The perfect setting for most magical time of year

As well a magical setting in the heart of Northumberland, visitors to Alnwick will discover a wide selection of specialist shops offering a unique Christmas shopping experience.

As well a magical setting in the heart of Northumberland, visitors to Alnwick will discover a wide selection of specialist shops offering a unique Christmas shopping experience.

There's a great selection of gift ideas which aren't available on the high street, as well as festive fun days out for all the family.

The town's Market Place will be brought to life on November 24 when the Duchess of Northumberland switches on the Christmas lights. The switch-on, which is organised by the town's independent Christmas lights committee, is attended by many hundreds of spectators. It will take place at 7pm.

Alnwick Castle, the second-largest inhabited castle in England, is holding its Christmas fair on November 18. As well as unusual Christmas gift ideas, visitors can enjoy a fun-packed day of activities, good food, entertainment and a visit from Santa Claus.

The castle was recently awarded gold in the Large Visitor Attraction of the Year category at the second North-East England Tourism Awards. The award is an honour for the castle, which has made significant investment in developing its attractions and staff to ensure the highest-quality experience for visitors.

Marketing manager Elaine Carmichael said: "This is a fantastic achievement for the castle and we are absolutely delighted to have received the gold award. It recognises the hard work, commitment and investment over the past two years in developing the castle as a world-class tourist attraction."

The castle will now go forward to represent the region in the national Enjoy England Awards for Excellence to be held in London next spring.

Alnwick Castle has been the home of the Percys, Earls and Dukes of Northumberland, since 1309.

The earliest mention of Alnwick Castle in the history books appears soon after 1096, when Yves de Vescy became baron of Alnwick and erected the earliest parts of the castle. The fortress was first restored by the 1st Lord Percy of Alnwick in the early 1300s and portions of this restoration remain today, including the Abbot's Tower, the Middle Gateway and the Constable's Tower.

Grannies delicatessen and tearooms in Narrowgate also scooped an award at this year's North-East England Tourism Awards. In the Taste of North- East England category, Grannies walked away with the silver award. The deli was established 10 years ago by Linda and Pete Lee and has built up a great reputation for its local produce and home cooked cuisine.

Linda said: "We were over the moon and extremely proud to have won the award. The judges were clearly impressed by the shop on their visit. It's thanks to our wonderful staff and loyal customers that we have enjoyed such success."

Grannies' ground-floor deli stocks a great range of local produce, including homemade jams, chutneys, biscuits and local cheeses, as well as oils, pasta, and meats.

For a tasty Christmas gift with a difference, why not treat friends or family to a Grannies hamper? Each hamper is tailor-made to each customer's requirements and can be as large or small as you wish. Hamper orders must be placed at least four days before Christmas.

In Grannies' basement tearoom, you can take a break from your Christmas shopping and enjoy a host of delicious homemade meals and snacks. Choose from the likes of baguettes, panini, toasted sandwiches and fish platters, homemade cakes, scones, and quiches. There is also a selection of daily specials.

The Alnwick Garden is hosting a series of Christmas shopping weekends at its visitor centre on November 11, 12, 25 and 26. As well as a great choice of gift ideas, visitors can enjoy mulled wine, nibbles, music and tastings. There will also be the chance to meet some of the garden's local suppliers, swap Christmas dinner ideas with its chefs, choose plants with one of its gardeners or learn how to make a table decoration using greenery from the garden.

This year, the Duchess has published her first book for children, The Poison Diaries, and garden liaison director Ian August has also written his first book, The Making of The Alnwick Garden.

Both are for sale in the gift shop and both the Duchess and Ian will be dropping in on the Christmas shopping weekends to sign copies.

There are also traditional and modern Christmas decorations, as well as a wide range of cards and wrappings.

The Treehouse, lit by candle light and an open fire, will bring the Christmas of childhood dreams to life. The Garden will be lit with thousands of white lights, with a wonderful Christmas tree in the visitor centre's starlit courtyard.

Also great for Christmas gifts, Alnwick has the largest secondhand bookstore in the country, Barter Books.

Alnwick has a recorded history which began nearly 1,000 years ago with the building of the Norman castle beside the River Aln.

The castle is out of sight from most of the town, but viewed from the northern approaches to Alnwick it is among the most imposing and unforgettable views in the land. The castle opens to the public from Easter until October.

The town's proximity to the coast and Northumberland National Park means there is access to some of the greatest natural beauty in the country. Superb countryside stretches from the wilds of the national park to the outstanding natural beauty of the Heritage Coast.

Alnwick district has everything for the perfect holiday, short break or day out - unspoilt countryside, long sandy beaches, an array of colourful gardens, picturesque villages, market towns and castles.

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