France’s Best Christmas Markets as recommended by Grape Escapes

France’s Best Christmas Markets as recommended by Grape Escapes

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, on +44 (0) 1920 468666 or email




Eating the Unknown – A Gastronomic Journey through Europe

Eating the Unknown – A Gastronomic Journey through Europe

Reading Time: 6 minutes


We could sit here all day and wax lyrical about the benefits of an authentic French onion soup for the soul, a Neapolitan pizza to lift your spirits, or a sunny day in Portugal bookended by a golden and flaky custard tart…well, just because they are delicious and addictive. But the chances are you have been there, done that and bought the recipe book. So today we would like to shine the spotlight on some major culinary contenders around Europe’s dining table that we feel may have been slightly overlooked. We’ve taken an example from Northern, Central and Southern Europe, so gastronomic adventurers, take note – Your tastebuds are in for a treat.

Starting at the Finnish

The Finnish menu is a seasonal celebration of locally sourced ingredients. Expect warming soups, potatoes and salmon with lashings of dill, pies stuffed with bright berries and the stalwart of the Scandinavian cuisine that is rye bread slathered with butter and taken morning, noon or night.

There are also unexpected specialties that set the Finns apart from their neighbours. Halloumi-like Leipäjuusto, for example, is baked over an open fire and eaten with cloudberry jam, producing a satisfying squeak. Christmas lovers may want to avoid Poronkäristys, but vitamin-rich and tender sautéed reindeer meat can be found served alongside creamy mashed potato at any time of year. Sorry Rudolph, but it’s absolutely irresistible.

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Polish your meal off

The Poles have one of the most comforting, indulgent cuisines and proof of the pudding is in the Pierogi. These plump, pillow-like morsels filled with ground mince and topped with crispy fried onions are practically sacred in Poland. Unlimited to the savoury sphere, Pierogi can even transcend the boundaries of the menu when eaten for dessert with sweet berries and dressed in cream.

Smoked meats and cabbage also feature largely in the typical Polish diet. From Kie?basa and Sauerkraut to Bigos and Go??bki, these ingredients make for very hearty and flavourful fare. Veggies, fear not! There are also plenty of meat-free menu options, including crisp potato pancakes, vegetable soups and a whole host of baked goods.

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Love thy neighbour

Slovenia’s largely landlocked geographical position means traditional cuisine there has familiar elements shared with Italian, Austrian, Hungarian and Croatian gastronomy. The landscape, which includes mountains, fields and even a small Adriatic coastline, offers an enviable bounty. You’ll find everything from mushroom soup served in a hollowed out bread loaf, to dandelion and egg salad (don’t knock it until you’ve tried it).

Pasta lovers, we’d also like to introduce you to Žlikrofi – dainty dough parcels stuffed with herby meat and doused in rich rabbit or mutton sauce. Meanwhile the Slovenian charcuterie is nothing to be scoffed at: wind-cured Prosciutto (Pršut), sharply pickled turnips (Kisla repa) and a plethora of impressive cheeses grace the table.

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Where to stay

The most seasoned food fanatics will know that the best way to get to the heart of a national cuisine is to pack your bags and make the pilgrimage. Whether your Mecca is a particular market, a backstreet restaurant or a vineyard, our number one tip is to book a villa or apartment right in the centre of the action. Our friends at have over 50,000 holiday homes all across Europe, so you’ll find the perfect base with them for your tasty travels.

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We had been in Croatia for several days exploring Dubrovnik and some of the local coastal villages, and we were nearing the end of our stay.

We asked Ivo, our brilliant host where he would recommend for us to go for our last day, and he suggested that he take us to Cavtat, further along the coast.

Cavtat was all that we had been promised, a perfect Croatian coastal town, full of great architecture, shops and with a splendid beach, with sun loungers and shades to ensure the comfort of the visitors.   We learned that it had originally been a resort for very wealthy Croatians and an inspirational town for artists, before being discovered as a holiday destination, although still relatively unspoiled.


We spent an hour or so exploring, and as we were having a coffee at one of the small café bars, Ivo asked us if we wanted to see a more rural village and visit a restaurant for lunch, owned by an old school friend and his family.

As you can imagine, the ultimate holiday dream was about to come true as we set off along winding country roads completely off the beaten track, towards the little village of Ljuta, in the protected landscape of the river by the same name.

Ivo had booked a riverside table at Konoba Vinica Monkovic, the amazing restaurant he had recommended, and as we sat down we were greeted warmly by relatives and staff who immediately brought us liqueurs, a speciality from the grandmother of the family.  We tasted two in small glasses as we suspected their strength, one resembled a light sherry and the other grappa.

Fortunately, we had ordered a feast of a starter so we were able to offset the effect of the drinks with their own cheese and hams, and delicious home-made bread served on a gigantic platter.

The main courses were ‘under the bell’ (slow cooked) pork with cheese and the other finely sliced succulent steak with green vegetables and potatoes – followed by apple strudel with ice cream and their own speciality dessert resembling a delicious crème brulee.  We struggled to eat it all, but managed to finish off most of the meal as it was indescribably good.

We washed it down with local wine – all the time insisting that Ivo stayed with us throughout to enjoy the food, as he had looked after us so well.

I have since discovered that it is described on Trip Advisor as ‘the best restaurant in Croatia’, and I have to agree that it would take a lot to beat it.

The afternoon seemed to go in a flash, and as we were ready to leave, Ivo asked us if we wanted to visit his parents’ old house where he had spent his childhood, as it was on the way home.

The house was set even further up into the mountainous region offset by dense woodland, where he had fond memories of running freely as a child, through the trees even higher into the steep terrain.

The house is now his studio and a place of inspiration for his art, and where he often brings his young family to experience the solitude and tranquillity of nature.

Before we left this house, Ivo produced bottles of olive oil, made from his own home grown olives, and later that evening, his wife Ela sent us a local delicacy of a large cake, made from a recipe from her own grandmother, and bottles of local wine to take home.

This was our last day of our Novasol adventure, and we will treasure the memories of that special experience for a very long time.

There are many varieties of holidays on offer, and we all have different tastes and expectations.  I personally felt the adventure of our very special trip was testament to the experience and dedication of Novasol – and which is why after fifty years of practise, they provide such unique hand-picked holiday homes in so many stunning destinations.

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Once we had spent a couple of days in Orasac, Croatia, checking out the local area and finding out more about its history and culture, we were becoming more fascinated by the country and were completely in love with the choice of location.

The Novasol villa in all its glory, with is amazing views of the sea and bay was a great base for us, and and our gracious host Ivo had offered to show us around Dubrovnik just 15 minutes along the coast. As Ivo drove us toward the old City, he began to tell us more about the history, and how it had become an UNESCO World Heritage Site, having been founded in the 7th century.

As we entered the city at the Pile Gate we strolled around in sheer admiration of the ancient alleyways and architecture.  We visited the Rector’s Palace which has a vast history of surviving war, fire and earthquakes, but has now been restored to its natural splendour and the History Department of the Museum of Dubrovnik has operated in the palace since 1872.

We then stopped for lunch at Poco Loco, situated in a little square, just around the corner from the old port, serving fusion food and cocktails.   We ate a delicious light meal and sipped at one of their local recommended wines, before stepping out again to explore the rest of the City.

There seemed to be Street artistry at every corner, and it is no wonder as Artists and Performers are attracted to the sheer magic of the City as it has become an inspiration for all forms of creativity.  It is an uplifting experience to just wander around within its 2km walls, and has earned its name Pearl of the Adriatic, as there is nowhere else in Europe that could compare to its captivating spirit.

Ivo had arranged to pick us up later in the afternoon, giving us plenty of time to explore the City.  As we drove back along the coast we again marvelled at the wonder of the landscape, as we had on our first day in Croatia.

The following day we were recommended to visit a restaurant close to the Villa, and so we ventured to Taverna Arka just three kilometres from ‘home’.

There was no need to book as we were slightly off season, but were greeted by Peter the owner as if he had known us for decades.  The young waiter who was friendly and caring, took time to explain each item on the menu to us, and the produce was fresh and sourced from local farms and fishermen.

We decided on the wild mushroom risotto and oysters followed by a steak and seabass main course, all specialities of the house, and we hardly had room for the desserts, but there was a good selection, which were also quite delicious.

In the Summer the roof terrace is open and overlooks the bay of Zaton where it is situated, and the views again are quite exceptional, and a great attraction for both visitors and locals.

We were now beginning to feel the benefits of the region, and were still on a mission to discover more.

See later more gems of the Adriatic on our Novasol adventure.

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Reading Time: 6 minutes



When the travel company Novasol asked me to write a travelogue on one of their villa destinations in Croatia, I agreed immediately.

Firstly, because I had worked with Novasol before, and as they are celebrating their 50 year anniversary this year, knew that anywhere they sent me would be first class.

I had never been to Croatia and so did a little pre-adventure research and discovered it had the potential to be a very special experience.  I knew that a great deal of movies and TV have been filmed there over the years as I had known an actor who had appeared in Game of Thrones, so decided to check out the most interesting locations.

Novasol provide holiday homes all over Europe, and their homes are constantly monitored to make sure they maintain the standard of their brochures.  So I knew I would be very well catered for, but was overwhelmed with the care and attention I actually received.

At my initial request, I had a series of email communications from the owner of the Villa, Ivo Dimnic, in the stunning seaside village of Orasac, just 15 kilometres from Dubrovnik.    Ivo assured me that on arrival it would take just half an hour or so to reach him, and this was absolutely the case.


The short drive from the airport to the Villa was amazing, as the winding coastal roads sported breath taking views of beaches and ancient architecture, which give you an immediate flavour of the beautiful country of Croatia.

Ivo and his wife Ela were there to greet us, as I was travelling with an old friend, theatre Director Frank Nealon, who also wanted to experience Croatia and I suspect, check it out for any future projects.

Ivo and Ela showed us around the Villa which is stunning and also had a bottle of wine and some ‘welcome’ home baked cookies for us on arrival.  We also discovered that Ivo Dimnic is a well-known local artist, and his stylish paintings are displayed throughout the walls of the Villa to enhance the already high spec tasteful interior decor. It is actually spacious enough for two families, and even has a kids room which is set up for their X-boxes and computer games.

Ivo was charming and offered to drive us into town and show us some beauty spots, but we had hired a car and so didn’t want to put him to any inconvenience, but it seemed that nothing was too much trouble, and so we planned to meet up with him later in the week in Dubrovnik.

The Villa is set high on the hill of Orasac, and so the views over the bay are outstanding, with the little boats and the bigger trawlers making a magical picture as we sipped our wine and relished our first evening in Croatia.

We decided to stay close to home on the first day, and so walked down the steps to the bakery below to check out where to buy fresh bread for breakfast the next day, and then ventured down to the Hotel below the Sun Gardens, where we had a fantastic meal in one of their restaurants open to non-residents, overlooking the beach.

We discovered too that the white wine from Orasac is famous in Croatia, and the seafood delicious.  So we were really set up for a fabulous Croatian vacation.

Watch out for more adventures in Croatia on shortly when we report on more food, beauty spots and culture.


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We get it – sometimes with family activities abroad you feel like you’ve seen it all, so today we’re teaming up with our friends at NOVASOL Holiday Homes to bring you the biggest and the best of family-friendly activities and attractions in Europe. It’s your family holiday. It may only be once a year – so why do it by halves? We’ll also give you a few recommendations as to where we think you should lay your head after a day out exploring – don’t say we never treat you…

Start your engines: Europe’s tallest rollercoaster

We dare you to head to Spain’s PortAventura World, where Europe’s tallest and fastest rollercoaster awaits you and your thrill-seeking kids. Opened last year in Ferrari land, this metal menace propels adrenaline junkies at a speed of 110 mph in just 5 seconds, reaching a maximum summit of 112 metres. If that isn’t enough to get pulses racing, the pictures taken after the near-vertical drop surely will. Remember to smile for the cameras!  You have to be at least 1.4 metres to ride this one, but for little ones and those who’d prefer not to experience G force at a Formula 1 level, there are plenty of other rides to choose from, as well as the beautiful seaside town of Tarragona nearby with its amphitheatre and beaches.

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Make a splash: Europe’s biggest aquarium

Nausicaa is no average aquarium – it’s amongst the largest in Europe and after a major expansion in May 2018, there has never been a better time than now to take the plunge. In the charming town of Boulogne-sur-Mer, just 30 km from Calais, you’ll find this behemoth structure brimming with all manners of colourful marine life. From the gracefully gliding Giant Manta Rays to playful seals and sinister sharks, spot the cast of Finding Nemo amidst 58,000 different sea animals. Don’t miss sea lion training, getting up close and personal at the touch tank, and feeding times. For your own feeding time we recommend venturing out to eat at one of Boulogne’s typically French bistros, brasseries or cafes.

Recommended holiday home from just from just £6 per person, per night:

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Let the games begin: Europe’s largest playground

Linnaeushof is not just any old playground – It’s Europe’s biggest! With over 350 different play structures to choose from, there is a huge amount here to spark young imaginations. Whether you’re revving your engines at the go-kart track, aiming for a hole-in-one whilst playing mini-golf, or making a splash at the waterpark, there are all manners of family frolics to be enjoyed. Guests pay just €12 for a day ticket, and you can even bring your own picnic if you’re looking to keep costs down on your big day out. To top it all off, this playground paradise is less than an hour’s drive from the capital, where a huge host of cultural hotspots, including galleries, museums and Amsterdam’s iconic waterways form a playground of their own.

Recommended holiday home from just from just £18 per person, per night:

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If we’ve piqued your interest, head to, where you can find your ideal base for family fun in Europe with prices starting from just £299 per week!

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