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CHRISTMAS

Eat, drink and be merry: Switzerland’s best Christmas markets in 2021

After being cancelled in 2020 due to the pandemic, Swiss Christmas markets are back again this year. Here’s an overview to give you the sense of what is going on where this holiday season.

Swiss Christmas markets will open at the end of November.
Christmas markets are back this year in many parts of Switzerland. Photo by Tessa Rampersad on Unsplash

Sparkling lights that cast a magical spell, streets aglow with thousands of sparkling lights and the whiff of mulled wine and roasted chestnuts in the air could only mean one thing: it’s time for the Christmas market extravaganza.

Yes, Christmas markets are back this year but they are not as carefree as they used to be in the pre-pandemic times. A new thing to contend with  is the Covid certificate requirement for some, though this rule doesn’t apply everywhere.

Basel

Spread across two squares — the Barfüsserplatz and Münsterplatz — Basel’s annual Christmas market  is one of Switzerland’s largest and most picturesque.

About 130 stands spread throughout both locations offer a variety of ornaments, including wood figurines and ceramic decorations, many of which are hand-made by local artists.

There are also regional delicacies, such as Basel Läckerli — gingerbread cookies made of honey, hazelnuts, almonds, candied orange, lemon peel, and various spices.

A Covid certificate is required.

Open: November 28th to December 23rd.

Basel’s markets are scenically located in the Old Town. Photo: Basel.com

Zurich

The largest holiday market in the city, the  “Wienachtsdorf” (Christmas village) on Sechseläutenplatz certainly lives up to its name.

The 120 stalls set up in front of the opera house are laden with an array of decorations and other trinkets. And there is no shortage of food and drink traditionally associated with Christmas, such as mulled wine.

And yes, you can also have a more hearty fare like a cheese fondue — this is, after all, Switzerland.

A Covid certificate is required.

Open: November 25th to December 23rd.

Holiday spirit is alive and well in the Christmas village. Photo by Zurich.com

Montreux

This town in Vaud known for its annual jazz festival and as Freddy Mercury’s stomping ground, also boasts an enchanting Christmas market.

Stretching for more than one kilometre along Lake Geneva’s shoreline, the 150 chalet-style booths offer traditional ornament and decorations, along with Vaud specialties like ham on the bone and platters of cold meat cuts from the Pays d’Enhaut region.

And if you look up into the night sky, you may just be lucky enough to spot Santa Claus flying on his sleigh.

Covid certificate is not required, unless accessing indoor restaurants and other venues

Open: November 19th to December 24th.

Bern

With only 80 wooden huts set up in Berner Sternenmarkt, the market in the country’s capital is smaller than in other major Swiss cities, but it is no less “Christmasy” in its spirit.

There are plenty of holiday trinkets on sale, along with food and wine, as well as children’s “village” that offers the carousel, and other kid-friendly activities and entertainment .

A cozy “fondue chalet” with 200 seats will serve cheese specialties in the heated lounge.

As befits a market that’s located just a snowball’s throw away from the federal Parliament building, Covid certificate will be required in both indoor and outdoor areas.

Open: November 25th to December 31st.

Geneva

The city has several separate, contained market areas, including in the Jardin Anglais, Mont-Blanc, and Plainpalais neighbourhoods.

But perhaps the one best reflecting Geneva’s international flair is the market at Place de la Fusterie, which features decorations, arts and crafts, as well as a wide variety of foods from many different nations.

Covid certificate is required

Open: November 18th to December 26th.

Mont-Blanc market is one of several in Geneva. Photo: Ville de Genève

What about markets in other parts of Switzerland?

Some towns and regions have decided to forego Christmas markets again this year.

This link will give you an idea of what is going on near you. You can find out ether the Covid certificate is required to enter from your local authorities.

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For members

TRAVEL NEWS

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023 but what does this mean for travellers?

The EU has announced that its Covid travel certificate will be extended until 2023. Claudia Delpero looks at what this mean if you have a trip planned this year.

EU extends Covid travel certificates until 2023 but what does this mean for travellers?

Cleaning up the phone and thinking of getting rid of that Covid app? Just wait a minute. 

The European Union has decided to extend the use of EU Covid certificates by one year, until June 30th 2023. 

The European Commission first made the proposal in February as the virus, and the Omicron variant in particular, was continuing to spread in Europe. At that point it was “not possible to determine the impact of a possible increase in infections in the second half of 2022 or of the emergence of new variants,” the Commission said. 

Now tourism is taking off again, while Covid cases are on the rise in several European countries.

So the EU has taken action to ensure that travellers can continue using the so-called ‘digital green certificates’ in case new restrictions are put in place after their initial deadline of June 30th, 2022. 

What is the EU ‘digital green certificate’?

If you have travelled within the EU in the last year, you have probably already used it.

On 1st July 2021, EU countries started to introduce the ‘digital green certificate’, a Covid pass designed by the European Commission to facilitate travel between EU member states following months of restrictions.

It can be issued to EU citizens and residents who have been vaccinated against Covid, have tested negative or have recovered from the virus, as a proof of their health status. 

Although it’s called a certificate, it isn’t a separate document, it’s just a way of recognising all EU countries’ national health pass schemes.

It consists of a QR code displayed on a device or printed.

So if you live in an EU country, the QR code issued when you were vaccinated or tested can be scanned and recognised by all other EU countries – you can show the code either on a paper certificate or on your country’s health pass app eg TousAntiCovid if you’re in France or the green pass in Italy. 

Codes are recognised in all EU 27 member states, as well as in 40 non-EU countries that have joined the scheme, including the UK – full list here.

What does the extension of certificates mean? 

In practice, the legal extension of the EU Covid pass does not mean much if EU countries do not impose any restrictions.

It’s important to point out that each country within the EU decides on its own rules for entry – requiring proof of vaccination, negative tests etc so you should check with your country of destination.

All the EU certificate does is provide an easy way for countries to recognise each others’ certificates.

At present travel within the EU is fairly relaxed, with most countries only requiring negative tests for unvaccinated people, but the certificate will become more relevant again if countries impose new measures to curb the spread of the virus. 

According to the latest data by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, countries such as France, Portugal and parts of Italy and Austria are in the red again. 

The EU legislation on the certificate neither prescribes nor prohibits such measures, but makes sure that all certificate holders are treated in the same way in any participating country. 

The EU certificate can also be used for access to venues such as bars and restaurants if countries decided to re-impose health or vaccines passes on a domestic basis.

So nothing changes?

In fact, the legislation introduces some changes to the current certificates. These include the clarification that passes issued after vaccination should reflect all doses administered, regardless of the member state where the inoculation occurred. This followed complaints of certificates indicating an incorrect number of vaccine doses when these were received in different countries.

In addition, new rules allow the possibility to issue a certificate of recovery following an antigen test and extend the range of uthorised antigen tests to qualify for the green pass. 

To support the development and study of vaccines against Covid, it will also be possible to issue vaccination certificates to people participating in clinical trials.

At the insistence of the European Parliament, the Commission will have to publish an assessment of the situation by December 31st 2022 and propose to repeal or maintain the certificate accordingly. So, while it is extended for a year, the certificate could be discontinued earlier if it will no longer be consider necessary. 

The European parliament rapporteur, Spanish MEP Juan Fernando López Aguilar, said: “The lack of coordination from EU governments on travel brought chaos and disruption to the lives of millions of Europeans that simply wanted to move freely and safely throughout the EU.

“We sincerely hope that the worst of the pandemic is far behind us and we do not want Covid certificates in place a day longer than necessary.”

Vaccination requirements for the certificate

An EU certificate can be issued to a person vaccinated with any type of vaccine, but many countries accept only EMA-approved vaccines (Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax, Valneva and Janssen) – if you have been vaccinated with another vaccine, you should check the rules on the country you are travelling to.  

Certificates remain valid for 9 months (270) days following a complete vaccination cycle – so if you had your vaccine more than nine months ago you will need a booster in order to be considered fully vaccinated.

There is no requirement for a second booster, so if you have had a booster you remain ‘fully vaccinated’ even if your booster was administered more than 9 months ago. 

As of 1st March 2022, EU countries had issued almost 1.2 billion EU Covid certificates, of which 1.15 billion following vaccination, 511 million as a result of tests and 55 million after recovery from the virus. 

France, Italy, Germany, Denmark and Austria are the countries that have issued the largest number of EU Covid certificates. 

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