Travel news For Members

Eight of the best winter experiences in France

Emma Pearson
Emma Pearson - [email protected]
Eight of the best winter experiences in France
When the temperatures fall, the wine heats up. Photo by DAMIEN MEYER / AFP

While the endless days and sun-drenched beaches are pretty nice, France also offers some great winter experiences for locals and tourists alike. Here is our pick of the best things to do in winter in France.


1. Visit a festival

France has loads of great festivals in the winter - from celebrations of food and drink to seasonal markets, winter parties or festivals.

But if we had to pick one, it would be the Fête des Lumières (festival of lights) in Lyon.

The four-day festival features more than 40 different light installations spread around the beautiful historic city of Lyon to create a magical night time walk. There are stalls all over the place selling hot wine and hot chestnuts if you need warming up and many of the city's excellent restaurants do special deals and special menus during the festival. 


This year the festival runs from December 7th to 10th. Find out more here.

2. Go skiing

There's a reason that France's ski resorts are famous and that's because they offer some of the best ski slopes in the world. Great for a holiday but if you're a resident you can also take a much cheaper day trip. 

From the big names of the Alps like Courchevel and Chamonix to the often cheaper resorts of the Pyrenees there is something to suit every budget and ability level.

And if you're not that confident on skis, why not try show-shoeing or tobogganing while your pals complete death-defying mountain stunts? 

From high altitude to family-friendly: 15 of the best ski resorts in France

3. Drink a vin chaud 

In some countries mulled wine or Gluhwein is just a Christmas thing, but the French very sensibly decided that it's too nice to restrict to just a few weeks and once the temperatures drop vin chaud (hot wine) is on sale in thousands of bars and cafés.

It's also often available at sports matches, providing the perfect thing to warm the cockles of your heart as you stand on a freezing terrace cheering your team on.

Or you could of course make your own at home - there's lots of different recipes but wine (usually red but not always) cinnamon, sugar, star anise and orange or lemon zest are the staple ingredients, plus a slug of cognac or other spirit if you want to make it more special.

4. Visit a Christmas market

Not a specifically French thing, of course, but the French do give good market and Christmas is no exception.

Probably the most famous market is in Strasbourg, which really goes all out for Christmas. This year its market starts on November 24th and runs until December 24th - find out more here. The Alsace area of France, with its strong historic German connections, is well known for Christmas markets in towns such as Colmar and Mulhouse. 

But most places have some kind of market, from the big cities like Paris and Bordeaux to much smaller places you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to finding somewhere to pick up original Christmas gifts, go and visit Santa and get your fill of seasonal treats. For a very classic small-town market in a lovely setting, head to Castres in Tarn.

5. Eat a fondue

With some mountainous regions that endure long cold winters, France has come up with some excellent winter-warmer dishes, many of which involve cheese. Tartiflette and raclette are good, but the daddy of them all is a fondue.


Stock up on a crisp dry white wine and plenty of Comté, Beaufort, Emmental, Appenzell or Gruyere to melt and prepare for a night to remember.

READ ALSO The six best French winter dishes made with cheese

6. Hit the sales

Sales are strictly regulated in France with just two times a year when shops slash prices, so bargain hunters need to be ready. This year the winter sales start on January 10th and last until February 6th (with a couple of regional exceptions, more details here).

7. Eat an oyster

Slightly controversial one this (as some people hate them) but in France it wouldn't be Christmas without an oyster and you will see them piled high at Christmas markets, fairs and events. 

READ ALSO Why do the French eat so much seafood at Christmas?

8. Hit the spa

If you need a relaxing day, France has an abundance of excellent spas.

Depending on where you go you can enjoy a day in hot and cold pools, saunas, steam rooms and enjoy a treatment like a massage as well - if you live in France you could even get your doctor to prescribe you a cure thermale. A day at the spa is a popular pastime for men and women alike when life seems a little too hectic.

Many of the spas in the Alps and Pyrenees have outdoor hot pools, some with a bar, so you can sit in hot water and watch the snow fall on the mountains while sipping a glass of wine. Does life get any better?


Join the conversation in our comments section below. Share your own views and experience and if you have a question or suggestion for our journalists then email us at [email protected].
Please keep comments civil, constructive and on topic – and make sure to read our terms of use before getting involved.

Please log in to leave a comment.

Wendy 2023/11/30 11:54
Why is eating an oyster controversial ?

See Also