As a Christmas baby, I’ve always associated the switching on of lights and wafts of cinnamon borne on the headier scent of pine with the absolutely, unquestionably, definitively best time of the year. Mixed with a dangerous tendency towards materialism and comfort eating, this adoration of the festive season makes German markets like our own in Exeter my idea of heaven.
Not plagued by the gratuitous plastic structures and over-crowded shrieking of its larger British sisters such as London’s Winter Wonderland, the Exeter Christmas Market is a decorous and classy example of how to best make merry. Whether you go in the frosty quiet at ten o’clock on a Friday morning or shoulder through the throngs on a Saturday night, the fairy light bedecked mini chalets will have even the worst Scrooge thirsting for a cup of mulled wine.
a decorous and classy example of how to best make merry
The whole outfit is, of course, a foodie’s dream. Fast food with continental inspiration replaces the anaemic potato-laden deep fryers of Maccy D’s with enormous cast iron skillets and grills laden with colourful, fragrant dishes which will set you drooling before you can even figure out where that incredible smell is coming from. What’s more, the price tag tends to hover just above or below that of a large cod and chips from Sidwell’s; although I fully understand that spending a fiver on food sits more comfortably with students at 2am on the way out of Timepiece, I promise that you won’t regret parting with that cash you were saving for a Mega Kebab for a Bratwurst (from £4.50) instead.
The whole outfit is, of course, a foodie’s dream
There is something to suit every taste bud and every budget: tartiflette for £5/7 – essentially a French version of carbonara, but with potatoes instead of pasta – frikadellen for £3 – a ridiculously under-appreciated sort of flattened meatball – wood red pizza with a choice between sweet or savoury, and an array of French crepes, Belgian waffles and Spanish churros that you are unlikely to see this side of the channel outside of the festive season. On my second visit, I opted for a cone of sugared churros, exchanging four quid for enough fried dough to keep an Olympic athlete going for a week; when I visit post-deadlines and no longer have to bear in mind the fact that I need to fit into my Christmas ball dress, I might even plump for the £6 chocolate and fresh strawberry affair.
THERE IS SOMETHING TO SUIT EVERY TASTE BUD AND EVERY BUDGET
And once your stomach is full, you can begin work on your pockets and shopping bags; the gift (slash stash it in your rucksack to fuel that impending late night library sesh) options are truly phenomenal. The pink and white candy-striped paper bags of the enormous pick-and-mix stall are particularly close to my heart, though closer to my mouth when filled up with banoffee fudge at just £1.69 per 100g. Meyart Coffee offers 100g bags of ground and unground gourmet caffeine for £4 in incredible flavours including butterscotch, fudge, French vanilla and blueberry muffin which, if you don’t like coffee, could probably serve just as well as the world’s most tummy-rumbling potpourri. The Amazing Astonishingly Spectacular Chocolate Workshop sells truly amazing, astonishing and spectacular crafted chocolates, moulded and painted up to look uncannily like real tools; although these come at a slightly hefty price – you’re looking at £7.50 for an adjustable spanner – if they taste as good as they look, it’s an investment worth making. A personal favourite of mine can be found on Exeter Cathedral’s own stall in a notso-humble jar of passionfruit curd which will knock the socks off of anyone with good taste – it’s priced at £4.50 per unit though, so treat it with respect and apply sparingly to good bread. I don’t want to hear that a loaf of Hovis has gone anywhere near it.
There are enough jewellers in the market to furnish Smaug’s hollow mountain
And, of course, if you haven’t already blown your overdraft on ensuring that none of your stash fits come January, you can purchase some fantastic non-edible delights from the healthy range of traders. Pollyfields sell gorgeous traditional decorations made of dried oranges and cinnamon sticks sure to impress even the most fickle grandmother, and Nicola Mary Designs will create bespoke ceramic gift tags from just £3 to give your presents the edge on your siblings’ offerings. Paper star lanterns will bring out the wide-eyed child within and, simply hung over a lightbulb, will transform any room with kaleidoscopic colour for just £8. There are enough jewellers in the market to furnish Smaug’s hollow mountain; you can find items based on amber, leather, dried flowers, silver and more, all beautifully made and reasonably priced up. If you’re feeling indulgent, £80 felt coats and £40 patchwork waistcoats will have you looking kooky in the best possible way in the time it takes to withdraw the cash.
Whether you’re looking for unique gifts, post-coursework indulgence or simply a continental experience without the price of the plane tickets, Exeter Christmas Market is a must-see attraction for any student before the term is out.