I discovered the wonder of German-style Christmas markets when I lived in Switzerland.
I now fear a Christmas without them.
It's not about the shopping. It's about the atmosphere...the twinkling lights, the wooden huts, the clever crafts, the warm food, the hot spiced red wine. It's about wearing a hat and scarf, a down coat and boots. It's about promenading in the streets of beautiful historic old towns.
The best Christmas markets in Italy tend to be in the north of the country, where regions share borders with Austria or Switzerland.
After reading "The Top Ten Christmas Markets in Italy" (http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/top-ten-christmas-markets-italy), we decided to visit Verona, which promised "a German-style market (that is) elegantly illuminated and decorated (with) traditional wooden huts". At this market, visitors can buy "regional foods, handicrafts and Christmas tree decorations (and) taste specialties such as mulled wine, bratwurst, stollen fruit cake and lebkuchen biscuits that are similar to gingerbread".
It was our first visit to this beautiful city. The historic centre provided a dramatic backdrop to the Christmas market, with the elegant and narrow streets of the old town merging into the beautiful Piazza delle Erbe and eventually the impressive Piazza Bra.
On one side of the Piazza Bra stands a well-preserved stone arena from the Roman Empire. This ancient piece of architecture provides a shapely theatre for the Christmas lights as well as a quiet space for the exhibition of cribs which have been crafted by communities all over Italy.
We had left home at 10am and eventually returned at midnight, after a precious Christmas experience which was worth every bit of the 6 hour drive!
Above: Piazza delle Erbe in Verona (photo courtesy of salvophoto.com)