Can you smell the gingerbread, roasted chestnuts and glühwein yet?

Forget crowded shopping centres for your Christmas shopping and soak up the atmosphere at a traditional Christmas market on the Continent. There’s something special about buying handcrafted Christmas gifts from candlelit wooden stalls in a snowy medieval square, especially when you’re relaxed and had a glass of Glühwein (mulled wine). An as the pound has strengthened against the euro in the past year, it now buys 13% more euros than a year ago.

Some of the oldest Christmas markets are in Austria and Salzburg’s original Christmas Market dates back to the 15th century. Nowadays, there are several: at the Salzburg Christmas Market nearly 100 artisans will be exhibiting and selling home-made gifts, Christmas decorations, roasted chestnuts and gingerbread. The Hellbrunn Christmas Market at Hellbrunn Palace by the city gates, the Christmas Market on Mirabellplatz Square in front of the picturesque Mirabell Palace and the Hohensalzburg Fortress Christmas Market, worth the funicular ride for its stunning views overlooking the city, all offer their own distinct charm and character.

Performances by Salzburg choirs and children’s school groups draw crowds keen to experience the magical atmosphere that only an event like this can provide. Lose yourself whilst strolling through the narrow cobbled streets of the old town, and enjoy dinner in one of the many traditional restaurants whilst soaking up all the flavours of what Salzburg offers at this most special time of the year.

A short drive outside the city is the Oberndorf Christmas Market on Stille Nacht Platz, a favourite pilgrimage for Austrians for its Christmas-card atmosphere and a celebration of the famous carol (Silent Night) where it was performed for the first time.

And an even better idea is to combine some festive retail therapy with a spot of skiing …

Zell am See is a lively, picturesque village located on the shore of Lake Zell which freezes over during the winter so you can ice skate or just walk across taking in the views. It is packed with charm, offering a good range of shops, bars and cafés and a traffic-free centre. Zell am See is part of the Europa Sport Region which includes the neighbouring glacier resort of Kaprun and offers 138km of piste to suit every ability. The slopes offer an attractive mix of open and densely wooded lower runs and there are three terrain parks, one half pipe and lots of cross country trails. Zell am See Christmas Market is situated right in the pedestrianised centre.

For a one-week package try Crystal Ski’s twin-centre holiday, departing December 15, priced from £676 per person. The package includes flights, all transfers, accommodation with breakfast in the city and half board in the ski resort and combines 3 nights in Salzburg for Christmas Markets and a classic festive ambience and 4 nights in Zell am See for skiing. Call Crystal Ski on 0871 231 2256 to book and visit www.crystalski.co.uk for more information.

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