Christmas Spirit in the Italian Alps

Tap into a season of good cheer at these five traditional markets.

When snow blankets South Tyrol in winter, the holiday magic begins. Tiny villages protected by towering mountain peaks sparkle. Candles warmly flicker, ornaments glitter, and the air is laden with the intoxicating scent of baked delicacies. Entering a Christmas market in this region is like taking a leap into a fantasy world where tradition rules. Children squeal in delight as they ride toy trains or carousels, and their small hands are kept busy in toy-making workshops. Parents, meanwhile, stroll past vendors’ huts filled with hand-crafted woolen goods, wooden carvings, musical instruments, cakes and confections, deciding which special item should go to which child.

The markets start in late November as Advent begins and wrap up in the first week of January. Couples and families, locals and visitors, are drawn to the piazzas and cobbled streets of these ancient villages to partake in an experience that stays true to cultural and Christian traditions of the regions.

“This year at the Christmas markets it is safety first,” explains Valentine Mattuzzi, in charge of international PR for South Tyrol. Access is only for vaccinated or tested people, and you must wear a mask. Compliance is key and optimism is in the air, especially since the markets were shut down due to the pandemic in 2020.

Here’s what’s happening at the five stars of South Tyrol’s many festive gatherings…

Bolzano

Celebrating its 31st anniversary, the Bolzano market is the oldest and largest Christmas market in Italy. Piazza Walther is where you’ll find visitors drawn to a giant Christmas tree and life-sized Nativity scene. There are around 150 vendors offering handcrafted goods and carved trinkets perfect for gifts. Activities include the lighting of candles on the 20-metre advent wreath, artisan demonstrations, and operation of the children’s miniature train, merry-go-round and puppet theatre. Food is always a main attraction, as well. Gastronomic stalls sell items such as wurstel, or sausage, and a panino that is warm bread filled with melted cheese and speck, a cured ham. Sweet goodies such as lebkuchen, a sort of gingerbread, are also readily available.

Merano

In this historic spa town, trees in the central square are covered in twinkling lights to welcome visitors. Vendors’ stalls are located on the scenic, riverside Passer Promenade and offer everything from toys, to slippers, to fruit brandies and breads. At Piazza Terme, families gather around the Nativity scene, and the Thermenplatz is filled with skaters. For those who want to explore the town by night, there are guided lantern-light tours. Cafés invite hungry patrons into their cozy interiors for South Tyrolean snacks including pretzels stuffed with speck and cheese, Strauben (funnel cake), and mulled wine. Art exhibits and concerts are family-friendly and children enjoy special theatre performances and puppet shows.

Brixen/Bressanone

In Cathedral Square, 35 vendors’ huts are surrounded by centuries-old buildings including the Cathedral with its 800-year-old Gothic cloister. The clip-clop of hooves can be heard as visitors wrapped in warm blankets glide by in horse-drawn carriages before shopping for carved wooden figures, candles, glass and ceramic souvenirs. This year a new theatrical music and light show is being presented in the courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace. Titled Liora, it explores how happiness can’t be tucked away, but must be enjoyed in the moment. When hunger pangs hit, typical South Tyrolean fare is available including goulash, tirteln (stuffed, fried pastries), dumplings, and sweet Krapfen (jelly-filled donuts). Children’s programmes include baking and making handicrafts and on Saturdays, the Christmas Angel of Brixen can be seen in the Cathedral Square distributing small gifts to the little ones.

Bruneck/Brunico

A picturesque town located on the Rienza River, Brunico is in the Kronplatz region and guarded by Kronplatz Mountain. The Christmas market takes place in the Old Town and visitors shop 35 stalls filled with traditional decorations and gifts. There are concerts, music, an ice rink for skating and a giant Advent calendar where colored glass windows reveal each day’s surprise. A Scent Shack to experience to fragrances of native plants is a unique activity and children’s programming includes making gifts and baking biscuits. Tyrolean cribs (or crèches) are a central part of Alpine Christmas celebrations and are on display in Tschurtschenthaler Park as well as at the Ursuline convent. In the less bustling Upper Town, or Oberstadt, art installations reflect the spirit of unity and peace.

Vipiteno

A sparkling Christmas atmosphere envelops this market place, located in the town centre beneath the Zwolfer tower. At the foot of the tower, built in 1486, visitors can admire handmade nativity scenes in a variety of different sizes. Horse-drawn carriages roll through the village, taking visitors on tours while church bells softly chime. A new carillon with 25 bells has been installed on the Tower of the Twelve and rings every day at 5 pm. There are also many demonstrations including how to make traditional Christmas tree decorations. Handmade toys, Tyrolean wool socks and slippers, herbs and spices, cured meats, and sweets are just some of the items available in the vendors’ stalls. Outdoor musical concerts add a festive note to the activities, including eating traditional foods such as Bergwerksgöstl, a local specialty made with potatoes, meat and onions or fresh baked Spitzbuam, Zelten and stolen.

These markets, by staying true to their traditional roots, bring about the kind of joyous expectation that is so contagious during the holiday season.

For More Information South Tyrol Christmas Markets: suedtirol.info/en

This post is also available in: Tiếng Việt

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