Head to the Christmas market of Baden-Baden
Baden-Baden is a Black Forest resort town with a Parisian vibe. The city's 100-stall Christmas market sprawls across the manicured grounds of a former 19th-century palace — now one of Europe's most opulent casinos — and continues along a covered shopping promenade, where booths are tucked between designer boutiques. The atmosphere is lovely after dark, when the market is illuminated by soft white fest lights and art nouveau era street lamps, and spotlights shine on the columned casino facade.
Christmas market dates: Nov. 27-Dec. 30, 2017
Location: In front of and next to the Kurhaus (casino)
Helpful hints: Look for Gasthof Hirsch's stand; the past three years it has been located in front of the casino. The Glühwein is made with bold Bordeaux wines, and melting raclette cheese is scraped directly from the wheel onto your bratwurst. You will return every year of your tour in Europe for these brats.
If you drive, note that free parking is almost non-existent, and pay parking is hard to find during the holidays. Choose lodging with on-site parking, and don't move the car for the duration of your stay.
Beyond the market: Baden-Baden will become your favorite destination for a relaxing getaway, thanks to the Carasana Resort, which is composed of several connecting facilities. Spend your morning at the nude Friedrichsbad thermal baths to enjoy the 17-step ritual of steam saunas, hot baths and cold plunge pools that ends in the nap room, where the staff swaddles you in blankets like a baby — and you'll sleep like one for as long as you choose. The optional scrub-brush exfoliating massage is worth the few extra euros. If you have children along, head next door to Caracalla for family-friendly thermal baths and pools, as well as adults-only saunas. The resort provides affordable childcare for little ones above 18 months of age while parents utilize Caracalla, Friedrichsbad and CaraVitalis day spa.
Baden-Baden has a number of great restaurants, but you need reservations to avoid disappointment. Leo's is a cozy wine bar and bistro with burgers that will satisfy your cravings and burgers and massive salads with surprising seasonal ingredients. The Löwenbräu brewery goes all out with Christmas decorations, so stop by for photos and hearty portions of German comfort food. Hang out with a glass of wine and snack on authentic Spanish tapas at Monte Christo, or settle in for a fine dining experience at Der Kleine Prinz. Themed after "The Little Prince" novella by French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, the decor and menu here are a bit fanciful. Offerings include rack of lamb, swordfish, duck breast, beef medallions and various preparations of lobster.
Baden-Baden is an hour from Strasbourg, France, so add the "capital of Christmas" to your itinerary if you have not been there yet — Strasbourg's market is open until Dec. 24, 2017.