Why You Need to Visit Europe This Holiday Season
Get into the festive spirit with a seasonal escape to some of Europe’s most enchanting cities, where traditional Christmas markets line the streets and the smell of mulled wine wafts through the air. Enjoy wintery walks and carriage rides along snow-dusted lanes before cosying up to hot chocolate and other sweet treats in a charming café. Here are six places to explore at this most wonderful time of year.
Prague is magical in the wintertime, but when its hilltop castle, narrow cobbled streets and towering spires are sprinkled with snow, it’s the stuff of fairytales. The traditional Christmas market stalls in Old Town Square aren’t to be missed, but Petr Zezula, Chief Concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Prague, recommends visiting the markets in the Vinohrady district for an authentic local experience and to sample trdelnik, “a delicious pastry made from fluffy dough and coated with cinnamon and sugar.”
Zezula also suggests exploring Prague’s ancient churches and their wooden nativity scenes before donning a pair of skates at the outdoor ice rink behind The Estates Theatre. “When it’s cold I like to warm up at Cafe Savoy, a grand but cosy spot across the river, with strong Czech coffee and spiced gingerbread.”
To truly experience the winter wonderland that is Prague, guests at the Hotel can embark on a horse-drawn carriage tour of the city while enjoying mulled wine and roasted chestnuts.
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St. Petersburg is particularly beautiful when the snow swirls across the city’s canals and settles on its palaces and onion-domed cathedrals. Although many Russians celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7, the festive buildup starts in early December, when you’ll see dazzling lights flanking Nevsky Prospect and a shimmering tree in Palace Square.
“One of the city’s most iconic events is The Nutcracker at the Hermitage Theatre or Mikhailovsky Theatre,” says Olga Kachalova, Chief Concierge at Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg. “I’d also recommend a trip to New Holland Island to shop at the traditional market stalls for Russian gifts like valenki felt boots and varezhki woolen mittens.”
Throughout the season, guests at the Hotel can fill up on festive treats served in the lobby, including homemade winter spiced pastries, gingerbread and glintwein (mulled wine).
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From its market stalls serving hearty Hungarian fare to its ancient thermal baths for steamy outdoor soaks, Budapest is the perfect winter escape. Take in the city’s art nouveau buildings, magnificent palaces and gothic spires under the glow of twinkling lights before cosying up in one of the city’s famous “ruin bars” – a pub or club bar that’s popped up in a formerly abandoned building.
To see the city at its sparkling best, Sous Chef Gábor Mező at Four Seasons Hotel Budapest Gresham Palace recommends exploring the Buda Hills. “I love to head up to the Elizabeth Lookout Tower with my family for amazing views of the city,” he says. For classic comfort food, he suggests visiting the Christmas market by St. Stephen’s Basilica to fill up on local favourites like kürtőskalács, a sugary chimney cake roasted over charcoal, and mákos guba, a delicious bread pudding made with poppy seeds.
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The City of Light lives up to its name during the holiday season: elaborate window displays illuminate the stores near the Palais Garnier, and the Champs-Elysées sparkles all the way from the Place de la Concorde to the Arc de Triomphe.
Take to the city’s charming streets with a bag of roasted chestnuts, or feast on seasonal specialties like oysters and bûche de Noël (Yule log). Christian Le Squer, Executive Chef at Four Seasons Hotel George V, Paris, recommends shopping for gourmet gifts at Le Bon Marché, the world’s oldest department store, as well as the Christmas markets at Montmartre and La Défense. “When it’s cold outside I like to eat traditional French winter dishes like boeuf bourguignon and blanquette de veau (veal ragout).”
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From spectacular window displays along Regent, Carnaby and Bond streets to ice rinks with iconic backdrops like Somerset House and the Natural History Museum, London is full of holiday cheer.
Guests visiting Four Seasons Hotel London at Park Lane will find much to explore in the surrounding streets of Mayfair. “After a winter stroll in Green Park, I recommend guests make their way to Mount Street to shop for stylish gifts before warming up with a mulled wine at The Audley, a traditional English pub with ornate decor and cosy leather banquettes,” suggests Concierge Manager Cordelia Griggs.
Or enjoy the sounds of the season at the Royal Albert Hall’s Carols by Candlelight concert, an evening of seasonal classics performed in full 18th-century costume.
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With its dramatic views of the Alps, its cobblestone streets lined with luxury boutiques and chocolate shops and its restaurants serving fondue and fois gras, Geneva is the perfect spot for a festive foodie escape. “For the best fondue in the city, head to Au Vieux Carouge or try a traditional raclette (hard cow’s-milk cheese melted under a grill and then scraped over boiled potatoes) at Les Armures in the Old Town,” says Mina Bayat, Chief Concierge at Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues Geneva.
In addition to the Christmas light displays along Rue du Rhône and Rue du Marché, don’t miss the Geneva Lux festival, when modern light sculptures will be placed on city streets for the holiday season. Or for a more traditional holiday experience, Bayat recommends a day trip to nearby Lausanne. “It’s just 35 minutes by train, and the Christmas market in the gothic old town is a great place to sip vin chaud (mulled wine) and schnapps and to shop for wooden trinkets.”