Holiday Hotspots: Deck the stalls.
CHIC Munich is at its most magical with frost twinkling on the Christmas market stalls and snow crunching underfoot.
The smell of roasting almonds and cinnamon wafts around by the gloriously grand Gothic city hall.
People sip warming cups of mulled wine - Gluhwein - beneath the twin domed spires of the cathedral.
And flower garlands drape the statues of the main food market square.
It's the perfect Christmas card scene - and I fell under its spell.
I was one of a group of language students who spent an evening at the Cafe Tannenbaum (Christmas Tree).
By the end of the night there were only two of us left. I was alone with a girl from Zagreb.
That was 17 years ago and we've been together ever since.
We obviously have a soft spot for Christmas markets, but it's a passion shared by many.
Ever more Christmas markets are springing up all over Europe each year and tour companies are not slow to meet the demand. Leger Holidays boss Huw Williams said: "Christmas Market holidays have become hugely popular and it's a combination of two things.
"First, we're taking more short breaks on the continent and second, we like to buy presents which are that bit different and thoughtful.
"And our customers like picture-postcard wintry backdrops, when it's usually dull and wet back home."
Christmas markets are one of the highlights of the winter calendar in Central Europe - nowhere more so than in Germany.
Most towns have one and many of the most famous date back to the Middle Ages, attracting millions of visitors each year.
Four million people visited the main one in Berlin last year by the ruined Gedachtniskirche - Memorial Church - left untouched since it was bombed in the Second World War.
Germany's oldest recorded Christmas market is Dresden's, which was first mentioned in 1434.
One of the best known is in Nuremburg, which dates back to 1628, and is famed for its Nuremberger Bratwurst (thin spicy sausages) and Lebkuchen (sticky, honey-sweet gingerbreads).
The biggest in Germany - and one of the most beautiful in Europe - is in Stuttgart, which is more than 300 years old. As with others, it has a special section for small children.
But the Christmas market tradition has spread to many other countries in Europe, including here.
You can go by train, plane, coach - and even on day trips. Here's just a small sample of the choice available...
COLOGNE has four big Christmas markets - and other smaller ones if you've still got the energy.
Most impressive is the one set out around the city's imposing cathedral, left. But a big favourite is one with pretty half-timbered stalls by the town hall. There's also a floating market aboard a boat moored on the Rhine and a medieval market in front of the Chocolate Museum.
Details of all German Christmas markets: 020 7317 0908, www.germany-christmas-market.org.uk.
CHILDREN will love the Alpine Christmas in Trento, above.
There's the market for adults, but kids will adore the Father Christmas train, Santa Claus House and fairytales involving Skippy the Hare.
Legend has it that a pair of hares from the Ark made their home in the nearby woods and meadows after the flood. A variety of street performers provide yet more entertainment.
Details: 020 7408 1254, www.enit.it
THE medieval Flemish buildings of the Grand' Place, left, in Brussels provide a lovely setting for the Christmas tree and stalls of its market.
And when you've had enough of quaffing mulled wine you can always pop into one of the square's many pubs, cafes and bars for a refreshing glass of any of Belgium's famous beers - there are plenty to choose from.
Details: 0906 302 0245 (60p a min), www.belgium theplaceto.be
ONE of the biggest and best markets is in Strasbourg, left, in front of the cathedral.
It's the oldest in France, dating back 431 years.
But for something different, head south to the pretty, fountain-filled town of Aix-en-Provence, where market stalls and shops will be full of santons. These are handmade dolls that depict all kinds of craft workers and tradesmen and are added to the shepherds and wise men of traditional nativity scenes.
Details: 09068 244123 (60p a min), www.france guide.com.
POP across from Munich to Vienna, as I did those 17 years ago, and you can feast your eyes on another fairytale view.
The magnificent snow-covered Gothic city hall, left, served as an idyllic backdrop for an ice rink packed with skaters, young and old, and rows of wooden huts.
For the more musical among you, Salzburg, home of Mozart and The Sound Of Music, would be the perfect choice.
Details: 0845 101 1818, www.austria-tourism.at/uk
THE markets in Prague, left, are world famous. But beautiful Krakow, in Poland, is less spoilt by tourism. Further off the beaten track is Riga, Latvia, where the first Christmas tree originated in 1510. Religious leader Martin Luther thought of decorating a pine with candles after walking through a forest and seeing moonlight reflecting on the needles.
Details. Prague: 09063 640641 (60p a min); Poland: 020 8741 5541; Latvia: 0207 229 8271.
SANTA'S LITTLE ALP-ERS: Trento's cathedral square