ENCHANTING: A London Christmas is not complete without seeing Oxford Street shop windows. Photo: Rae Wilson
ENCHANTING: A London Christmas is not complete without seeing Oxford Street shop windows. Photo: Rae Wilson

The sights and smells of Christmas in Europe

HINTS of cinnamon and nutmeg seem to magically weave through every Christmas market in London and Paris.

It is likely the mulled wine, which doubles as a hand warmer for the near freezing winter days, wafting between the mouth-watering wares of the delicatessens, fromageries, bakeries and sweet stalls.

But the generous choice of gingerbread houses and buttoned ginger men also might be the welcomed spicy culprit.

Places like the Borough Market in London and the marchés de Noel - selling delicious delights from wooden chalets along Avenue des Champs-Elysees - in Paris make Europe a fabulous time to visit during the festive season.
Throw in ice rinks, winter wonderland amusement rides and must-see shop windows; the anticipation of a possible White Christmas grows exponentially.

But department store windows should be at the top of the list.

Catch the London Underground to Oxford Circus and make your way west along Oxford Street.

John Lewis's "the gifts they've been dreaming of" theme with penguins last year was a treat.

Check out the House of Frazer lights, enjoy the pop-up carollers and bands, the odd Santa Claus and the street decorations as you make your way to the department store everyone raves about.

Selfridges&Co - made more famous when its history became a TV show - is renowned for its legendary window displays.

The 23 windows in the 2014 extravaganza were not your average bedtime stories, rather traditional fairy tales like Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin or the goose that laid the golden egg, with a modern twist.

Apparently there were 197,000 baubles, 10,000 laser-cut leaves, 1005 Christmas trees and 600 cans of gold spray paint used store-wide.

Imagine what magic 2015 might hold.

If you have time, do Harrods too, near Knightsbridge station, but everyone in London seemed underwhelmed at recent offerings.

Want some mulled wine, gingerbread and quality trimmings (TIP: go for the truffle brie) for a Christmas get-together? Borough Market - open Wednesday to Saturday - is enchanting.

Just Google London Christmas markets and ice skating rinks for many more options.

A train ride under the English Channel on the Eurostar will have you checking out all charming Paris has to offer in just more than two hours.

Start with a Nutella crepe near the Eiffel Tower, wander through Trocadero Christmas markets and take a skate around the ice rink and then settle in for a hop-on hop-off boat ride on the Siene River.

When you're ready, jump on the metro to Chaussée d'Antin - La Fayette station.

Galeries La Fayette made its theme Noel Monstre come alive with monsters scaring, or alternatively endearing, children at each window in 2014.
Similarly, nearby Printemps, just a block further down Boulevard Haussmann, is worth combatting the fierce crowds for.
Last year's "Noel, Voyage Magique au Printemps, by Burberry" was engaging, charming and a clever use of all the brand had to offer.

Christmas, a magical journey had teddies in miniature Burberry trench coats with scarves and umbrellas. Handbags were made into houses and railway arches.

Duck to the top floor Brasserie under the magnificent art nouveau stained glass dome for lunch.

After giving your legs a break, jump back on the boat to the Louvre.

Wander through Jardin des Tuileries to Avenue des Champs-Elysees which is lined with wooden chalets offering myriad delights to tantalise the tongue.

As you near the Arc de Triomphe, you'll find the famous brand name shops remain open for late-night shopping fun including macaroon specialist Laduree.

We might be used to beach-time or chilling with the aircon on full blast, but the crisp December days our European counterparts enjoy are worth the chance at a Christmas-card perfect scene.

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