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Foreign festive foods

With Christmas nearly upon us, the supermarkets are now well and truly laden with traditional treats and food that we all know and love – mince pies, Christmas puddings, chestnuts ready for roasting, turkeys, sauces – the list is endless. But if you’re off on a Christmas getaway or short break abroad this year, or want to know where’s good to go at Christmas for a bit of a culinary overhaul, what might you expect to be eating this December 25th? We’ve looked at different traditional cuisines across Europe and a little further afield, to see what feasts appear on their tables…

Christmas eve is the main event for the French, as they celebrate le réveillon (or ‘wake-up’ meal) after attending midnight mass. Here, the aim is go all-out trying new, fancy recipes and impress the family with creative culinary skills. Meats such as goose, duck and partridge are popular, but also refined dishes including filet mignon garnished with truffles can appear on the table in a French household. Christmas day sees entrées include escargots, (cooked land snails) and oysters, and mains can be anything from a traditional turkey, to fish, lobster or boar (depending where you are in France). Thinking of taking a short Christmas break to France? Visit for more information.

Holland sees food fairly similar to ours grace their tables, including roast pork and game meats, although interestingly, part of their festivities can include grilling and cooking your own meat and veg at the table together. ‘Kerstkrans, wreath shaped pastry decorated with glacé fruits and filled with sweet almond paste, ‘speculaas’ – spiced cookies, and ‘Duivekater’ which is sweet bread, are also gorged on during this time of the year. If you’d like to find out more about short Christmas breaks to Holland, visit


Image credit: Agnes Kantaruk, Shutterstock

Festive dishes in Italy vary across the different regions, so if you’re visiting this year, you could find some very unusual food at Christmas time. Basilicata, a region in the south of Italy, traditionally sit down to a dish called ‘Baccalà Con Peperoni Cruschi’, or in English – salted cod with fried peppers.

In Sicily, you might be enjoying ‘Timballo Di Pasta Al Forno In Crosta’ – which is macaroni pasta in pork sauce baked in a breadcrumb-lined pan.

But perhaps the most similar to our traditional dinner can be found in the Lazio region in the central peninsular of Italy, where they like to dig into ‘Abbacchio Al Forno Con Patate’, which is roast suckling lamb with potatoes – now that’s more like it!

A goose with red cabbage and dumplings can be found on the table in a German household at Christmas, stuffed with a meat or dough filling and served with gravy. Another traditional meat which makes an appearance during the festive season is duck, filled with a variety of fruits, and again served with red cabbage and dumplings. If you fancy dining on a German inspired Christmas dinner, you can find an easy recipe for roasted stuffed duck here.


Image credit: Dar1930, Shutterstock

If you venture slightly further afield to the western region of India, you’ll be met with an even more intriguing Christmas menu. ‘Sorpatel’ – a traditional Goan curry made with pork meat and liver, pork vindaloo, and ‘bebinca’, a Goan coconut flavoured layered dessert, typically served with ice cream. Christmas is a magical time in Goa celebrated by both Hindus and Christians alike. The day is commemorated with feasting, fireworks and many festivities all over the state. If you’d like to book your traditional Goan Christmas break, you can visit

Hopefully we’ve given you a little insight into what some other countries might be tucking into this Christmas, so if you start to see new and intriguing festive foods entering our UK supermarkets, you might be more tempted to give them a go and embrace an international Christmas.


France: European Heritage Days, 20th to 21st September 2014

European Heritage Days

 From a guided tour of the Paris metro to baking demonstrations (and tastings) to stone masonry workshops at the Citadel de Lille, there  is a huge variety of events taking place on the third weekend in September across the length and breadth of France.

Created in 1984 by the Ministry of Culture and Communication, the European Heritage Days is THE cultural event of the autumn, when there will be a great variety of heritage attractions on offer to visitors. Alongside masterpieces of civil or religious architecture, it also features fascinating reminders of industry and farming, parks and gardens, archaeological sites, literary and military heritage. Combining many different initiatives, the European Heritage Days are an occasion for large numbers of visitors to discover public buildings such as town halls and theatres as well as private buildings including villas, castles and even factories. They all open their doors to the public for this one weekend of the year. In addition special activities such as guided tours, workshops, demonstrations and concerts will be on offer in those locations, opened specifically for the event, as well as those regularly opened to the public.

Visit the official website for more information about specific events and opening times: European Heritage Days

Citadelle de Lille, Lille, Nord,, Nord-Pas-de-Calais

Citadelle de Lille, Nord-Pas-de-Calais

Antwerp at Christmas


Dates for 2014 Christmas markets in Belgium and France

Christmas may seem a long way off and is probably one of the last things you want to think about in the middle of Summer, however, with the provisional dates already released for many of this winter’s festivities the best hotels, in convenient locations for visiting Europe’s top Christmas Markets, will soon fill up.




Kerst & Creatief Beurs, 15th & 16th November 2014

A cost Christmas market with original gifts and some surprising performances at Antwerp Expo.

Christmas Market, 6th December 2014 to 5th January 2015

There’s plenty to see in Antwerp with Christmas markets at de Groenplaats, Handschoenmarkt, Grote Markt and Suikerrui.

Antwerp at Christmas

Christmas Fair & Ice Rink, 6th December 2014 to 4th January 2015

A second Christmas market and ice skating rink at Steenplein.


22nd November 2014 to 2nd January 2015

Bruges looks particularly pretty during the festive season and while the Christmas market in many of the other cities listed here may be bigger, the setting for the Bruges Christmas market couldn’t be lovelier. There will be stalls on the Market Square and an ice-rink and stalls on Simon Stevinplein.

Bruges Christmas

Winter Moments with Flowers, 21st to 30th November 2014

In addition Winter Moments with Flowers, runs from  at Site Oud Sint-Jan, Mariastraat 38. This is an exhibition for lovers of Christmas spirit, decorations and flowers. Daily flower arranging and demonstrations take place alongside numerous exhibitors highlighting party ideas.

Midwinterfest 14th December 2014

A festive Christmas market with a huge range of traditional and original Christmas gifts and tasty treats to tempt you, held in Balstraat.


Winter Wonders, 28th November 2014 to 4th January 2015


I visited Winter Wonders in Brussels for the first time last year and had a fabulous time.  The European Christmas market is held in the heart of the city on Place Sainte-Catherine. The big wheel and the ice rink at Marché aux Poissons, where I saw a really fantastic skating display, will both be back again this year, as well as some 150 stalls and the magical son & lumière illuminations on the Grand-Place.


The Festival of Ice and Snow Sculptures runs from mid-December 2014 to early February 2015. It showcases artistic snow and ice sculptures, which are kept at a chilling -6°C. This year’s theme will be revealed just before the opening!


Ghent Winter Festivites, 5 December 2014 to 11th January 2015

Ghent’s city centre will be turned in to a winter wonderland with an ice-rink, a giant Ferris wheel and the Christmas market at Konenmarkt. This year, the Castle of the Counts will be part of the winter festivities and decorated as a winter castle, with special night openings and events.


Christmas Market, 5th December to 4th January

A small market from St Bravo’s Square to the Corn Market, with international stalls offering traditonal products from their countries plus mulled wine, tasty treats and live music.

Light Festival, 29th January 2014 to 1st February 2015

Every three years the Light Festival lights up the city with works by international light artists. The city’s nights will become the backdrop for a surprising spectacle, ingenious installations, spectacular performances and beautiful events, all based on light.


Winter Village, 15 November 2014 to 4 January 2015

This cosy winter village offers Flanders’ largest mobile skating rink, the House of Santa Claus and a fun Ferris wheel in Kolonel Dusartplein.  For the little ones there is also a small Christmas train.


Winter Season, 11th to 31st December 2014

Stroll through one of the loveliest Christmas market in the country, enjoy an intimate Christmas concert, sip a sparkling winter beer or just get lost in the enchanting streets full of candlelight and conviviality.

Christmas Market, 11th to 21st December 2014

Once again, Monseigneur Ladeuzeplein and Herbert Hooverplein will serve as the enchanting backdrop for this Christmas market, one of the oldest Christmas markets in Belgium.



The market provisionally dates are 13th to 21st December, however, this may be extended.  It is centred on Grote Markt, City Hall, IJzerenleen and Veemarkt with food and drink stalls and stalls offering ideas for Christmas gifts.


Winterjis, 28th November 2014 to 4th January 2015

The Wapenplein will be covered with a transparent marquee measuring 2,600 m2 and forming a unique backdrop for a magical winter landscape. Step inside and be amazed by the stunning setting, magical lighting and fairytale decorations designed by Neverland, the set constructors of the world famous dance festival Tomorrowland. Check for updated details.


Christmas in Ypres,  28th November 2014 to 4th January 2015

Christmas Market, seasonal entertainment and ice rink on  Grote Markt.



21st November to 28th December 2014

Amiens is one of the the largest Christmas market in the north of France bringing the magic of Christmas into the heart of the city.


 28th November to 30th December 2014


Arras, the town renowned for its tapestries of the late Middle Ages, holds a spectacular Christmas market on the Grand Place with some 60 stalls offering a wide range of arts and crafts and local delicacies.

Lille’s Christmas Market

21st November to 28th December 2014

The one of the biggest Christmas Market in northern France is held in Lille and attracts nearly a million visitors each year.

Lille Christmas Market


15th November 2014 to 6th January 2015


What better time to visit the ‘City of Lights’ than at Christmas. For more details of the various markets and festivities visit About France.

Reim’s Christmas Market

21st November to 28th December 2014

You’ll find around 120 stalls at the Christmas market at Reims. Street entertainers, carol singers and magicians all add to the festive atmosphere.


8th December to 13th December 2014

Held in front of the Cathedral the Marché, this small Christmas market has some lovely stalls selling arts and craft and local delicacies plus there are two ice rinks.

For some great value Christmas market breaks check out our latest newsletter.

Eiffel Tower lit-up by night, Paris

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Picture postcard from… Paris, France

Eiffel Tower lit-up by night, Paris

The Eiffel Tower by Moyan Brenn

Located on the Champ de Mars in Paris, France, the Eiffel Tower is one of the most well-known structures in the world.

It was named after the engineer Gustave Eiffel, whose company designed and built the tower with Eiffel himself paying 80 percent of the tower’s construction costs. It was originally planned to stand for 20 years after which it was intended to be sold as scrap metal. However, in a bid to save it, Eiffel erected an antenna on top of the tower and financed experiments with wireless telegraphy. The tower proved enviable in sending and receiving wireless messages, particularly for the French military. Today, more than 100 antennae on the tower send radio and television broadcasts around the world.

More great shots from Moyan can be found on Flickr.


Bastille Celebrations in Paris

As I’m sure you are aware Monday, July 14 is Bastille Day, an annual event when the whole of France celebrates the storming of the Bastille Prison and the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789.  If you are in France next Monday we’d love to hear about the celebrations where you are. Even better send me some photos! You can email me at  

Here are a few highlights of the celebrations in Paris for Bastille Day 2014.

Paris’ Military Parade

A military parade along the Avenue des Champs-Elysées is the highlight the regiments of the French military, which will parade in the morning. This year’s theme is the Centenary of The Great War.

© Paris Tourist Office - Photographer : Marc Bertrand

© Paris Tourist Office – Photographer : Marc Bertrand

The day’s programme (subject to change)
9.10am Troops, gather at the Place de l’Etoile / Avenue des Champs-Elysées.
9.20am Inspection of the troops.
9.45am Honorary detachments of the Republican Guard take their places at Place de l’Etoile and Place de la Concorde.
10am Arrival of the President of the French Republic at Avenue de Friedland. Welcome by General Pierre de Villiers, Chief of Defence Staff, and General Hervé Charpentier, the Military Governor of Paris. Review of the troops.
10.15am Tribute paid to the President of the French Republic by the 1st infantry regiment of the Republican Guard at Place de la Concorde. Welcome by the prime minister, M. Manuel Valls, the Minister of Defence, M. Jean-Yves Le Drian, secretary of state for veterans affairs, M. Kader Arif and Général Benoît Puga.
10.20am Opening event.
10.35am Opening fly-past led by Air Marshal Thierry Caspar-Fille-Lambie.
10.45am Parade of troops on foot led by Brigadier Henry Bazin.
11.25am Parade of motorized troops led by General Marcel Druart.
11.45am Closing event.
12 noon Departure of the President of the French Republic.

© Paris Tourist Office - Photographer : Marc Bertrand

© Paris Tourist Office – Photographer : Marc Bertrand

Paris’ fireworks

The fireworks will be launched from Bassins du Trocadéro and can be viewed from the Champs de Mars and Trocadéro.

11.00pm: A firework display lasting 35 minutes with the theme “Guerre et Paix”.

© Paris Tourist Office - Photographer : Amélie Dupont

© Paris Tourist Office – Photographer : Amélie Dupont

Firemen’s balls

Numerous firemen’s balls happen each year in stations throughout France, in general starting at 9pm and going on until 4pm. Some have an entrance fee while others are free but have a traditional donation barrel. The money collected will be used to improve the working conditions of staff.

A list of balls in Paris and the surrounding regions can be found here.

And don’t forget, if you are in France that day (or have been in the past) we’d love to hear about the celebrations where you area and see your photos.  You can email me at  

Place du Vieux Marché ©Rouen Tourist Office

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Rouen, the jewel in Normandy’s crown

Travel writer, Barbara Hopkins, shares her love of Rouen…

Densely packed with half-timbered houses, architectural gems and soaring spires, the medieval city centre of Rouen is a meeting point for both art and history with a flourishing cultural vibe as well as great restaurants, shopping and nightlife.

Sprawled along the banks of the river Seine and like Paris divided into Right and Left Banks, Rouen is the capital of both Upper Normandy and the Seine Maritime départment and cherishes the importance of the heritage  that secures its place as a jewel in Normandy’s crown.


Rouen © Rouen Tourist Office

The Right Bank is the main area for exploring the city centre and it’s where most of the monuments, as well as restaurants and accommodation can be found. The Place du Vieux Marché is a good starting point and it’s here that St Joan of Arc was burned at the stake in 1431; the public square is marked with a plaque and 20-metre high cross. Nearby is a contemporary architectural masterpiece, the memorial church dedicated to her and whose stunning wooden-roofed interior is said to represent the flames at the stake.

Church of St Joan of Arc Rouen

Church of St Joan of Arc Rouen © Barbara Hopkins

From the square, the cobbled Rue du Gros Horloge leads towards the soaring grandeur of Notre Dame Cathedral, immortalised by Monet in his series of over thirty paintings. The clock (‘horloge’) which gives the street its name is a beautiful one-handed timepiece which shows the hour, the week and the phase of the moon. Climb to the top of the belfry to see its workings as well as outstanding city views.

Rouen Cathedral: A ToutFrance/Hervo Le Gac

Rouen Cathedral © A ToutFrance/Hervo Le Gac

Gros Horloge Rouen

Gros Horloge Rouen © Barbara Hopkins

Victor Hugo allegedly called Rouen ‘a town of a hundred spires’ and while he may not necessarily have counted every one, the city certainly  boasts the most classified monuments in France, with a lengthy list which includes examples of the Gothic and Renaissance masterpieces which adorn the streets. As well as the Gros Horloge and the Cathedral, take some time to admire  the Parliament of Normandy Court House, the église Saint-Maclou (often noted as the most flamboyant and spectacular example of Gothic architecture in France) and by contrast the Abbey Church of St-Ouen, whose simple lines have a beauty all their own.

The town is also known as the capital of antique bargain hunting, centred on the Damiette-Saint-Maclou district. Antique dealers occupy the half timbered houses which huddle together and cater to every taste and budget, while ceramicists, art gallery owners and bookbinders along with many other craftsmen open their doors to the public. Look out for ‘faience de Rouen’ decorative tin-glazed ceramic ware as well as ‘les coffret de Rouen’ small hand-painted wooden boxes for truly artisanal holiday mementoes.

Near rue Damiette and St-Ouen Church take a detour to the charming Rue Eau de Robec, where a small stream is crossed by a number of footbridges, recalling the era when wealthy cloth merchants lived in the area. Some of the timbered houses have attic workshops where skeins of cotton as well as fabric would be left out to dry.

Rouen timbered houses

Rouen © Barbara Hopkins

Rouen’s timbered houses and cobbled streets are lit with the particular quality of natural light which has fascinated painters and attracted writers to the town. It was in Normandy that Impressionism was born and Monet, Renoir and Sisley were among those who were fascinated by the discovery of the play of light on water, viewed from the banks of the Seine at Rouen. Art lovers may follow in the footsteps of these then-revolutionary artists, details from the tourist office (which is the oldest surviving renaissance building in Rouen) at 25 Place de la Cathédrale. The Musée des Beaux Arts (Esplanade Marcel Duchamp) makes for an absorbing visit to view one of France’s premier art collections with works dating from the 15th century to the present day.

For those in need of some retail therapy, the pedestrian streets near the cathedral are packed with familiar names as well as individual boutiques; the chocolatiers and macaron makers can make for very slow progress!

Eating out in Rouen is a delight with menus to suit all budgets. Regional products are showcased, especially those ‘from the farm’: cheeses, cream, eggs and apples.  Renowned cheeses from the region include Camembert, Pont l’Eveque and Neuchatel, while liqueur lovers will appreciate Calvados, the apple brandy which is produced across Normandy. The regional cider is also very popular. There are plenty of restaurants around Place due Vieux Marché and market stalls are a great place to pick up food to enjoy as you wander.

Place du Vieux Marché ©Rouen Tourist Office

Place du Vieux Marché © Rouen Tourist Office

Night-owls are well catered for too with a number of clubs and bars staying open until the small hours as well as concerts, cinema and theatres. There are also plenty of opportunities to enjoy classical music, opera and ballet in a wide variety of venues.

Rouen offers its visitors a richness and diversity of experience which pays homage to its past, while also firmly keeping an eye to the future.

Barbara HopkinsBarbara Hopkins is a freelance writer of features and articles on a wide range of topics, also producing business editorial content across diverse sectors including education, health, lifestyle and beauty.

“My passions include independent travel (top of my bucket list would be a trip to Antarctica) — that’s after the lottery win —  and closer to home I’m passionate about Paris, with an ongoing urge to leap onboard the next train bound for the City of Light.  My French language skills are however a poor second to my husband’s (even the French think he’s French), so I’m trying to catch up.

Family and friends, the Arts, real ale and great vegetarian food in any combination are favourite ways of spending down time and for an instant lift, a walk by the sea never fails to deliver.”

Barbara blog’s at thefeaturewriter, tweets @bhwriting and you can also find her on Google +.

Picture postcard from… the Castle of Carondelet, Belgium


Castle of Carondelet, Crupet, Belgium

Castle of Carondelet, Crupet, Belgium by Henri Haneveer

A 13th century castle in the village of Crupet, between the towns of Dinant and Namur in the Wallonia region in Belgium.
Although it is now privately owned it is possible to walk around the castle which looks as if it comes straight from the pages of  fairytale.

More shots from Henri can be found on Flickr.