Italy’s finest fare in Bologna
The aroma of roasting chestnuts draws you into the cloisters at Santa Maria dei Servi church. Stalls are piled with nativity figures, leatherware and the pick of Italy’s larder. Torrone – nougat with crunchy almonds and honey – is the classic Christmas treat. Leave room for bittersweet, chocolate-dipped lemons, another local delicacy. The entrance to the I Portici hotel hides Bologna foodies’ favourite restaurant. It does a mean rabbit lasagna.
Angers, home of the Loire’s best vin chaud
Toffee apples taste better when they’re called pommes d’amour; fact. Freshly dipped in glistening caramel, from the fairy-lit stalls, they’re a bite of joyeux noel. The best food from the Loire Valley ends up here for the holiday season. Sticklers for quality, the locals even use choice reds for their vin chaud. The boutique hotel Hotel du Mail, set in a converted convent, is just five minutes’ walk away.
Fondue and chocolate in Bruges
You can tell from its cuisine, Bruges loves winter. There’s no better fuel for shopping than garlicky, wine-laced Savoyarde fondue and a shot of jenever juniper liqueur (check out Bacchus Cornelius’ home-brewed chocolate version). There’s a lot of chocolate in Bruges. And craft beer. Bruges knows what’s important. Bistro Dukes is where we go for hearty Belgian food with a modern twist. It’s part of the converted ducal palace that’s now home to the Dukes Palace hotel.
Sugar and spice and all things Budapest
Cinnamon, pine needles and spiced wine – Budapest market smells every bit like the perfect Christmas. Chimney cake is a speciality, and you’ll know this pastry treat when you see it. Pop into Café Gerbeaud, the iconic 19th-century coffeehouse that’s transformed into a giant advent calendar every year. You can stock up on gifts in its artisan chocolatier (if they make it home, that is). The High Note Skybar terrace topping the Aria Hotel is a striking dining spot.
Churros, pestiños and polvorón in Madrid
The Plaza Mayor market is the best-known in Madrid but we head for the Feria Dulces de Navidad. It transforms the square outside the Opera House into a Willy Wonka-style festival. Stalls groan under bubbling urns of molten chocolate, a dip for your churros. Local classics are here, too, from candied fruits and pestiños – aniseed cakes fried in olive oil and drenched in honey – to melt-in-the-mouth polvorón shortbread. Try the cinnamon variety. Take it all in from the rooftop restaurant at The Principal Madrid.
Michelin-starred markets in Berlin
Stilt-walking angels, tight-rope walkers – welcome to Christmas markets, Berlin style. Inside the popular WeihnachtsZauber Gendarmenmarkt’s heated food tents, restaurateurs, including the odd Michelin-starred chef, cook up a feast of dishes. You won’t find many candy canes or marzipan fruits here (though we can’t resist one sweet Berlin concoction – white-chocolate milk). Mitte is a good base for bars, restaurants and all things cosmopolitan Berlin. Try Gorki Apartments, where you can try mean Russian-style breakfast just downstairs.