One of the pleasures of December in Europe is the many Christmas markets that pop up early in the month and continue into January. For sheer glitz, nothing tops Christmas in Monaco, which begins with a ceremonial lighting in front of the Casino de Monte-Carlo in early December. This year’s Christmas market is on the theme of Russia and goes until Sunday, January 3.

“Monaco is dazzling at this time of year,” says Sylvia Jones of Villas and Apartments Abroad. “The palm trees are lit with thousands of white lights and the hotels look like jewel boxes. Artists, couturiers, and jewelers sell the most beautiful and original things, many of them hand-crafted—not to mention the gourmet shops selling all kinds of delicacies, from beautifully packaged chocolates to caviar. My favorite treat is the very thick hot chocolate—so delicious and perfect on a cold night. I feel like a child again. There’s a little red train, with bells and whistles, carrying happy children, laughter from little ones on the merry-go-round, the Ferris wheel turning to the sounds of Christmas carols, and many games to enjoy. Young and old take to the ice-skating rink. Traditionally, the locals leave the day after Christmas and go to their ski chalets in the mountains, but the market continues until New Year’s, when the high rollers roll into town.”

One of our favorite Monagasque traditions is le pan de natale, a round loaf decorated with an olive branch to symbolize peace. The bread is offered by local bakers at Christmastime in exchange for donations to Monaco charities.