One of the most challenging aspects of the past year and a half has been the curtailing of large-scale social events. Let's face it, even those of us who may not love crowds have probably had enough of the pandemic-induced isolation of working from home and cherry-picking forms of entertainment that require minimal contact with other humans.
But as we slowly emerge from these restrictions, one bright spot on the horizon is the resumption of Christmas markets in Europe.
Unique Germany, for example, a division of Compass Tours Incoming and a member of the Virtuoso and Signature Travel networks, is showcasing Germany with Christmas market tours that also include a Rhine river cruise, a hike in the Bavarian Alps and even a chance to speed along the country's fast-flowing highways.
The Salzburger Christkindlmarkt in Salzburg, Austria. Photo Credit: Tourismus Salzburg GmbH
Destinations include Munich, Nuremberg and Rothenberg, and for 2022, also the once-in-a-decade Oberammergau Passion Play.
G Adventures is launching its first Christmas market tours in Europe in Germany and Austria -- including the Hellbrunner Christmas Market in Salzburg, Austria, and the Nuremberg, Germany, market -- in response to increased interest from American clients.
"The 2020 holiday season was tough for many, with Covid-19 restrictions keeping friends and family from spending time together," said Ben Perlo, managing director for the U.S. and Latin America for G Adventures.
"This year, with travel restrictions loosening a bit, we're excited to launch these new festive tours to help travelers recapture the spirit of the season," he said.
And while travel companies excel at offering curated visits that put the magic of the season in context, the beauty of European Christmas markets is that, if you prefer, you can just show up and wander around.
A Christmas market in Italy?
Italy might not be the first country you think of for Christmas markets, for example, but there's been one in Brixen in South Tyrol since 1991 that invites independent exploration.
Here the central square becomes centerpiece of the market, at the foot of the cathedral and surrounded by historic buildings.
Visitors can expect holiday-themed stalls, regional food specialties, concerts and theatrical events.
Hotels decked in holiday cheer
Some hotels are also getting into the holiday spirit by offering their own versions of Christmas cheer on property.
Gleneagles in the Scottish Highlands may not have traditional markets to brag about, but the hotel is going all out with skating on its private ice rink, a visit from Santa and his reindeer and a grand celebration with Christmas and Hogmanay-themed dinners.
Not to be outdone, the Rome Cavalieri, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel, is pairing holiday parties and gourmet dinners with unabashed luxury.
Festivities include a Christmas Day brunch with an extravagant menu by executive chef Fabio Boschero, including mulled wine in honor of the season, while children will be treated to a visit from Santa Claus on his sleigh bearing gifts.