You know the Advent season is not far off in Innsbruck when the snow starts falling gently onto the rooftops of the medieval city centre and the air is scented with the smells of grilled sausages, mulled wine and sweet confections.

Tourists who have lapped up the December-long pleasures of German Christmas markets could do worse than to try Austria's this year.

Innsbruck's Christmas Market is not exactly ancient, but this year it will be marking the 40th anniversary of its foundation.

The Tyrolean region around it offers lots of other markets, each with its own special character, where open-air stalls are filled with Christmas tree decorations, handicraft items, jewellery and many an oddity. The music and the mulled wine on sale complete the magic.


In Innsbruck's Maerchengasse, or alley of fairy tales, dolls representing fantasy figures from Little Red Riding Hood to Hansel and Gretel and the Frog Prince are perched on the facades to delight the visitors every Christmastide.

Only about 50 kilometres away, in the Inn River valley, lies Rattenberg, a small medieval town where Advent is a secret favourite for those who want to experience something really old-fashioned.

Old-fashioned here mainly means flames: be it candles, torches or open fires, the town is illuminated by myriad flames every weekend on the four Saturdays before Christmas, a season known as Advent in the Christian calendar.

In the Austrian city of Salzburg, another favourite with tourists, this year's Christkindl (Christ Child) Market is already open, with colourful booths on the cathedral square offering hand-crafted knick-knacks, tree ornaments, bakery snacks, toys and carved cribs.