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Seeing Christmas by Parisian moonlight is spectacular
11:13am Thursday 13th December 2012 in Travel
We all love Paris in the springtime, it's in the song, writes Lesley Bellew.
But the City of Light's magic really comes alive at Christmas.
The Champs-Élysées is adorned with two kilometres of twinkling lights looped along its avenue of clipped horse chestnut trees.
From the Arc de Triomphe, you can follow a trail of dazzling pale blue and white decorations to the Christmas market near Place de la Concorde.
Here, hundreds of brightly lit log cabins create a winter wonderland where you may also catch a glimpse of Santa on his sleigh.
Even if you do not find all of your Christmas gifts in the market you will find yourself immersed in spirit of Christmas. Children are skating, lovers walk hand-in-hand, families and friends tuck into French foodie delights washed down with vin chaud, a hot spiced wine laced with a slug of Cognac.
Only super humans will resist the bewitching aroma of warming fairground fare - hot dogs, hot chichi (long, thin doughnuts covered in sugar) and hot chocolate.
Better still, there are plenty of places to sit while you munch your way through perhaps healthier options. The English gardens alongside the market are an idyllic place to rest your legs, people-watch and delight at the children playing in the last of the autumn leaves.
Back at the market there is veritable feast of novelty goods - fluffy pink Eiffel Tower cuddly toys or books about Charles Aznavour might not be on your list, nor velveteen gingerbread men, but there's a fair share of unique, quality goods from jewellery to glove puppets and artisan chocolates - plus plenty of artistic inspiration to make your own Christmas lights or ocarina necklaces (tiny wooden flutes on a string). Maybe not.
Of course, if you want Louis Vuitton luggage to carry home your purchases, the flagship store is at 101 ‘Le Champs’, as the Parisians call the world’s most beautiful shopping avenue.
For fragrance consultations at the legendary perfume house of Guerlain, you just need to cross the road to No.68 (book in advance at www.Guerlain.com for star treatment).
A 'must-do treat' is afternoon tea at Laudrée. There tends to be a queue outside the elegant tea salon but it is worth the wait at No. 75 to indulge yourself, celebrate crossing the road in one piece (avenue des Champs Élysées attracts the wildest of French motorists) and take home presents from the patisserie.
A beautifully packaged box of brightly coloured macaroons will definitely go down a treat. These small, round cakes, crisp on the outside and soft in the centre, with a ganache filling, are the Laudrée signature creation. Better still, they are light as a feather so easy to carry.
Not that a weight restriction or struggling on public transport with armfuls of bags has to be a worry. A Fred. Olsen Christmas mini-cruise from Dover or Southampton takes care of that and return coach trips from the port to Christmas markets takes away all the hassle.
You can even fit in optional trips to the Calvados region to learn how the apple brandy is produced, or for truly sweet-toothed shopaholics, a visit to La Maison du Biscuit, near Cherbourg, will fulfil any fantasy of being lost in a Victorian gingerbread house.
Carousels of cakes and mountains of mouth-watering delicacies are just the job to easily fill everyone's Christmas stocking with pure butter biscuits, violet liqueurs, lavender nougat and absinthe mustard.
While Christmas shopping is the main theme of such a mini-break you may have noticed that eating comes a close second.
With a full breakfast to get you through a morning tour you can be back for lunch, with time to visit the ship's duty free shops. Guess watches, Ray-Ban sunglasses, Swarovski jewellery and top-name perfumes, spirits and cigarettes at duty free prices will help you complete your shopping before a well-deserved five-course dinner and West End-style show.
Factfile: Fred Olsen’s cruise ship Boudicca has a four-night cruise, France's Christmas Markets, (D1226) departing from Portsmouth on December 16, 2012 to Cherbourg and Rouen.
Rouen has a Christmas market in the old market square and an open-air ice-rink.
Prices from £279 per person, based on two adults sharing an inside twin-bedded cabin.
Cruise ship Balmoral has a nine-night German Christmas Markets' cruise, departing from Southampton on December 13, 2012. Prices from £399 per person, based on a Latesaver two-bedded cabin.
Prices are per person, and include all meals and entertainment on board and port taxes.
Find out about 2013 cruises to Paris, European Christmas markets andmore at www.fredolsencruises.com or call 01473 742424, or through any ABTA travel agent.