Our neighbor is from Paris and is used to, I’m sure, some really stellar events. After all, growing up in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower has to be pretty impressive yet she remains unjaded. Having moved to Carcassonne for love, her perspective on the world is very down to earth. As an example, for someone who can’t eat dairy products nor gluten she proclaims “but I can eat all of the fruits, vegetables, and meat that I want” and adds “and I’m fond of the local wine”. We can identify with that positive attitude! It didn’t surprise us then, when she told us that although we’d recently returned from Strasbourg, site of Europe’s first Christmas market in 1570, we would still find the festivities in Carcassonne mignon, or in our translated word “cute”. She was right.
Next week I’ll write about our trip up north to Alsace to visit many of those Marchés de Noël but today the emphasis is on what we can find right here at home, a few minute’s walk from our front door. We’re accustomed to shopping for fresh fruits and vegetables on the town’s main square but for the month of December that huge space has been transformed into a giant skating rink. It seldom snows here but for about four weeks anyone with Olympic aspirations to be like Michelle Kwan or Scott Hamilton has the chance all within the gaze of the 18th century “frozen” statue of Neptune.
That ice rink is ringed by wooden huts filled with lots of traditional gifts found at similar markets all over Europe. One of those is Santos, tiny clay figurines representing workers such as bakers, butchers, cheese sellers, farmers, and chefs, all to be used to populate Christmas village scenes at home. With cool evening temperatures, naturally a popular item for sale is vin chaud or what we might think of as mulled wine. It definitely takes the chill off as you walk around town.
And walking is what we did as we next went just outside the remaining city walls that once provided protection 800 years ago. Now they simply are a great backdrop to Le Parc de Père Noël where a selection of rides and treats especially for children awaited. The massive Ferris wheel gives you great views over the old and new parts (relative terms: 1200 AD vs. 1300 AD) of Carcassonne. A really colorful booth sells Chocolate Heads made from crisp cookies and tender marshmallows dipped in your favorite chocolate flavors including dark, milk, orange, mint, and rum. There might have been a booth selling vin chaud as well. It was a cold night, after all.
There’s a 20-page pdf brochure from the tourist office that describes everything that’s going on here this month and I’ll include a link below. The amazing Marche aux Flambeaux led by St. Nicolas has hundreds of people carrying flaming torches descending from the castle above to the main town below, all for a charitable cause. Next Sunday Père Noël arrives on a steam train bound for the Mediterranean Sea. What a thrill that has to be for the children (and adults!) who were able to get tickets.
Yes, our Parisian neighbor, now solidly a local resident was right. The Marché de Noël in Carcassonne is very mignon.
Magic of Christmas pdf brochure (in French):