Eight of the best winter experiences in France

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.

Eight of the best winter experiences in France
The festival of lights in Lyon. Photo: AFP

1. Visit the Fête des Lumières

France has loads of great festivals, both summer and winter, but for our money the best one to visit in the winter is the 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 5th – 8th. 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?

READ ALSO 15 towns in France that are perfect to visit in winter

Warm yourself up right down to your toes with a vin chaud. Photo: AFP

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 22nd and runs until December 30th – find out more here.

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.

Strasbourg proudly declares itself the 'Christmas capital' and to be fair it is petty special. Photo: AFP

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 8th and last until February 4th (with a couple of regional exceptions, more details here).

7. Ice skate under the Eiffel Tower

There's always a lot on offer in Paris at Christmas time and while this experience might be a bit of a cliché that”s no reason not to enjoy it.

Go skating in the le Grand Palais des Glaces under the Tower then share a kiss under the Christmas lights with that special someone in your life (or even someone you've only just met quite frankly, Christmas lights and vin chaud can have quite an effect on some people).

The ice rink under the Eiffel Tower is returning on December 13th. Photo: AFP

8. Eat an oyster

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


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