Christmas in Italy is magic! From the North to the South, big cities and small villages are decorated with lights and nativity scenes. I love visiting Christmas markets in search of local delicacies, artisan gifts and festive atmosphere. Many of the markets are unashamedly commercial, however, there are plenty of them that stay faithful to traditions and feel like enchanting fairy tales. Here is my the list of the best Christmas markets in Italy where you can soak in the festive atmosphere and learn about local culture without feeling like a tourist.
Trento, Trentino-Alto Adige
With more than 90 stands, this mercatino di Natale in Trento focuses on artisan souvenirs. You can see woodcarvers at work, gorge on local cheeses, grilled polenta, spiced hot chocolate and sip on parampampoli, a local hot tipple made with coffee, wine, grappa and honey.
Pordenone, Friuli-Venezia Giulia
There are only 20 wooden huts at the market selling mostly traditional gastronomic delights. You can get a glass of local wine and a crostino slice topped with local prosciutto or cheese for €5. On Sunday mornings you can listen to the energetic jogging brass band of the Bersaglieri, a corps of the Italian Army wearing dashing hats with feathers.
Although the shops on Via San Gregorio Armeno in Naples are open all year around, before Christmas this narrow street becomes the soul of the city: chaotic, noisy, colourful and unforgettable. Neapolitans come here to stock up on hand-made figurines for their nativity scenes, buy presents, exchange festive greeting and gossips. Artisans do not only make the traditional Biblical characters but also create modern day politicians and celebrities. Many of them proudly display hand-written signs “No Cina” to distance themselves from mass market cheap produce.
Candelara, Le Marche
The market is only open for a few days and attracts thousands of visitors from across Italy. Candelara, a stunning medieval hamlet, is enchanting with Christmas lights. What makes this mercatino di Natale really special is the candle light. At 5.30 and 6.30 every market day, all artificial lights in the village are turned off and the streets are only lit up with thousands of candles for 45 minutes. Absolutely amazing!
Rovereto, Trentino-Alto Adige
At the Rovereto Mercatino di Natale you can taste not only traditional regional Christmas specialities but also a vast range of Hungarian baked goodies, Austrian sausages and sip hot vin brulè. There are many nativity scenes displayed throughout the town made by local woodcarvers. Do not miss the fascinating mechanical nativity scene (Il Presepe Meccanico) with more than 100 figurines made in the 1950s.
Photos by: Mercatinodinatale.tn.it, John Myers/Flickr, Mercatinodinatalerovereto.com.