5 Unforgettable Flavors at Frankfurt’s Christmas Market

Frankfurt Christmas Market in Römer Square ©Laurel Kallenbach

Thousands flock to Frankfurt’s annual Christmas Market, centered in historic Römer Square   ©Laurel Kallenbach

Germany’s Christmas Markets overflow with treasures and gifts of every size and price, and Frankfurt’s massive Christmas market has acres of goods for sale in booths and huts (called stube) located in its historic old town.

In fact, the market spreads over three locations: Römer Square, Paulsplatz, and the Main Quay. The Christmas market was first mentioned in writing in 1393, and was a place to buy foods and other necessities to stock residents through the winter.

Shopping Frankfurt’s festive market requires stamina, and that’s one of the reasons why the foods sold here are so enticing. Cookies, candies, roasted almonds, sausages and currywurst, and spiced wine served hot (called glühwein; pronounced “glue-vine”) beckon browsers to sample along the way—or to take home Christmas delicacies.

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Yes, Virginia, there is a German version of fruitcake. ©Laurel Kallenbach

There’s so much to see at the Frankfurt Christmas Market that the organizers offer one-and-a-half-hour bilingual tours in German/English focusing on “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” (14€, weekends only. You can buy tickets at the Tourist Information Römer).

I had a delightful time on the tour, which focused on Römer Square, the heart of the market—and the prettiest area (it was reconstructed to its medieval glory after it was almost completely leveled by bombs during WWII). I learned a great deal about Frankfurt’s delectables (details below) and rode on the vintage merry-go-round (somewhat less appealing to me because it played country-western songs).

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

An antique carousel was a favorite of the kids. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The highlight of the tour included climbing to the roof of St. Nicholas Church for a panoramic view of the entire market and the Frankfurt skyline.

Looking down from this bird’s-eye view gave me new perspective. The throngs of people were dwarfed by the half-timbered buildings and City Hall, the wide expanse of cobblestones on Römer Square, and the statue of the goddess Justice. (It was also a chance to take a break from the mad crush of shoppers!)

And to cap off the tour, my mostly German-speaking group warmed up with a hot cup of mulled wine and admired the 100-foot-tall spruce Christmas tree decorated with 5,000 lights and 500 red ribbons.

1. Glühwein

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

Steamy mugs of glühwein ©Laurel Kallenbach

A mug of this hot, mulled wine, either white or red, really takes the chill off the evening, and the wooden huts (called stuben) that serve this holiday beverage are the hub of the Christmas market. Around glühwein stands, people stand ten deep around tables, especially after dark when the temperatures get colder.

I loved how the steamy cup of glühwein fogged up my glasses and warmed my hands. In Frankfurt, the glühwein mugs are in the Bembel style, the blue-floral pattern that dates back centuries.

There’s glühwein made of either red or white wine. In Frankfurt, I had a slight preference to the white, but naturally I tried them both. They packed plenty of alcoholic punch, so I never ventured to have one with a shot of liquor in it.

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Visitors share a steamy mug of glühwein at the Frankfurt Christmas Market. The toast concludes the “Stories, Sweets, and Savories” guided tour. ©Laurel Kallenbach

2. Lebkuchen (German “gingerbread”)

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

Decorated lebkuchen cookies ©Laurel Kallenbach

The saucer- or plate-sized decorated cookies you see dangling from booths are usually made of lebkuchen, although you can also buy small cookies as well. The fact that people liken lebkuchen to gingerbread sets up an expectation that left me disappointed—because there’s no ginger flavor.

However, the Nuremburg-style lebkuchen I sampled—made from a centuries-old recipe—was chewy, dense, and far less sweet than gingerbread. It’s a blend of nutty, spicy, citrusy flavors, and it’s glazed with sugar and has a communion-wafer bottom.

I confess that I sampled my lebkuchen at my hotel and washed it down with some Kessler German sparkling wine. I was more than satisfied.

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

Honey mead ©Laurel Kallenbach

3. Mead (honey wine)

The double-decker Wagner Honey House at the Frankfurt Christmas Market specializes in bee products—from beeswax candles that smell so sweet you almost want to eat them to honey wines and propolis and bitters (a digestif) sweetened with honey.

Upstairs is a tasting room where you can sample the many varieties of mead, made by fermenting honey and various fruits or spices. (Mead is possibly the world’s most ancient alcoholic beverage.)

Because I’d had my fill of glühwein, I opted for the bitters, which have a palate-cleansing effect and a refreshing taste—especially if you’ve had a few too many sugary sweets.

4. Frankfurt Bethmännchen

Tiny cookies, called Bethmännchen, are a Frankfurt specialty. Made of marzipan rolled like a little ball and decorated with three half-almonds, the treats have a poignant story. In 1838, a banker’s family, whose surname was Bethmann, served a new sweet, decorated with four almonds for each of the four sons. When one of the sons died seven years later, the cookies used only three almonds.

Brenten cookies, Kethmännchen, and Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, Frankfurt ©Laurel Kallenbach

Bethmännchen, kethmännchen, and Brenten cookies, Frankfurt.  Photo©Laurel Kallenbach

Since then, Bethmännchen have become a Frankfurt tradition and are widely sold throughout the Christmas Market—along with many other shapes and sizes and flavors of baked goods, including stollen, schaumküsse (chocolate-covered marshmallow concoctions that looked like giant Mallomars), and more.

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

With its backdrop of half-timbered houses, historic Römer Square is in the Old World heart of the Christmas Market in Frankfurt, Germany. This hut sells Bethmännchen marzipan cookies, a local specialty. ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

5. Roasted Almonds (Mandeln)

Many stuben in the Frankfurt Christmas Market sell fresh-roasted almonds, but the one that reeled me in with its sweet-savory smells was Eiserloh’s, which sells candied almonds in dozens of flavors.

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth ©Laurel Kallenbach

The flavors of almonds are as colorful as the Eiserloh booth.  Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

Choices range from white-chocolate hazelnut, orange ginger, chili pepper, Bailey’s Irish cream, Nutella, pineapple, Red Bull, white-chocolate coconut, Bacardi Gold, eggnog, raspberry balsamico, and more.

The people behind the counter let me taste half a dozen flavors until I settled on my two favorites: chocolate mint and white-chocolate hazelnut. I left with a colorful cone of each, perfect gifts to take back home to the States.

I came away from the Frankfurt Christmas Market footsore—but happy with all the fabulous flavors I enjoyed there.

For more information: Germany, The Travel Destination

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read more about Germany’s Christmas markets:

A hut selling local sausages   Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

A hut sells local sausages. Photo ©Laurel Kallenbach

 

Jedi Knights Arrive in Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Little Skellig island viewed from Skellig Michael, an island off County Kerry. Photo courtesy Tourism Ireland

Do you watch the end titles of a movie just to see the locations where it was filmed? If so, here’s a news flash: Star Wars: The Force Awakens will treat you to some eye-popping views of a remote, uninhabited island off the coast of southwest Ireland.

Unveiled in the film’s closing minutes, the closely guarded secret ending to the newest Star Wars episode was filmed in September 2014 on Skellig Michael Island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Director JJ Abrams—along with cast and crew—jetted into a little village called Portmagee, County Kerry, on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. From there, they traveled eight miles by sea to the starkly beautiful Skellig Michael.

To keep it a secret, locals were told a documentary was being filmed in the area, so they were amazed when it was quietly revealed that it was really Star Wars being filmed in their community.

A press release from Tourism Ireland quoted Gerard Kennedy of The Bridge Bar and Moorings Guesthouse in Portmagee, as saying: “It’s been so hard to keep this secret! It was such a weird and wonderful experience for our small village to be part of the Star Wars story. We enjoyed evenings of music and dance in our bar with the cast and crew. Mark Hamill even learned how to pull a pint with our barman, Ciaran Kelly!”

The monastic Island, Skellig Michael founded in the 7th century, for 600 years the island was a centre of monastic life for Irish Christian monks. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-metre-high rock became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe's better known but least accessible monasteries.Photo:Valerie O'Sullivan

Starting in the 7th century, Skellig Michael was a center of monastic life for Irish Christian monks for 600 years. The Celtic monastery, which is situated almost at the summit of the 230-meter-high rock, became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. It is one of Europe’s better known, but least accessible, monasteries.    Photo by Valerie O’Sullivan

 

In the Footsteps of the Jedi Knights

Ireland’s County Kerry is one of the island nation’s best-loved destinations—and the first place I ever visited in Ireland. Thirty years ago I was wowed while driving around the Ring of Kerry, a road along the cliff-lined coast with dramatic views over the Atlantic.

If you’re a fan of Star Wars—or of stargazing—this might be just the destination for you. Kerry is one of only three Gold Tier International Dark Sky reserves in the world. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, star clusters and nebulas are just some of the wonders you can see with the naked eye in the region.

Who knows? Maybe you’ll even spot Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon as it drops out of hyperspace!

The island of Skellig Michael is accessible only by boat. Today it’s inhabited solely by birds, but monks settled there more than a millennium ago. The stacked-stone beehive huts that the monks lived in are restored and can be visited from May to September each year. (Advance booking required.)

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan

Skellig boats arriving safely after the eight-mile journey to Skellig Michael. Photo by  Valerie O’Sullivan

Traveling with Star Wars

A growing number of travelers choose to visit TV and shooting locations. (See my post about visiting Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. ),

Locations for The Force Awakens include Scotland, Iceland’s volcanoes, the Abu Dhabi desert, England, and New Mexico. Past Star Wars movies have featured Tunisia, Spain, Lake Como (Italy), Guatemala, Norway, and Switzerland.

Watch a video of scenery on Skellig Michael are available at Tourism Ireland.

May the traveling force be with you!

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

Read about my travels in Ireland:

 

Canadian Ski Holiday at Banff’s Eco-Friendly Juniper Hotel

The Canadian Rockies as viewed from Banff's Juniper Hotel. ©Laurel Kallenbach

The Canadian Rockies as viewed from Banff’s Juniper Hotel. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Once in a great while, you find a hotel that seems tailor-made for you—with just the right character, setting, and attitude. I found my kindred-spirit lodging at the Juniper Hotel on the hillside overlooking the lovable resort town of Banff, in the Canadian Rockies.

Casual and relaxed, located in an outdoorsy setting, and environmentally conscious, the Juniper Hotel welcomed my husband and me with open arms. For three nights we were at home in a room with a balcony vista of majestic mountains, frozen lakes, and snow-flocked forests.

Natural Décor in the Canadian Rockies

In the 1950s, the Juniper was the well-known Timberline Motel, located in spectacular Banff National Park. In 2005 it was renovated to preserve its retro style, while using contemporary nontoxic finishes and salvaging original materials.

Lobby at the Juniper Hotel ©Laurel Kallenbach

Lobby at the Juniper Hotel ©Laurel Kallenbach

For instance, the lobby floor is fashioned from broken patio stones, and old slate shingles from the former staff accommodations are reincarnated as room numbers. Most of the wood finishes are done in reclaimed timber.

The Juniper’s owner is an avid collector of First Nations art, and much of it is displayed in the hotel, which is perfect for a property that’s surrounded by nature. Hiking trails begin right outside the back door.

Although the hotel is less than 10 minutes from the heart of downtown Banff, it’s adjacent to a wildlife corridor, a swath of protected land where local wildlife—grizzlies, mountain lion, wolves, caribou, elk—have unrestricted areas to roam and hunt.

View from the nearby Vermilion Lakes ©Laurel Kallenbach

View from the nearby Vermilion Lakes ©Laurel Kallenbach

Native landscaping around the hotel enhances the forest atmosphere, and a vegetative roof—covered with native grasses—is an eco-friendly way to keep the building’s temperatures down during summer.

Sleeping Green

The Juniper Hotel and Bistro is a member of EcoStay, a North American initiative that helps hotels measure their carbon footprint, identify and fund reduction strategies, and balance their greenhouse gas emissions through carbon offsetting. The hotel collects two dollars per night from hotel guests, and these funds purchase carbon offsets, so that basically made our stay carbon neutral.

The program also supports environmental measures, including low-flow showerheads, energy-efficient compact-fluorescent lighting, and recycling.

Panoramic Dining in a First Nations-Themed Restaurant

One of the first things I loved about the Juniper Bistro was its wall-to-wall glass overlooking the Bow Valley. All those windows offer eye-popping views of the glorious Bow Valley and iconic Mt. Rundle, which towers above the town of Banff. Beneath a handmade, birch-bark canoe mounted in the dining area, we ate several meals, and the food was satisfying and delightful—just like the scenery.

A birch-bark canoe presides over the Juniper Bistro ©Laurel Kallenbach

A birch-bark canoe presides over the Juniper Bistro ©Laurel Kallenbach

The menu highlights locally and Canadian-sourced food with international influences. The in-house bakery provides tasty biscuits and breads. (Yes, there are gluten-free options.)

One morning, I opted for a healthy egg-white frittata with roasted asparagus, aged cheddar and pickled shallots served with gluten-free toast and cherry-tomato and arugula salad. Ken dug into homemade granola and fresh fruit to fortify himself for skiing.

Gourmet dining at the Juniper Bistro. Photo courtesy Juniper Hotel.

Gourmet dining at the Juniper Bistro. Photo courtesy Juniper Hotel.

Another morning, we selected the more decadent Roasted Tomato Benny: oven-roasted cherry tomatoes, pumpkin-seed pesto, and poached eggs on a sundried tomato biscuit with hollandaise and brown-butter hash (what we would call “home fries”). This is the way breakfast on vacation should be!

Après ski hot chocolate at the Juniper Bistro. ©Laurel Kallenbach

Dinner was also spectacular; of particular note was the Mushroom Gnocchi (roasted peppers, wild mushrooms, pistachios, goat cheese, romesco sauce, and arugula with brown-butter gnocchi). The wine menu featured many fine Canadian vintages from nearby British Columbia.

In winter, one of the best hours to visit Juniper Bistro is après ski, when the setting sun plays on the surrounding peaks. We arrived just days after the Mt. Norquay ski area opened. Because our stay was mid-week, we had the bar mostly to ourselves—no crowds. We enjoyed a hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps and toasted the sunset and moonrise indoors next to the roaring fire in the bar. The staff offered to build us a fire outside on the patio, around the pit fires, but we preferred to cozy up beside the Christmas tree rather than brave the sub-zero arctic blasts.

Out and About in Banff

Mt. Rundle, photographed from Vermilion Lakes Road ©Laurel Kallenbach

Mt. Rundle, photographed from Vermilion Lakes Road ©Laurel Kallenbach

While the Juniper was our home base for three nights, we did leave its pleasant premises for some adventures. Ken drove up to Mt. Norquay ski area for telemarking the Canadian Rockies.

We also visited Banff Upper Hot Springs  under the full moon. The dash from the dressing room to the outdoor pool was shivery, but once submerged in the geothermally heated, 100-degree mineral water, we relaxed and enjoyed being toasty while surrounded by icicles and steam.

Laurel Kallenbach, freelance writer and editor

For visitor information, see Banff/Lake Louise or Travel Alberta.

Read more about Banff and Lake Louise in Alberta, Canada:

View from Mt. Norquay ski area ©Ken Aikin

View from Mt. Norquay ski area ©Ken Aikin