It’s Christmas Eve and while your presence is present enough, we’ve laid on a few little treats from our team. We’ve made a special playlist that goes rather well with the crackle of an open fire, we disclose our Helsinki correspondent’s plea for better stocking fillers and offer a recipe for a cocktail with which to toast the festive season. First up, Monocle’s editorial director, Tyler Brûlé, sets the Christmas wheels in motion.
You might be vaguely familiar with the Christmas drill in The Faster Lane by now. For more than two decades (save for brief interludes in Palm Beach, NSW and Merano) it has been pretty much the same routine of a scramble to make it up the mountain, a rush for ingredients, trees, assorted greenery and last-minute gifts, and then various sessions in the kitchen to prep Estonian and Swedish dishes. This year we mixed it up a bit by removing some of the scramble components and leaving a bit of extra stamina to get our seasonal shop up and running. More on that in a moment.
It might have been an idea to wrap things up last Friday but there were still meetings in Geneva and Zug that couldn’t be moved. So, instead of moving en masse, we drove up to St Moritz last Sunday with a car packed full of all that’s required for Christmas happiness, bought and decorated the tree, positioned half the presents under the tree, left mom to look after other preparations and then went back down the mountain to Zürich on Monday morning to tie up a few odds and ends. On Wednesday, with little in the way of extra luggage, we leisurely made our way to a mid-morning train, connected with the alpine dining car and, by the time that I was on my last sip of coffee, we were pulling into St Moritz station. Up the escalators and through the village, we were soon in front of our new seasonal shop, greeting colleagues and admiring our fine position in the heart of the Dorf. Locals and visitors were already popping in for coffees and gifts, and with my colleague Linda (on special assignment from our store in Merano – just over the mountains), we made a few tweaks and scoped out the super woody, cosy adjoining bar.
“What do we think about a little Christmas cocktail, pre-New Year’s drink for our readers?” I suggested to the group. “Yes, sure, let’s do it,” agreed Raffi. “I’ll speak to them.” Within an hour, we had the bar booked and the invite designed. By now, dear reader, you should have received an invitation to our little toast to the season this coming Thursday from 16.30 at the Monocle Shop at Hotel Steffani. If not, please feel free to come along and say hello to some of our Swiss crew. If you can’t make it this week, then plan to swing up during the Nomad art festival a little later in the season when we’ll also host Monocle Radio from the heart of the village that weekend.
It’s now time to set everything in motion for Christmas Eve. The grand challenge of baking the Estonian Christmas kringel is complete (yet to be sampled), the pepparkakor are out of the oven (we all agree they’re a hit), the caviar is purchased from Glattfelder, the champagne is chilling on the balcony and Ella, Dean, Tatsuro and Idina are all shuffling back and forth on the now-vintage Denon stereo. Someday we’ll discuss the magic of fine traditions and why there’s a civilised, healthy comfort in doing the exact same thing, at the exact same time, year after year. Until then, I wish you and yours a wonderful, tasty and bountiful Christmas. Here are a pair of films from our teams in Zürich and London from our markets from the past weeks. Cheers.
At a time when the market is inundated with children’s gadgets and gizmos featuring backlit screens, flashing lights and loud noises, there is something endearing about the enduring pull of simple, Finnish wooden toys (writes Petri Burtsoff). The story is partly an industrial one: for centuries, forests have been an economic and spiritual lifeline for the Finns and the tradition of crafting toys from wood continues to this day, with some Finnish makers of wooden playthings having been around for more than a century. These toys are durable, sturdy and, as a result, rather sustainable and frequently passed from generation to generation. As I type this, my two boys are playing with toys that my brother and I played with (and fought over) decades ago. Not only is this agelessness better for the environment but it also adds a pleasing element of storytelling and provenance to objects, something that modern plastic toys lack.
Playing with wooden toys has other benefits. The natural tactility of wood is something that has been proven to have a calming effect on a child. The simple design of these Finnish toys, such as the posting boxes, trains and block sets by mainstay manufacturer Jukka-lelut (founded in 1923), promotes a playing environment that is more tranquil and – many argue – one that encourages the child to focus on problem solving and imaginative play (though, judging by the noise of my children, it doesn’t induce meditative silence). Instead of offering instant gratification, like many modern toys, a slower pace of play can be beneficial for a child’s cognitive development, not to mention the obvious benefit of keeping children away from backlit screens.
As someone who cares about design and what I surround myself with, I also find wooden toys more pleasing to the eye. Every parent knows that having children alters the way that your home looks. Having plastic toys in vivid, lurid and lively colours scattered around the house isn’t in the least bit pleasing to the eye. Wooden toys, on the other hand, are more visually appealing and better designed (though no less painful to tread on). Finland is not the only country in the world that makes excellent wooden toys. But to me, there is something about the Finnish ones that makes them stand out. Perhaps it comes back to design and that effortless combination of simplicity, beauty and functionality, which gives them a distinctive look and feel. Don’t get me wrong, they are not a fix-all solution for parenting. Children will fight over them, fight with them and try to break even your most cherished of childhood heirlooms. Luckily, if the toys are made from wood – built with generations of know-how – and are time-tested, your children will have their work cut out to ruin them.
Hartmut Hennig is a German toymaker who has been crafting miniature figurines in wood, known as Erzgebirge ornaments, since 2000 (writes Gunnar Gronlid). The company was founded just after the First World War by his grandfather. This year, Hennig’s workshop has been busy making hundreds of nativity characters for the festive season. Here, he takes a break to give us an insight into his restless Christmas, a German breakfast and his favourite historical novel.
Where will we find you this weekend?
I’ll be in my workshop crafting Christmas decorations with a group of friends. There will be mulled wine and beer, of course.
Ideal start to a Sunday? Gentle or a jolt? The preparations for our guests’ arrival happen slowly.
What’s for breakfast?
Bread rolls, jam, and sausage and cheese.
Lunch in or out?
We eat with our guests at the Christmas market in the spa town of Seiffen, south of Dresden.
Walk the dog or downward dog?
Our dog, a German pinscher, is always with us.
A Sunday soundtrack?
Christmas carols for the first Advent.
Sunday culture must?
We are fully booked during the Christmas season, so I visit the market and process orders. I also shovel snow. The rest comes only in January.
News or no news?
While I follow the news, I also like to read historical novels.
What’s on the menu?
Bread, sausage, cheese, radishes and tomato – a simple evening meal.
Sunday evening routine?
A cup of coffee and an indulgent piece of Erzgebirge stollen. Then I walk the dog, process emails, have dinner and relax with a glass of wine.
Will you lay out your outfit for Monday?
Just my work clothes.
The best and worst gifts you’ve received?
The best is the time that you spend with your loved ones. The worst are vouchers that you usually can’t redeem.
What would you like to find under the Christmas tree?
A sackful of peace.
What books will you buy others for Christmas?
Well-researched historical novels. I particularly like 1813 Kriegsfeuer by Sabine Ebert.
We’re assuming by now you have some idea about what you might be eating on Christmas Day but how about a cocktail with a little fizz? Enjoy.
150g caster sugar
Vanilla pod shell
8 cardamom pods, bashed with the side of a knife to release the seeds
2 pears, peeled, cored and roughly chopped
1 bottle prosecco
Combine the water, caster sugar, vanilla pod and cardamom in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Once the sugar has melted, add the chopped pears and gently simmer for 15-20 minutes, until the pear looks soft and translucent. Cool completely and remove the vanilla pod. Keep in the fridge until needed. This stage can be done days in advance.
Remove the pear from the poaching liquid and purée in a food processor with 3 tbsps of the liquid.
Pour 2 tbsps of purée into each of the flute glasses, top with prosecco and repeat as required.
Les Trente Glorieuses – three decades of economic growth in France following the end of the Second World War – saw an increase in allocated holidays that led to a boom in hotel construction from the Côte d’Azur to the Alps (writes Grace Charlton). The choice of locations was strategic: the French government pushed for destinations that could capitalise on a new wave of intrepid holidaymakers. Sadly, the architecture from this period is often dismissed as brutalist or uninspired, with no appreciation of the social context in which it was created. Skiing destinations such as Flaine and Avoriaz are prime examples.
Perhaps no other Alpine ski resort has come to embody this period of mass holidays and the democratisation of winter sports quite like Les Arcs in the Tarentaise valley. The resort was originally comprised of four villages, Arc 1600, Arc 1800, Arc 1950 and Arc 2000, which were named after the altitude at which they sit. They were dreamed up in the 1960s by mountain guide Robert Blanc and businessman Roger Godino. Architect Charlotte Perriand led the design team, bringing plenty of Savoyard flair picked up during her childhood spent partly skiing and hiking in the mountains. With her team of young architects, Perriand insisted on creating car-free villages with buildings that respect their Alpine environment. Today the best way to explore the architecture of Les Arcs is to book a €7 Archi Ski tour via the tourism office and strap on a pair of skis. “The buildings are imposing but actually preserve the surrounding nature,” says Jean-Marie Chevronnet, a guide for Archi Ski. “This is an interesting concept in ski-station urbanism because creating blocks that hold hundreds of apartments avoids trying to cram individual chalets into a limited space.”
Throughout Les Arcs, buildings such as Versant Sud, Belles-Challes and Lauzières feature large windows and balconies to let in the winter light and panoramic views. Inside, Perriand’s signature open-room layouts have been designed with entertaining in mind. The kitchens and living rooms were often linked by a bar so that the cook could partake in pre-dinner socialising. Ski down the Traversée slope to Arc 1600 and more traditional A-frame wooden cottages can be glimpsed through the trees. These are the Chalets Pointus, which were originally intended as accommodation for the builders working on the resort. Today they can be hired for a pretty penny, which goes against the spirit in which they were designed. “Perriand insisted on tourism for all and was driven by a desire to democratise winter sports,” says Chevronnet. “Maybe that’s something that has been lost today, but these tours educate and change people’s minds about the stark architecture when they learn about the egalitarian principles behind Les Arcs.”
For more winter finds and to plan an escape buy a copy of Alpino, Monocle’s seasonal newspaper, which is out now.
It’s time to kick back, soak up the seasonal good cheer and settle down with some timeless, atmospheric tunes – chosen by Monocle Radio’s Fernando Augusto Pacheco – that form an appropriate audio accompaniment to the crackle of an open fire.
1. “Le coeur grenadine (Polo & Pan Remix)” by Laurent Voulzy
2. “Santa Catarina” by Lazywax
3. “Amanhecer” by Carbeau
4. “Como Antes” by Matias Damásio
5. “Slave to Love” by Bryan Ferry
6. “Why I Follow the Tigers” by The San Sebastian Strings
7. “Pillow Talk” by Sylvia
8. “Adventure” by Momoko Kikuchi
9. “Marcepan” by Sanah
10. “Come on Home” by Lijadu Sisters
11. “Cara de Árabe” by Tapioca
12. “What Now” by Honey
13. “Sunflower” by Tamino & Angèle
14. “Cordeiro de Nanã” by Os Tincoãs
15. “Step by Step” by Eddie Chacon
16. “Sémaphore” by Requin Chagrin
17. “Descends” by Weekend Affair
18. “Cosas de la Vida” by Eros Ramazzotti
19. “Orange” by Discodor
20. “Yara” by Charif Megarbane
Swiss wine expert Chandra Kurt selects the bottles to buy, try and save in your cellar for 2024.
Lambrusco Vecchia Modena Premium 2022, Cleto Chiarli
The rich Po Valley has always been the spiritual home of this sparkling wine – a dark red that hisses refreshingly through the palate. It’s perfect with heavy dishes.
Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2021, Pelassa
This muscat wine is colourful, aromatic and upbeat. There are notes of rose, nutmeg, honey, white peach and some mint. The mousse is delicate and the alcohol content very low for a dessert wine.
Montebuoni 2018, Castello di Ama, Chianti Classico DOCG
Castello di Ama is a gem of a Tuscan winery. Its new launch is an earthy and deep sangiovese that represents the historic soil of the area.
Have a super Christmas Eve and all the best from the Monocle team.