Does sipping hot mulled wine while strolling down cobblestone streets sound like a pleasant retreat from the hustle of the holiday season?
If so, then why not do your holiday shopping in Switzerland, while taking in the country's greatest attributes besides chocolate and cheese: tradition and charm.
In Switzerland's cities, Christmas markets are an essential holiday custom -- the annual one found in Basel is one of the best.
Founded as a Celtic town more than 2,000 years ago, Basel was transformed during the 14th and 15th centuries into one of the most significant intellectual centers in Europe.
Located on the Rhine River and bordering both Germany and France, this city is the birthplace of revered historian Jacob Burckhardt and renowned mathematician Leonhard Euler. The likes of John Calvin and Friedrich Nietzsche have also called it home.
Off to Market
Basel's Christmas market turns back the centuries, as the nearby bells of Munster Cathedral chime and the aromas of traditional pastries baked in outdoor brick ovens waft by.
Although modest in comparison to other Swiss markets and festivals, the Basel Christmas market, which takes place from Nov. 25 to Dec. 23, is still one of Switzerland's most popular, and a perfect spot for finding unique and exclusive gifts.
, or Christmas market, is located in Basel's
, meaning "bare feet plaza," which pays tribute to the Franciscan monks who lived there over 800 years ago.
As you meander through the approximately 150 stands of this festive boutique, you'll note that everything is handcrafted with utmost detail and care.
The design extends to merchants' individual stands, as they adorn them for the season with greenery, ornaments and furs.
You'll find a dazzling mix of jewelry, woodcrafts, silks, folk art, leather, clocks, ornaments, baked goods and much more for sale. You can even watch glass being hand-blown and sample local food specialties.
Try warming up with spiced
(mulled wine) -- a staple of any Swiss market -- ladled hot from ceramic pots, or with some steaming
(chestnuts), sold in festive paper cones.
For a sweet snack, buy a tin of Basel's famous
, a soft, flavorful biscuit developed over 700 years ago by the local spice merchants. The
(57 Gerbergasse) is the city's Lackerli authority.
Here you can buy the delicious cookies in decorative tins or have them shipped to appreciative friends and relatives.