My favourite place at this time of year is Salzburg, and if I can’t be there for advent I like to try to create a little bit of Salzburg magic at home in Oxford.
There, the magic begins with a walk through the Monschberg tunnel and into the Old Town. Many happy hours have been spent wandering around the bustling markets, cheered by colourful Christmas decorations, warmed by mugs of hot Glühwein, and fortified by sausages, sauerkraut and white rolls served on paper plates.
It’s a city of music, filled at this time of year with the sounds of Christmas – from the haunting beauty of an alphorn quartet at night outside the Hohensalzburg castle to the frozen notes of the deep, city bells; local choirs carol-singing outside the cathedral; the re-bounding of clattering hooves pulling carriages through the squares; and buskers of all kinds in the markets.
And when the cold gets too much, there are plenty of cosy retreats offering warming dishes and a truly festive atmosphere. A particular favourite is the winter wonderland of the St Peter Stiftskeller, where every room is festooned from floor to ceiling.
One of my favourite views is from the Nonnberg where, from one side, you can look out over the copper roofs and onion-shaped domes of the city, or beyond the golden-topped spires to mountains and forests from the other.
But beware of the krampus emerging from the frost-filled caves and deep, dark woodlands surrounding the city. I will never forget my first encounter with these fearsome creatures!
Simple ways to recreate the Salzburg advent experience at home:
Fill your home with deep-red amaryllis
Enjoy steaming bowls of pancake soup for lunch – you can find a recipe on Not Quite Nigella’s site.
Place a few drops of frankincense essential oil in an oil burner or in a small saucer of water balanced on a radiator (or add to pot-pourri).
Have Sachertorte for afternoon tea (available at Lidl)
Decorate your home with greenery, traditional straw decorations, felt reindeer and red apples
Visit a Christmas market
Watch Amadeus and the Sound of Music
Listen to carols and plenty of Mozart, interspersed with traditional Austrian folk music
Serve up bockwurst with sauerkraut, mustard and white rolls
Celebrate St Nicholas’ Day on 6 December by giving friends and family small surprise presents
Treat yourself to some Mozartkugeln
Keep an eye out for the krampus!