Christmas Markets within easy reach of Frankfurt

Christmas time in Germany can only be described as magical; twinkling lights abound, full size nativity scenes can be found from town to town and everyone flocks to the market squares to gather in the festive spirit and warm up with a hot snack and mulled wine. It’s hard not to be won over with a buzz as infectious as this. What’s more, there is something for everyone. Children will be tugging at parents’ arms for one more go on the carousels and one more sweet thing from the candy stalls, foodies will love the quality of German food available and the wafting aromas throughout the markets, shoppers will love the craftmanship and variety of goodies on offer. Here are some of the highlights within an hour and a half of Frankfurt.

Christmas time in Germany can only be described as magical; twinkling lights abound, full size nativity scenes can be found from town to town and everyone flocks to the market squares to gather in the festive spirit and warm up with a hot snack and mulled wine. It’s hard not to be won over with a buzz as infectious as this. What’s more, there is something for everyone. Children will be tugging at parents’ arms for one more go on the carousels and one more sweet thing from the candy stalls, foodies will love the quality of German food available and the wafting aromas throughout the markets, shoppers will love the craftmanship and variety of goodies on offer. Here are some of the highlights within an hour and a half of Frankfurt.

Frankfurt Christmas Market

27th November – 22nd December

Throughout the city, with Römerberg as the centre

Incredibly, Frankfurt’s Weihnachtsmarkt dates back to 1393 when stalls and mystery plays helped Frankfurters celebrate the Christmas period. Frankfurt’s sprawling market spans large swathes of the city with a huge Christmas tree in the central square. Römerberg is a good starting point to explore and if you need some help to find the top spots, there are guided tours for the first 3 weekends of December at 11:30am and 1:30pm.

All sorts of treats are available, but something unique to Frankfurt are the “Bethmännchen”, marzipan decorated with almond slices. The four almond slices adorning the Bethmann may represent each of the sons of a well-known banker family of old Frankfurt. Or alternatively the name derives from the word for “praying men” and the almond halves are meant to symbolise praying hands.

From Frankfurt airport: the trains into town are very frequent, then follow the instructions below.

From Frankfurt city: Subway lines (U-Bahn) U4 and U5, exit at Dom/Römer. Tram lines (Straßenbahn) 11 and 12, exit at Römer/Paulskirche.

Mainz Christmas Market

30th November – 23rd December

Höfchen & Domplatz, Schillerplatz, Citadel

Mainz’s market is just half an hour from Frankfurt and a smaller version, well-loved in the region for its atmospheric setting in the market square and draws in many visitors across three main sites. The elevated nativity scene in the shadow of the cathedral is poignant and the impressive 9-metre tall Christmas pyramid in Höfchen Square features famous citizens, including Gutenberg and the cutesy mascots of the local television station.

Mulled wine is from local vineyards in the Rheinhessen region – just look for the longest queues and enjoy it in one of the wine cask huts if you can find some space. All the Christmas market goodies are available here. Gingerbread biscuits from Lebkuchenschmidt are found in a pop-up shop in Gutenberg Square opposite the theatre and the intricate tins and top-notch cookies make them an ideal Christmas present.

From Frankfurt airport: Tramline S8 to Mainz Central Station (Hauptbahnhof) and then a bus into the centre of town, alighting at Höfchen.

From Frankfurt city: The same tram but from the main station (Hauptbahnhof)

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Wiesbaden Christmas Market

28th November – 23rd December

Schlossplatz

Wiesbaden’s Sternschnuppenmarkt, or twinkling star market, is named for its countless fairy lights creating a tent of stars over the town. The effect is best viewed from above and there’s a platform at the Marktkirche (Market Church) to do just that. The market centres around Schlossplatz with almost 130 stalls. There are a variety of activities, such as a ferris wheel, winter tavern and even an ice rink for skating. There’s a sizeable stage where local school children perform festive songs. Excellent local mulled wine can be enjoyed at Weingut Kessler.

From Frankfurt airport: Take the S1, S8 or S9 trams and arrive within 40 minutes

From Frankfurt city: Take the S1 or S9 trams

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Rüdesheim Christmas Market

23rd November – 23rd December, 11am to 8pm, 9pm on Fridays and Saturdays, closed on 26th November

Throughout the Old Town

Rüdesheim is an enchanting cobbled town built into the hilly banks of the River Rhine with tiny alleys and overhanging wooden inns and shops and can be reached within an hour and a half from Frankfurt. The most famous of those alleys is the atmospheric Drosselgasse. At Christmas time, Rüdesheim is also home to the Market of the Nations and that makes for a Christmas market with a real international flavour. With goods and foods from over 20 countries, you can even shop for knitted goods in a Mongolian yurt. However, that doesn’t mean that Rüdesheim isn’t also bringing plenty to the table. A local favourite is Asbach Uralt, a brandy served with coffee and whipped cream. Don’t miss the musical clock once an hour. After all your snacking and slurping, there’s a chance for some fresh air as you take the cable car up to the Niederwald to walk off that whipped cream.

From Frankfurt airport: Take the regional train to Bingen, once every 2 hours and then the ferry across to Rüdesheim. Alternatively, take the S9 to Wiesbaden (once an hour) and change to the VIA train to Rüdesheim.

From Frankfurt city: Take the VIA train direct to Rüdesheim, once an hour.

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Bad Münster am Stein Eberburg Christmas Market

Saturdays from 2pm – 9pm and on Sundays from 12 noon – 8pm

This weekend-only Christmas market oozes romance. Set in the spa gardens of Bad Münster, the delicate lights illuminate gnarly trees and longstanding buildings alike. Even the fairytale castle is lit up, giving the market an atmospheric backdrop. This is a smaller, intimate market, with around 90 stalls but the ambience is unbeatable.

From Frankfurt airport: Take the direct regional train once every two hours and exit at Bad Münster, which takes about an hour.

From Frankfurt city: The same journey

48 hours in The Hamptons without breaking the bank

Mentioning The Hamptons conjures up a strong association for most people… New York’s summer playground, the watermelon incident in SATC, a couple of Kardashians… All of which are tied together with a big bow of glamour. Of which I am a fan. The Hamptons is notoriously pricey but going just off season, right before many establishments close and the weather is still luscious, can make all the difference…

Mentioning The Hamptons conjures up a strong association for most people… New York’s summer playground, the watermelon incident in SATC, a couple of Kardashians… All of which are tied together with a big bow of glamour. Of which I am a fan. Plus – this Concierge, living in landlocked Ethiopia, was craving the beach and some excellent seafood. So when Concierge Hubby began planning a special 30th birthday trip for me Stateside, a few days in The Hamptons just had to be on the agenda.

The Hamptons is notoriously pricey but going just off season, right before many establishments close and the weather is still luscious, can make all the difference. We hired a car from JFK (Nomads, watch out for deals with air miles as many car hires are associated with airline alliances) and set off in the opposite direction to NYC, right to the end of Long Island. We chose Montauk as our destination – the grounded sibling of the Hamptons family. On our way, we drove through village after village with pretty ship-lap homes and the manicured high streets. There were even windmills, Nomads! From the get-go, this was entirely what this Concierge had hoped for.

Our dinner stop was Springs Tavern, which combined the feel of a down to earth diner with stylish Hamptons furnishings (I see you, ceiling fan, wooden floor and warm grey hues). Locals lined the bar, whilst relaxed groups of sun-seekers occupied the restaurant and we filled our boots with an excellent burger, mac ‘n cheese and a craft beer that slid down very easily. Hello ‘Merica!

Our hotel was an inspired choice by Concierge Hubby, the Hero Beach Club. This was Boutique with a Capital B; art scattered throughout the hotel and grounds, branding to die for, an iPad in the room to connect you with reception, local rose on tap in the bar, swing chairs on the porch, pool furniture from Bali… Our veranda looked out directly over the sea with an enticing beach just feet away. No white noise machine needed for a deep sleep when the waves are that close!

Room in the Hero Beach Club Montauk

After a restful night, our morning began with a swim in the beautiful pool, a stroll down said beach, and a veer off course in the direction of coffee and pastries. Left Hand Coffee provides excellent caffeination – drip coffee, a multitude of single blends… These people know coffee. The pastry was a secondary event but hit the spot. It’s definitely a solid Montauk option for a grab-n-go breakfast.

Beach and sea outside the Hero Beach Club Montauk

After a wander through Montauk, we headed on to our lunch spot (a day revolving around food = a good day), the incredible Clam Bar. It feels exactly like being on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, as you pull up to the high-class shack on the side of the highway and park up on chucky stones. This is where one of the Hamptons’ most loved Lobster Rolls can be found and, therefore by default, me. This roll was so stuffed full of lobster, it overflowed and was totally fresh. Concierge Hubby had heard that sometimes the lobster has literally been on the seafloor hours before. The bun was light, sweet and fluffy. I was in Seafood Heaven, Nomads! Add to that a glass of local white and this was one happy Concierge.

Lobster roll from the Clam Bar on the Montauk Highway

Post-lunch, there was a definite need to walk off the lobster and so we headed into East Hampton and then Sag Harbor to peruse the shops and dream of living the other side of one of those white picket fences. J-Crew, Brandi Melville and a Maple Pecan Frappuccino (FINALLY) were excellent features of the wandering. Not to mention getting up close and personal with one of the aforementioned windmills! We soon scooted off for the next item on our Hamptons agenda – wine tasting! At the Wolffer Estate, there’s no long tour with a blow-by-blow account of how every grape was smushed – it’s all about the tasting. We ordered a flight of wine and set about testing Wolffer’s best offerings. As you try, you sit on a sunny patio with the vineyards and blue skies right in front of you. It’s a perfect afternoon. The sharing platters looked very tempting were it not for the amount of lobster already consumed and the prospect of a fancy dinner in a few short hours. There’s a shop inside to purchase anything you’ve particularly enjoyed (alongside a range of ciders and a gin!) but refreshingly, we happened upon it by chance! There was not a single sales pitch, nevermind the reminders ad nauseam that can be part and parcel of a wine tasting. We returned to the hotel thoroughly relaxed.

A flight of wine to taste at the Wollfer Estate in the Hamptons

We headed up to the North Shore to find a perfect spot for sunset. A few of our potentials were closed for the season but we found the wonderful Montauket, a pub full of character (and people) with a great buzz and good beer & wine for sunset-watching. The North shore of the island is where to catch the sunset from and it was breath-taking. Just see for yourself…

Sunset from the Montauket in Montauk

We moved on for dinner at Scarpetta Beach, set inside the luxurious Gurney’s Resort that oozed elegance and Hamptons charm. This is perhaps the part of the post that (despite the title) could break the bank, Nomads, but it was the day of my 30th Birthday and Concierge Husband is very good to me. The lighting was low and romantic, the tables were spaced and intimate, the food was beautiful and refined. As we waited for a taxi to collect us, we sat under blankets at the most well-appointed fire pit I’ve ever seen and floated away home happy, happy, happy.

Hero Beach Club Montauk's smiley face

Waking up to the lapping of the sea, we set off for a healthy breakfast at Naturally Good Foods, with all the superfoods and wondergrains your heart could desire. From there, it was finally time to explore Montauk’s lighthouse *over excited squeal due to girlish love of lighthouses*. The light house is right at the end of Long Island (an area innovatively named called The End) and set in an area filled with nature and protected reserves. We strolled on the beach before clambering up the rocks and lapping the light house.

Montauk Lighthouse

It was time for us to start making our way back to JFK to get a shuttle into the city but we took our sweet time about it. We stopped off at Vicki’s Veggies, a picture perfect stall in Amagansett for some farm-fresh fruit for the road and then perused the town and did a little more shopping. We headed to The Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe and sat people watching in Southampton with incredible soups, salads and cheese. And we once again lusted after all the beautiful homes and houses of the Hamptons’ villages.

Pretty street with movie theater in East Hampton

We reached New York easily after dropping off the hire car and completely relaxed after a perfect Birthday retreat in The Hamptons. Try it out, Nomads!

DAY 1

10am – Stroll on the beach and coffee & pastries at Left Hand Coffee

11am – Walk through Montauk

12pm – The Hamptons’ best lobster rolls at the Clam Bar

1.30pm – A wander through East Hampton and Sag Harbor, checking out the marina & the windmill

3.30pm – Wine tasting at the Wolffer Estate

5.45pm – Sunset at a North Coast pub like the Montauket

7.30pm – Dinner at Scarpetta Beach, Gurney’s Resort

DAY 2

10am – Healthy breakfast at Naturally Good Foods

11am – Discovering the Montauk Lighthouse and some of the surrounding trails

12pm – Explore Amagansett and stock up on fruit snacks at Vicki’s Veggies

1pm – Lunch at the Village Gourmet Cheese Shoppe

2pm – Explore Southampton and then on to JFK

Windmill in Sag Harbor, The Hamptons

48 hours in Oslo

Oslo is a fantastic weekend city break; even the public toilets radiate style, there’s plenty of pretty town to wander through or fascinating museums to dot into when the cold gets too much. Autumn and winter are chilly but atmospheric times to visit and seem to be how the city was built to be appreciated. Notoriously a pricey location, there is an alternative to make Oslo an affordable getaway without returning to your backpacker days of by-gone. Read on and make your bank manager happy!

Oslo is a fantastic weekend city break; even the public toilets radiate style, there’s plenty of pretty town to wander through or fascinating museums to dot into when the cold gets too much. Autumn and winter are chilly but atmospheric times to visit and seem to be how the city was built to be appreciated. Notoriously a pricey location, there is an alternative to make Oslo an affordable getaway without returning to your backpacker days of by-gone. Read on and make your bank manager happy!

We stayed in an AirBnB because all Norwegian homes are hella chic and having a kitchen meant we could avoid high restaurant costs. The Grunerlokka area of town is young, artistic and where you’ll want to be. Luckily, there are a tonne of great AirBnB options to pick from.

PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: If you share our dramatically disgusted reaction to the idea of a weekend sans gin, duty free is your best friend as be warned of the high alcohol prices at your weekend destination. [Our current favourites often available at duty free are Bloom and Caorunn, but mini bottles of the major brands are great if you’ve only got hand luggage.]

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An excellent starting point for your Saturday explorations is Oslo’s magnificent and modern Opera House on the waterfront in Bjorvika. After climbing the encircling ramp to the top and making friends with the seagulls, be sure to venture into the lobby and ogle the avant-garde costumes on display. Of course the costumes and set design in Norway are like nothing you’d be able to conjure up. *Sighs at the lowkey coolness*

From the Opera House it’s possible to wander into the delightful city centre, using Oslo’s main shopping street, Karl Johans gate, as your plumbline. The Cathedral and its accompanying coffee shop are worth a brief visit. Don’t hold back popping into a Fjallraven Kanken shop, if anything to admire the rainbow display of bags available. EVERY. DARN. COLOUR.

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From here, we walked up to the Royal Palace, however with experience of numb extremities under my belt, I’d say it would be far more sensible to jump on the tram from Stortinget to the National Theatre, and get a far more pleasant view of the city from the warmth of a carriage. The main attraction at the Palace is all the pomp of the changing of the guards and if you can time it right (1.30pm at time of writing), it’s well worth the trip.

There are many galleries and museums on every topic from the resistance, so choose to suit your taste. We opted for the National Gallery, enticed by the offer of seeing The Scream by Edvard Munch. Once there, I loved the series of paintings by the naturalist artist, Christian Krohg, as well as the diversity of the museum and creative spaces for sketching and trying out displayed techniques.

We also chose the Nobel Peace Prize museum, which now ranks amongst my all-time favourites. The interactive design could keep the attention of someone with only the most of shaky of interests and it was fascinating to read and watch the stories of inspirational peace-makers, some well-known, others brand-new to me. And of course, there’s a fabulous gift shop, which puts to shame souvenirs in all other museums, period. I’m still using my epic Nobel Peace Prize Winners gift wrap.

Did I mention our AirBnB had an awesome TV room, complete with a huge screen with Netflix on? So essentially, we just made food, binge-watched Elementary and drank our imported gin. Ideal.

A perfect Sunday brunch or lunch spot is Mathallen, a foodhall close to Grunerlokka. Though set in a trendy renovated warehouse, Mathallen maintains good natural light and high ceilings, so it’s a relaxed and buzzy environment to wander through. Atelier Asian Tapas, seafood at Froya Sjomat or the confit duck sandwiches at Ma Poule are excellent choices, but really just walk around until you spot something you can’t resist / get too hungry to walk anymore. Alternatively, pick up some deli items for your home cooking. Reindeer sausages with a side of sriracha popcorn, perhaps?

Your Sunday afternoon must include a visit to the Vigeland sculpture park in Frogner Park. Gustav Vigeland was a much-lauded Norwegian sculptor and his work in the park in particular is something to behold. His creations link human bodies in realistic, tender and often comical ways, for their playfulness and reflection of relationships. The bodies don’t just sit on plinths but make up an obelisk, bridge and wheel.

Finish your weekend with another of the plethora of Oslo museums. Wanting a relaxed afternoon, we selected the Doga – Norwegian Centre for Design and Architecture – housed in an old power station. We whiled away the afternoon, geeking out on the kind of well-made documentaries that have you obsessed with a topic you didn’t know existed, and lusting over exhibit rooms filled with design items throughout the modern age. There’s a great little organic / vegan café next door called Funky Fresh Foods.

So there’s your affordable weekend to Oslo on a design-conscious plate! Go, enjoy and give your tips and feedback below!

48 hours in Nairobi

Nairobi might not be the most convenient weekend getaway, unless you’re in the region like us, but if you’re planning a Kenyan safari or trekking trip, it’s well-worth scheduling in a relaxed weekend in Nairobi. Relaxed, you say? In Nairobi? Despite the traffic and the hustle and bustle, I’m here to tell you that a zen state is possible, and here’s how, dear readers.

Nairobi might not be the most convenient weekend getaway, unless you’re in the region like us, but if you’re planning a Kenyan safari or trekking trip, it’s well-worth scheduling in a relaxed weekend in Nairobi. Relaxed, you say? In Nairobi? Despite the traffic and the hustle and bustle, I’m here to tell you that a zen state is possible, and here’s how, dear readers.

Arriving on Friday night, arrange an airport pick up with your hotel and head over there. Instead of picking a spot downtown, plump for the leafy suburb of Karen in the South-West, where the green space and plethora of bon-vivant venues will equip you well for a weekend of kicking back. The Nomad’s Concierge loves The Purdy Arms for a mid-range option, or the inimitable Hemingway’s if you can stretch to it. In any case, once you’ve unpacked and freshened up and made sure you’ve got Uber on your phone, head to Hemingway’s for a relaxed cocktail amongst the tufted leather seats and marble fireplace.

On Saturday morning, head over to The Purdy Arms for a hearty brunch that’ll set you up for the day. The veranda looking out over the hotel’s luscious garden is perfect for people watching and getting a sense of life in Kenyan suburbia, as there’s always something on. The sports bar inside usually provides the right amount of banterous background noise. There’s a whole range of fun activities from paintballing to archery hosted from the gardens but they’re perhaps not in line with the relaxation aim. However, don’t leave without visiting the artisan shops that flank the drive. I fell in love with the quirky BBQs in the shape of buses and all sorts, but after 20 minutes making no headway on how to get one home, I reluctantly admitted defeat. Some day, BBQ, some day.

From there, head to the Giraffe Centre to get up close and personal with the most graceful of beasts. You’ll be given a handful of feed that you can offer up to a giraffe for them to extract from your hand with their extravagantly long tongues. A totally unique experience! The place isn’t huge, so no need to schedule more than an hour there and be warned, there’s no WiFi here, so don’t rely on Uber for your return trip unless you’re free and easy with roaming charges.

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At the Sheldrike Wildlife Trust, you’ll meet orphaned elephants, who you can see playfully jumping about and loving their safe and cared for life. At 5pm each day, you can visit to adopt one of the elephants, committing to financial supports its care in exchange for photos.

Stop by The Hub shopping centre, choosing one of their large range of restaurants for some lunch. We opted for Picazzo for tapas, churros and sangria in stylish surroundings. The shopping centre itself has many global brands alongside some fabulous local shops for souvenirs you’ll actually use in your home. My favourite of these was Blue Rhino, where I got some great candles, batik style placemats and had to resist any more of the beautiful handmade soft furnishings.

An unmissable Karen experience is Escape Room Kenya, around the corner from The Hub. If you don’t know the premise of an escape room, your group will be thrust into a locked room and you have an hour to solve the puzzles and escape. The Karen version is very well done. It’s not high-tech but the scenarios are fun and convincing, the plotlines get you in the mood and the puzzles are well-thought out and really enjoyable. Best of all, you can play from two players to a bigger group. And the props for the photo at the end are fabulous. It’s good, clean fun.

As night falls, the perfect Karen dinner spot is The Talisman restaurant, right next door in the same compound. Book an outside table ahead of time, where you’ll be supplied with blankets and your own fire in the shape of a rot-iron frog. The restaurant has a sumptuous menu of gastro-delights and a whole separate sushi menu to choose from. This is relaxed elegance at its finest.

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Sundays are made for hiking and being at one with nature, so after fuelling with your hotel breakfast head over to the Ngong Hills. A well-prepared Nomad would be wise to take water and snacks and beware it can get quite cool and windy. After hiring a ranger / guide for peace of mind at the front gate (or KFS opposite the Ngong Police Station), you can set off along the seven hills, which will take about 2.5-3 hours to reach the furthest point (Kona Baridi). Arrange a car to pick you up there – after all, this weekend is about relaxing, not exhausting, ourselves. Of course, there’s no need to go the whole way if you prefer to walk a little way there and back. In any case, along the way you’ll chat with Maasai herdsmen and spot buffalo, all the time with a stunning backdrop.

After earning your lunch, head to Matbronze Museum to visit their well-served café, before wandering around the fabulous array of bronze animal sculptures set amongst pristine gardens.

Depending on how leisurely your day has been and the timing of your flight, perhaps there’s time to fit in the nearby Karen Blixen Museum, the well-preserved home of the Out of Africa author. Much of the film adaptation was set there and it’s an intimate look into the author’s life. The Coffee Garden restaurant comes well recommended too for some refreshment.

And that is your 48 hours in Karen, Nairobi! I’d love to hear how it goes, Nomads, and any of your other discoveries. Let me know in the comments section below!