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L'Artigiano in Fiera, the 10 day crafts fair that opens Saturday, might not ooze the snow-globe charm of other European Christmas markets, but hey, nobody does shopping like Milan.
Organizers say the crafts fair is the world's biggest, with 2,775 exhibitors from 106 countries covering more than 140,000 square meters (459,000 square feet) of Milan's largest convention center.
"It's really great because you can see something of the whole world all in one place," said Manuela Bari, a 57-year-old grandmother from nearby Como whose Christmas list includes 20 people.
Since about half the space is devoted to handmade goods from every region in Italy, the fair is also like one big cross-country shopping spree. The huge range of crafts includes coral jewelry, table linens, leather goods, furniture and sculpture.
Exhibits from other countries span Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, including new additions such as Guyana, Malaysia and Nigeria. For the first time, Bulgaria and Turkey will join 25 other European nations.
For shoppers who hunger for food as well as bargains, there are 48 restaurants, including 18 different Italian cuisines from the Alto Adige in the north to Sicily in the south. International fare includes Hungary, Egypt and Cuba.
Each pavilion will also be lined with stalls selling handmade gourmet specialties such as wines, chocolates, cheeses, cured meats and truffles.
Now in its 13th year, the fair has become so popular that it has moved to a larger location. The last fair drew about 3 million visitors, 70 percent from the Lombardy region. Organizers this year have been promoting it throughout northern Italy and into Switzerland.
For the first time, the fair also includes a pavilion dedicated to the eco-friendly home. More than 150 exhibitors from Italy, France, Spain and Germany will show products related to energy saving and renewable resources as well as home furnishings, gardening supplies and even swimming pools.
Promoters say that by eliminating the middleman, the fair helps both customers and craftspeople in tough economic times.
Mario Bettini, chairman of the fair's board, told a news conference this week that the richness artisans produce is a long way from "high-finance mentality."
"It's been said that not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted," said Bettini."Artisans know this all too well."
For information, visit www.artigianoinfiera.it/eng/location.php
Editing by Paul Casciato