed the vast variety of designer labels and items from ball gowns to handbags and jewellery, and she then visited me in my office at Pinewood Studios.
Ann has created a service where you can send her your products to sell and then she will evaluate them and give you an idea of what cost she believes they should be marketed at. The concierge service is that she will have your items professionally photographed and then put onto her website this is all free of charge. When your items sell she will then give you a percentage of the sale.
Ann can be reached at www.dressxchange.co.uk and you can also browse her website as it is being constantly updated.
Reading Time: 2 minutes
Thumbs up Hollywood mirror at asos – 14.99
If you apply the code ‘hello20’ you will get 20 percent off.
Personalised family portrait from posterhaste is brilliantly unique at only £20.
You can design this online for friends or family, and delivery will be well in time for christmas.
imusic pillow at www.iwantoneofthose.com at only £13.99
Probably for him when he wants to bury his head in the sand (or pillow!)
how to tell if your cat is trying to kill you www.prezzybox.co.uk – just £9.99
For all cat lovers and those who live with a partner and their cat!
www.grahamandgreen.com at £29.99 gold sequin baskets
Storage bags or stylish totes, these gold sequin baskets are expertly woven from natural rattan and half covered in beautiful gold sequins. you can even put more pressies inside.
Reading Time: 1 minute
The very mention of Stollen sends many of us into raptures as we tuck into this delicious cake, mostly associated with Christmas.
Originally from Dresden, capital of the German free state of Saxony, where there is even a festival in its name, and dates back to the 15th Century.
Try this recipe and dare not to LOVE it, and it will also steal the hearts of anyone who tries it.
500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour, plus extra for flouring
100g/3½oz caster sugar
10g fast action yeast
150g/5½oz unsalted butter, softened
250ml/9fl oz full-fat milk
pinch ground nutmeg
pinch ground cloves
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 drops almond extract
55g/2oz blanched almonds, finely chopped
125g/4oz candied peel
25g/1oz butter, melted
25g/1oz butter, melted
2 tbsp icing sugar
Put the flour and sugar in a large bowl. Add the yeast on one side of the bowl and the salt on the other. Add the softened butter and 200ml/7fl oz of the milk and stir together.
Add the remaining milk and bring the mixture together to form a soft dough. Transfer to a generously floured work surface and knead for 6-7 minutes, or until smooth and pliable.
Mix the nutmeg, cloves, vanilla and almond extract, almonds, dried fruit and mixed peel together in a large bowl. Put the dough on top and knead from the outside into the centre incorporating the dried fruit and spices as you go. When everything has been fully incorporated, cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise for 1-2 hours in a warm place, or until doubled in size.
Flatten the dough and roll out on a lightly floured work surface to a rectangle about 45x35cm/18x14in (or so the short side of the dough matches the longest side of your baking tray). Brush with the melted butter.
Roll out the marzipan to about 35x15cm/14x6in (the long side should approximately match the width of the dough). Place on top of the dough in the middle. Roll the dough up to enclose the marzipan and transfer to a baking tray lined with baking parchment. Cover and leave to rise for about an hour, or until risen and doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5 (fan 170C).
When the dough is risen, bake for an hour. Remove from the oven, brush with melted butter, and dust with icing sugar. Serve cold.
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