One of things on my to-do list Christmas season was to visit some Christmas Markets. I started off ambitious by planning a weekend trip to Vienna to experience the most famous Christmas Markets but time flew by and I got way too busy planning, shopping, wrapping, creating, writing, working etc. that I started looking for markets closer to home.
Italian Christmas Markets
If you want to get into the spirit and visit a Christmas market similar to those in Austria and Germany, it’s best to go the German-speaking part of Italy (there’s a German-speaking part?) – Trentino Alto Adige. If you only have time to visit one market, your best bet is to go to Bolzano. The market started 30 years ago showcasing a few local artists but is now the most famous market in Trentino Alto Adige with more than 70 stands from not only the province, but also from all over Italy and even abroad.
You will find several squares full of stands selling everything from crafts to baked goods. When you get hungry,there will be more than 30 restaurants in the center of Bolzano ready to offer their local specialties.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t even able to find the time to go to Bolzano (3 hour drive from where I live) so I had to settle for something even closer, the Christmas market at the Grazzano Visconti Castle.
Christmas at Grazzano Visconti
The castle grounds are located 25 minutes south of the city of Piacenza and from December 6th, 2015 until January 6th, 2016, the Christmas village is open to the public.
As I entered the foggy village grounds on Sunday morning, I was immediately captivated by the ancient buildings and started to imagine what life might have been like in the middle ages on the castle grounds of Grazzano Visconti. Then I found some information on the village and learned it was fake. Really?
The castle was built in 1395 and was handed over to the Visconti family in 1870. The Visconti family made some changes to the castle and had a village built to look like it was from the middle ages. The only original structures from the middle ages are the castle and Saint Anna’s chapel which is located on the village grounds.
In any case, the village was really nice especially with all the Christmas lights and decorations. There were stands everywhere selling the usual hand-made Christmas decorations, jewelry, clothes, accessories, soaps and perfumes. Then there was another part full of stands that sold wine, cheese, porcini mushrooms, truffles, specialty cold cuts (pancetta, coppa, salame etc.), crepes, waffles, panettone, hot chestnuts and mulled wine.
The “Pro Loco of Grazzano Visconti” is a committee that works to promote the town through tourist attractions and events. They were present at the market as well in full medieval costume cooking up some traditional vegetable and legume soup recipes advertised as “Potion concoction.” All the cooking was done in cauldrons and pots hanging over a crackling fire. Then to sober things up, they were also giving out sandwiches and pieces of panettone.
The Christmas spirit was alive in Grazzano as festive music was playing, Rudolph and Santa Claus were making appearances and dancing with kids and people were dressed up ready to participate in the Santa parade.
Some advice for last-minute visitors:
- Village bars and resturants are packed after 12. You have to line up before-hand if you want a seat.
- Unless you are comfortable using the “Turkish toilets,” go to the bathrooms at the entrance that cost 50 cents to use
- Bring cash if you want to buy anything from the vendors
- Eat gnocco fritto
- Consider having lunch or dinner outside to avoid the chaos. My super suggestion:
Ristorante LO ZINGARO – Località Folignano, 28, Ponte dell’Olio, 0523877680
A restaurant that serves local dishes and is located 15 minutes away from the castle.
Definitely eat the gnocco fritto and any pasta dish. They give you generous portions for great prices.
Source: Bolzano Christmas Market