The traditions of holidays, full of nostalgia and romance, always set a warm tone for the winter season. But if you can't help but let the snow squalls and blistering winds get to you this season, we've got a few ideas of where we travelling foodies might enjoy spending this festive time of year outside of our North American home. Here's where Foodie Trips dreams about spending an extra delicious, picture perfect holiday.
We have a soft spot for Parisian luxuriance, especially in the form of quaint nostalgia. So when we think getaway, naturally we have in mind Strasbourg's renowned Christmas market, an artful village straight out of a Lemax display. The grand wooded stalls and wafting scents of cinnamon and mulled wine displays are a given at any Christmas market, but what make's Europe's oldest one special are the small growers and producers around Place des Meuniers and their unique Alsatian delectables. German influenced (read pork-heavy) cuisine of exceptional quality can be had at an array of proud vendors, before indulging in the most ornate gingerbread cookies (men are just too basic) you've ever seen!
If you're the type who wishes the Christmas parties would never end, then you've got to get yourself to the Philippines for their longest celebration of festivities that last almost four full months! Starting with carols being sung as early as September, and punctuated with the Feasts of Epiphany on January 6th, the party goes on and on. Incredible light displays featuring traditional parols - unique star-shaped lanterns made of rattan or bamboo - can be seen widely throughout city centres, though they're nothing compared to the display at the Matakis Ayala Triangle Lights and Sound Show. This vivid arrangement artfully composed by nationally acclaimed musicians and engineers, and featuring a mix of both Christmas carols and Fililipino songs, is a holiday tradition loved by locals and visitors alike.
Madrid is full of celebrations during the winter months, bound to keep one in good cheer (and the flamenco spirit!) throughout the festive season. Starting with a grand show a Plaza de Oriente in mid-December, and followed by the notable Christmas market in the city's oldest square, Plaza Mayor, and array of pop-up ice rinks in the warm climate - the full swing of the holidays is embraced whole-heartedly by the Spaniards. The culminating event on January 5th (like the Filipinos, keen on making the party last) is the awe-inspiring Three Kings Parade featuring a procession of vibrant floats and walking nativity scenes enchanting spectactors for hundreds of metres around the city.
Rio de Janeiro
The world's tallest floating Christmas tree can be found in Rio, attracting hundreds of thousands of fans every year. Beyond the structure, a fireworks display over the Rodrigo de Freitas Lagoon impresses spectators, who can marvel at the 85 metre-high structure through January 5th (apparently Christmas doesn't end with boxing day sales now). Another Guinness World Record-holding display is Rio's popular Festival de Presépios (Nativity Festival), which features the largest full-size nativity scene in the world. Of course, the traditional foods served up for the season are not to missed, notably the french-toast like rabanaba - a soaked and fried bread dish sprinkled with powdered sugar and cinnamon - or the simply classic panettone (sweet bread) loaf.
You haven't seen a lights display until you've seen the millions of bulbs alight in what National Geographic calls one of the world's most extravagant Christmas traditions. The actual number of lights has been estimated at 30 million, and each year the town's mayor strives to go bigger than the last. Pyrotechnic displays over the Santa Elena River, water fountain light shows and the all-nighter street parties make for a boisterous event. The river becomes the focal point, where interactive displays connect with tablets, smart phones and kiosks, highlighting the city's advanced technological infrastructure. Of course, us foodies would be sure to hit up the candle-lit Parque Sabaneta for their massive array of traditional foods. A savoury buñuelo, soft and salty cheese-based fritters, is a customary must-have for the occasion!
If you really wanted to embrace authentic traditions on the holidays, then look no further than the holy land itself. Christians and Muslims alike make pilgrimages to Bethlehem every year, but this little town's celebration of the holidays expands well beyond the religious masses and sacred candle processions. The sentimental site of Manger Square (traditionally known as the site of Jesus' birth) is the centre of the action, featuring an elaborate bazaar at the Bethlehem Peace Centre with locally made crafts from vendors from all over Europe. And for a meaningful meal, one won't have to look too far to find incredible Middle Eastern dishes. Qidreh, a wood-fired lamb and rice based stew, and baklava are must-haves for pilgrimages of any sort to Bethlehem.
Wherever you unwind this season, Foodie Trips wishes you a happy and delicious celebration!