Mulled wine, chestnuts and chocolate spanners
PUBLISHED: 06:58 04 December 2014
We have had markets in St Albans for 1,000 years and now, at last, we have a Christmas market that we can be proud of. Situated in and around the beautiful walled Vintry garden with the Cathedral keeping watch overhead, this has to be one of the loveliest markets in the country.
You can buy a bag of hot chestnuts by the entrance to nibble on as you wander around the 60 or so traditional wood chalets. A fair number of the stalls are from St Albans, particularly along Waxhouse Gate where the stalls will change hands several times during the duration of the market so you can always find something interesting. I was very impressed by I am Cocoa who use excellent quality chocolate to make Christmas treats; the solid Christmas trees were a highlight, and the decorated chocolate lollipops would make perfect stocking fillers.
Inside the Vintry Garden you will find other familiar faces including Hatch who are selling their popular hot chocolate with cream and marshmallows and The City Market Company who are back with their bestselling bacon jam. Look out too for the Christmas chutneys, stylish baking kits and Joe and Seph’s gourmet popcorn which I think would be a fun gift for any filmlovers or teens that you know.
I really liked The Scottish Kitchen chalet, which sold smoked salmon, cheese and oatcakes. It was the first time I had eaten delicious Ecclefachen, an open pastry tart packed with mincemeat and nuts. For more traditional mince pies, the Cathedral stall were selling packs made by Steven the master baker at Redbournbury Water Mill. Cakes and stollen will appear later in the market, but it is hard for them to keep up with demand so buy them when you spot them.
This year the bar chalet is located at the centre of the market next to the Christmas tree, which makes it an easy place to get your bearings, meet friends, and absorb the atmosphere. I was very pleased to see local company The 3 Brewers is stocked, alongside delicious mulled wine and spiced cider and apple juice. If you have a beer enthusiast in the family look out for Victor’s Drinks, former Dragon’s Den winner, who were selling kits to make your own beer and cider. For £20 a kit, you can make 20 pints; bargain!
Do try and find the Schokolat chocolate spanners, paint brushes and bottle openers – they are weirdly realistic. Something for even the most difficult grandfather or dad! If you know a keen cook, they might also love one of the giant Slovakian kitchen spoons hanging nearby.
I am sure many people head to the market looking for bratwurst and this year there are two stalls in Sumpter Yard, as it was so popular last year. You can also choose marinaded chicken wraps (the sweet chilli and lime was good), pulled pork, nut roast, crepes and waffles.
As well as plenty to eat and buy, there is free live entertainment throughout the market, from pop-up panto to opera. Families can visit Father Christmas and try the free family trail (see the Information Chalet) or make gorgeous felt baubles and sock Santas with ArtShed. Follow @StAXmasMarket on Twitter for timings of each live act or just turn up and see what is happening. St Albans tour guides will be leading tours of the Christmas and town markets every Saturday (tickets £4, book at the Tourist Information Centre).
The Christmas Market runs until Sunday December 21 and I am sure I will pop in many times between now and then, not least for more of the lovely mulled wine.
Opening times until Sunday December 21: Sun-Weds 11–6; Thurs-Sat 11–8