Christmas markets spring up like startled Feldhasen at this time of year…

Palais Niederösterreich hosted its annual Adventmarkt for one weekend in Vienna at the beginning of the month, and it is a market I excitedly await. The main salon itself makes visiting magical, though for me the real magic is in exploring the offerings from around Niederösterreich.

From the Waldviertel region, custom shoes (and much more!) made with fish leather. Nativity gloves, anyone? Baskets of Wildsausage for sale; the antlers, sadly not. I asked. Handmade Lebkuchen. Decorative birch candles, made to order. And a favorite item for me, award-winning Veltliner Balsamico.

Two weekends ago found us at Burg Forchtenstein, a Hungarian Esterházy castle that resides in the Austrian Federal State of Burgenland, which was once in the Hungarian part of the Empire.

Homemade Zirben (Austrian pine cone) Schnapps, a regular at any market worth its salt. Handmade Lebkuchen birdhouses too pretty to eat. Sweeping (and very, very breezy) vistas, and a wintry sky for the drive home.

Our little district hosts the small, “Weihnachtsmarkt in Türkenschanzpark.” The market is a groovy mashup of organic, hipster, and Farmer’s market, with carousel rides and sauerkraut-topped doughnuts thrown in for fun, and where the fur-clad (both humans and canine) mix and mingle in a jingle bell way.  Clayton Theodore loves taking his afternoon constitutional through the market, the visions of dropped foods dancing in his head.

8 December was a “holiday” in Austria; that is, the country was only partially shut down, so Tony and I pointed the sleigh over the vineyards and into the woods to two special Adventmarkts in the Waldviertel. The first, small and charming, with hand churned butter in portions to stop one’s heart and hand knitted woolen products from Slovenia, all of which I wanted to purchase. I settled on just one, and then gifted myself homemade Bergamot face water, too.

The second, inside a medieval-turned Baroque-turned damaged by the Nazis-and then restored castle.

Oh, the surprises! Mary and Joseph looking rather bespoke, though the leering watchman seems as confused as we.

Speaking of confused, we wondered if we missed the Bible verse wherein Baby Jesus had an older sibling?

Inside the castle, a Pope’s Room? Beautifully restored chimneys and the last of the Wipferlsaft, an Oma-approved pine cough syrup (that works in inverse proportion to its taste!) and so many beautiful and locally-produced items to round out our holiday shopping.

A sweet plum-filled Kriachl with coffee, and then it was time to head home.

Into the Vienna Woods on Saturday for…a Christmas market in a gorge! Just about an hour from our home is the Johannesbachklamm, a pretty little gorge tucked into the Gutenstein Alps.

Residents of the village set out greetings; and the setting could not have been more seasonal with twinkling lights and light snow falling. And oh, that mug of Klamm Glühwein, with a hefty dose of pine cone Schnapps was a most appreciated defense against the gusty winds in the canyon.

Unexpected delights, from alpaca wool products to holidays on camels farms in Austria (?) to a Bavarian favorite of ours, Schneeballen! The Schneeball is the closest sweet treat to my beloved Polish Kruschiki, and I almost never pass on an opportunity to sample.

It truly is the most wonderful time of the year!