One of the things I’ve done for many years is to organize and plan custom tours for people that want something just a bit different from the usual package tour. Here’s one of my most popular tours. Enjoy!
(European Union border signs for Germany [left] and the Czech Republic.)
Custom Tour #1 — Christmas Magic in Bavaria, Bohemia, and Saxony
YouTube video by Jaroslav Pšeničný, a guy from the Czech Republic: “Czech” it out! Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
As the song says, Christmas is “the most wonderful time of the year!” But nowhere is it, for me, more magical and filled with wonder than in southern and eastern Germany and in the Czech Republic. This tour will bring plenty of Christmas spirit (in many forms!) as we visit some famous and many “never-heard-of-them” Christmas markets, as well as touring some wonderful sights that really “show off” during the holidays.
(The most famous market of them all: Nürnberg, the capital of Franconia!)
We’ll be visiting Bavaria and Saxony in Germany and Bohemia in the Czech Republic. Big cities and small villages, but everywhere we go, you’ll find a different type of market . Some of them are open during the entire Advent season (the four weeks leading up to Christmas),while others are only open on weekends, and some of the best ones are only open one weekend!
One of the highlights for many visitors to the Christmas markets is the glühwein, hot spiced wine that you find everywhere! It smells heavenly, and really hits the spot on a cold day! (They also have non-alcoholic versions!) Many markets make special mugs for each year, and you can buy them and bring them home. (They’re inexpensive too: a couple of dollars is all.) This was the special mug for the 2015 market in Dresden.
I’m one of those people for whom chocolate is a food group! For me, one of the real highlights of the markets in Europe is the wide selection of chocolate-covered fruit of all kinds! Bananas, strawberries, grapes, pineapple, mango, covered in white, milk or dark chocolate: mmmmmm!
Even the smallest market will have music. Solo singers, bands, orchestras, “oompah” bands, school choirs, dancers: they add to the atmosphere and really get you in the Christmas spirit. You might not recognize all the Christmas carols and it might not even be Christmas music, but it’ll be fun all the same!
This is the official YouTube video from the 2013 Cheb Christmas market. This small town in Bohemia puts on a great show. They’ve even got a skating rink if you feel like doing a few figure-8s! And they rent skates!
What kinds of things can you buy at one of these markets? Here are a few pictures to give you some idea!
Mistletoe! What’s not to like! And here, at the Prague market, you can get it in the natural green color, or get it spray painted gold, silver, or any color you want!
Nutcrackers and “smokers”! Smokers are wooden figures that have round holes for their mouths. They’re hollow inside, with a little metal tray to hold a small cone of scented incense (which you can also buy!) You twist the upper part of the smoker off from the bottom, light the incense, replace the top, and watch the little figure “smoke”! Smells really good too!
How about hand-blown and hand-painted glass ornaments for your tree? They’ll pack them up really well for you, too!
How about some hand-made candy and pastry sweets?
Looking for something really unusual? How about a Zwetschgemännla, which is a little man made of dried plums? These are only found in the Franconia region of Bavaria, and only at the Nürnberg Christkindlesmarkt!
Feeling sort of practical? How about hand-made candles?
Wooden ornaments, window displays, and all of it hand-made!
Yours will be the only tree in town with hand-made decorations like this!
Or maybe like this?
Got someone on your list with a “sweet tooth”? How about home-made macaroons, or the famous Lebkuchen from Nürnberg? Lebkuchen is often translated as “gingerbread”, but you’ve never had gingerbread this good, or that comes in so many varieties! And yes, they even have it in gluten-free!
Christmas markets aren’t just about shopping, though. All of them, even the smallest, have activities for kids and adults.
At the weekend market at Schloss Guteneck, for example you can ride a camel. And not just ANY camel: note that it has TWO humps! It’s a Bactrian camel, from the Gobi Desert in China! I’ve done it several times and it’s great every time.
At the Bergwerksweihnacht (Miners’ Christmas) market in Auerbach, you’re not only visiting an old coal mine…..
…but you can see some of places the miners worked, and check out some of the equipment they used!
And speaking of miners…one of the highlights of the trip is a visit to the tiny village of Seiffen, deep in the Erzgebirge (Ore Mountains) of Saxony, in eastern Germany. The mountains form part of the border between Germany and the Czech Republic, and this has traditionally been a mining area. Most of the ores are long gone, so the people here developed small industries from which they could live. Today, these mountains are home to most of the wood-carving and toy making that still goes on in Germany. Seiffen is the very center of this industry, and here you can visit the craftspeople in their workshops, and buy directly from the people that made the products! (If you own a really nice, German-made nutcracker, for example, it’s very likely it was made in or around Seiffen!) Seiffen is also home to one of the nicest Christmas markets on our trip, and we will see the Bergparade (Mountain Parade). There are still guilds and societies of miners that keep the old traditions alive, and they show off their traditional mining uniforms as they march by. You can also see many examples of the old wooden toys that were once made here for sale around the world. The Toy Museum in town is definitely worth a stop too.
This YouTube video shows one of the parades: it’s about 7 minutes long, but it’ll give you a real taste of the event. (This parade is a photographer’s dream!)
This was just a taste of everything that’s included in the tour. If you’re interested, check out the full itinerary under “Custom Tours” at the top right of the page!