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11 of the best winter festivals in France

From Christmas markets to festivals of light and special wine days, here are some dates for your diary for winter 2022 in France.

11 of the best winter festivals in France
Visitors walk in the streets of the Christmas market in Colmar (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Beaujolais Nouveau Day – November 17th

It’s not exactly an ancient and traditional French festival – it’s actually a marketing plot from the 1980s – but the third Thursday of every November has become a celebration for wine lovers, as the year’s Beaujolais Nouveau is released.

There are festivals in the eastern part of France, where the Beaujolais appellation is located, in towns and villages from Beaujeu to Lyon via Villefranche-Sur-Saône. In the rest of France, it’s mostly limited to special promotions in supermarkets and wine caves.

We know what they say about Beaujolais Nouveau, but apparently it’s become a better product in recent years (and no longer tastes of bananas), while wine experts say the primeurs (early wines) of 2022 will be particularly good. Find out more here.

Dieppe Herring Festival – November 19th and 20th

On the third weekend of every November Dieppe goes crazy for herring with its annual Foire aux Hareng et Coquille Saint-Jacques.

It’s a street festival with parades and also lots of fish and seafood and general eating, drinking and merriment. 

Lights Festival in Montpellier (Le Cœur de Ville en Lumières) – November 25th and 26th

Each year, the city of Montpellier welcomes over 200,000 people for its annual light show in the heart of the city. 

With dozens of colourful lightshows and projections, this is a great way to enjoy a winter celebration in the south of France. Typically, the city will highlight its monuments, such as St Peter’s Cathedral and the Opera.

The festival is free and open to all. You can learn more HERE

Festival des Lanternes in Montauban – December 1st to February 5th

With 2022 marking the fifth edition of the festival, people come from all over the country to admire traditional scenes of Chinese life amid thousands of colourful, Chinese lanterns.

In 2021, the lantern festival drew over 400,000 visitors, making it one of the largest of its kind outside of East Asia. 

Each night from 6pm until 11pm, visitors will be able to walk in the Cours Foucault, a park bordering the Tarn river – which will represent the Yangtze River during the festival. There, over 2,500 lanterns will be illuminated, along with mythical animals and Chinese monuments. Tickets range form €17 to €19 for adults, with reduced pricing for students and children. Find out more here.

Cabanes en Fête d’Andernos – Oyster and Wine festival in Arcachon on December 3rd

This one-day festival celebrating local seafood and cuisine takes place in the town of Andernos-les-Bains, located in the Bassin d’Arcachon not far from Bordeaux.

Enjoy a walk along the coastline, where you will pass by several decorated stands where vendors sell local oysters, white wine and local art. There will also be live music, and with live bands playing and as you look out onto the water you will be able to admire the traditional sailboats.

A ticket of €10 will allow you to enjoy three oysters, a glass of wine, as well as a souvenir oyster fork and your own tasting glass in honour of the festival. 

The event runs from 10 am to 8pm. You can learn more HERE

Lyon Fête des Lumières – December 8th to 11th

One of France’s most beautiful festivals, the four-day festival of lights see the eastern city of Lyon transformed into a glowing wonderland.

The festival has a religious origin, when locals would light candles to honour the Virgin Mary, but these days it is firmly secular, as 13 sites around the city are transformed with giant light shows, often with music as well.

Wait until darkness falls and take a walk around the light trail drinking in the beautiful displays and perhaps warming up with a vin chaud (hot wine) as you go. Once you have finished looking at the lights, go for dinner – Lyon has a well-earned reputation as the foodie capital of France. 

Organisers have confirmed that the festival is going ahead this year, despite the winter energy-saving measures.

Lights festival (Habits de Lumière) in d’Epernay – December 9th to December 11th

Located in northern France near Reims, the city of Epernay puts on a winter festival every year celebrating the “Capital of Champagne’s” cultural heritage.

Just under two hours driving-distance from Paris, visitors can expect to enjoy lights, fireworks, activities, and a “gourmet food day” on Saturday.

Enjoy free champagne tastings, as well as food and wine paring workshops and live music from brass bands. Find more information HERE.

Lumières en Seine – November 17th to January 8th

Lyon is the biggest and, for our money, the best, but festivals of light happen all over France during the winter.

If you’re in the Paris region you can check out Lumières en Seine which is held in the Parc de Sainte-Cloud, in the Bois de Boulogne just to the west of the city.

The park is decked out in beautiful light displays for a night-time wander. Tickets are €20.

Colmar Christmas market – November 24th to December 29th

Christmas markets happen all over France around the festive season, from local markets in small towns to the huge international festivals.

The biggest Christmas market in France is Strasbourg, the town that styles itself the ‘Christmas capital’ and the eastern areas of Alsace Lorraine are definitely where Christmas is celebrated most enthusiastically, thanks to the area’s historic links with Germany. Other popular Christmas markets take place in Metz and Mulhouse.

As for the Colmar market, it gets the benefit of the Alsace-Lorraine traditions, but is slightly smaller and less hectic than the Strasbourg event. 

READ MORE: Champagne, tartiflette and dog toys banned from 2022 Strasbourg Christmas market

Les Fêtes de Saint Nicolas in Nancy – November 18th to January 3rd

St Nicholas Day (December 6th) is a huge deal in Germany and it’s also celebrated in many places in north east France, because of the historic links to Germany.

READ ALSO How the French celebrate St Nicolas Day

In Nancy, there are several days of festivities with parades, floats, light shows and ice skating. 

While the events technically run from November 18th to January 3rd, the primary days for this festival will be December 3rd and 4th.

The city will also host small “Saint Nicholas villages” – Nancy’s version of Christmas markets – along with several performances, activities, and of course you will see your fair share of people dressed as Saint Nicholas.

Epiphany – January 6th

Epiphany is much less of a big deal in France than it is in neighbouring Spain, and there aren’t many big public events. The holiday celebrates the day that the wise men arrived to visit the infant Jesus, but for most people in France it is primarily known as the day to enjoy eating galette de rois.

The cake is made up of puff pastry, and inside it there is a small item – a fève – hidden inside. There are some complicated rituals around the eating of the cake, which comes with a gold paper crown. Everyone eats a slice of the pastry, and the winner – the person whose slice contains the fève – is crowned. 

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France extends Covid tests for travellers from China

France on Saturday said it had extended until February 15th Covid tests for travellers arriving from China due to the "evolving situation".

France extends Covid tests for travellers from China

The tests had initially been decreed until January 31.

Since the start of this year, travellers aged over 11 and coming from China to France have had to present a negative test taken 48 hours before the flight to board the plane.

Random testing will be carried out and anyone testing positive will have to self-isolate, the French authorities said, adding that everyone above six years old would have to wear face masks on the plane.

Several countries had slapped fresh travel regulations on travellers from China after Beijing decided to relax strict virus restrictions.

China has said that the number of daily Covid-19 deaths has fallen by nearly 80 percent since the start of the month.

A wave of virus cases has washed over the world’s most populous nation since Beijing abruptly ended its zero-Covid policy last month.

Beijing’s figures are believed to only represent a fraction of the true toll, given China’s narrow definition of a Covid death and official estimates that swathes of the population have been infected.