The days approaching the end of the year can feel very long, dark and grey, but it’s good to know that we are already almost on the turn towards more light each day, even if not always more sunshine. The days when we do enjoy clear skies and sunlight for a few hours are so gorgeous they can really lift your mood, and I was lucky enough to pick the right weekend to head to the continent and a couple of Christmas Markets – the weather was hugely cold but gorgeous – perfect to help find that Christmas spirit!
Olley and I set off with a couple of friends – rather than using the Eurostar it was much cheaper for us all in one car, so Olley drove and we took the shuttle from Kent to Calais.
An hour on from Calais and we were in Lille, the capital of the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region in northern France, near the border with Belgium. It’s a beautiful city – full of culture, with a university and once an important merchant centre of French Flanders. You can see lots of Flemish influences in the city’s cuisine and architecture and the historic centre, Vieux Lille, is full of 17th-century brick town houses and cobbled pedestrian streets – stunning! I was rather disappointed with the Christmas Market which was so busy you could barely get to the stalls, and they were mainly selling food or mass produced gifts. I was looking for handcrafted decorations but didn’t buy anything except a large hot chocolate to enjoy while Olley tried a glass of the local brew. (I did indulge in a delicious gluhwein later!) But the effort put into the decorations was fantastic, with a huge Christmas tree, an illuminated big wheel and lights everywhere. I will definitely return for longer to explore.
The following day we moved on to Bruges which is breathtakingly amazing. With its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings, not to mention the traditional lace and scrumptious chocolates in the little shops, there’s a lovely surprise as you turn every corner. The buildings were bathed in glorious winter sunshine which enhanced the warm yellows and ochres of the painted walls.
By complete coincidence, my old boss Mark (QVC’s first presenter manager) was in Bruges for the weekend too, so we met up for a drink and a catch up before lunch, then off the the Christmas market. No disappointment here – it was full of stalls selling exactly what I had hoped for, and my pockets were soon empty of their euros!
I’ve included a photo of some of the things I bought, including hand carved wooden figures, lovely ceramic tea-light holders and hand cut glass angels to hang – I gave one to Ali K who hung it on our dressing room mirror – photo below!
And did I mention the chocolates? Handmade Belgian chocolates which are perfect Christmas gifts but I can’t deny that some didn’t survive the journey home…
We delivered our friends home to west London less than fours hours after leaving Bruges – such an easy journey to two lovely places that I haven’t visited before, all in a weekend.