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10 of the best winter festivals in France

The Local France
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10 of the best winter festivals in France
A lemon lion king in Menton during the Fête du Citron. (Photo by VALERY HACHE / AFP)

From a celebration of lemons to fêtes of lights, comic books and music - here are some of the best winter festivals in France (plus a few Christmas treats).


Winter in France isn't only about Christmas markets (although we have included a few at the end). 

Fête des Lumières - December 7th - December 10th

Lyon's Fête des Lumières is a magnificent event. Between Thursday, December 7th and Sunday, December 10th, visitors from across the world are invited to enjoy enchanting walks in an ever-changing sea of light and sound - including large projections over some of the city’s most beautiful monuments. You’ll find incredible exhibitions displayed over the facades of major landmarks and scattered around the city as you walk (perhaps with a vin chaud in hand).

There’s also a more traditional Christmas market with dozens of illuminated chalets offering local products and arts and crafts. Lyon is known as the foodie capital of France, so enjoy superior food at the market. Details: Fête des Lumières, Lyon


Rennes Trans Musicales - December 6th - December 10th

The annual five-day festival in Rennes, Brittany, has been running for 45 years and over that time has developed a reputation for finding 'the next big thing'.

Festival organisers tend to book up-and-coming artists and they seem to be pretty good at talent-spotting, so if you want to get ahead of the curve, head to Rennes (or just look up the list of performers). Details: Rennes Trans Musicales Festival

La Grande Odyssée Savoie - January 13th - January 24th, 2024

This isn’t actually a festival in the traditional sense - it's actually one of the longest and most difficult dog sled races in the world. Over 11 days, the world's best mushers and their dogs travel nearly 750 kilometres and pass through 22 resorts in the French Alpine areas of Savoie and Haute-Savoie.

But it’s still a big draw. Some 100,000 spectators are expected for January’s race – and host towns are ready for them. Plenty of entertainment has been lined up, with walks and snowshoe hikes, mulled wine, giant tartiflettes, campfires, film screenings, themed exhibitions, children's introduction to sled driving, igloo-buildings, and hunters' workshops. Details: The Grande Odyssée Savoie

Sarlat truffle festival  -January 20th and 21st

The Périgord Noir truffle is one of French gastronomy’s great delicacies – and it’s only right that it’s properly celebrated.

The Dordogne town of Sarlat is the place to be for two days in January for this festival celebrating the heritage and uses of the mighty truffle. Yes, there are tasters.  Details: Truffle Festival, Sarlat

Gérardmer film festival - January 24th - January 28th

Having recovered from Christmas in north-east France, fans of swords and sorcery movies should head back in late January for the international fantasy film festival.

Held annually since 1994, the festival showcases the latest releases in the horror and science fiction categories, capitalising on the slightly spooky reputation of the Vosges mountains. Details: International Fantasy Film Festival, Gérardmer


Angoulême comic book festival - January 25th - January 28th.

France has one of the largest markets for bande-dessinée (comic book or graphic novels) in the world, and the south-west town of Angoulême is where this is celebrated. People come from all over the world for the three-day festival celebrating all aspects of the comic book world.

The town is very proud of its link to this highly-regarded art-form, as you will notice if you take a look at the railway station, or the street signs (which are written like cartoon speech bubbles). Details: International Comic Strip Festival, Angouleme

Nice Carnival - February 17th - March 3rd

If you've got the winter blues by February, consider a trip to the south coast where two weeks of festivities bring the Mediterranean city of Nice to life and mark the end of the winter hiatus.

There are Carnival Parades (Corsi) day and night plus the elegant Flower Parades. Lots of floats decorated and presented under the season’s theme (2024's is King of Pop Culture) parade to the rhythm of street art troupes and musical groups from all kinds of backgrounds (from all over the world), all in a colourful, festive, family atmosphere.

If you want to keep up to date with French politics, there are also usually some extremely unflattering depictions on floats of the current least popular politicians. Details: Nice Carnaval

Menton lemon festival - February 17th - March 3rd

Not to be outdone by its larger near-neighbour, the resort of Menton tempts more than 200,000 visitors every year for a spectacular 15-day celebration of all things citrus.

Yep, that's right - there are carnival floats made out of lemons, the town is decorated in lemons and there's every variety of lemon-themed food and drink that you could possibly imagine. Details: Fête du Citron, Menton


. . . and the Christmas markets 

And yes, of course winter also includes Christmas and France has plenty of Christmas markets. 

Strasbourg Christmas market - November 24th - December 24th

Strasbourg has got pretty good at running Christmas markets over the years - it has been doing it since around 1570 and these days it is the biggest and most famous market in France. It has to be good - the city brands itself the ‘Christmas capital of France’. This year’s celebrations kick off on November 24th and run to Christmas Eve.

Some 300 chalets will host local artisans selling Christmas gift ideas on the Grande Île, while the streets will be festooned with illuminations celebrating a very Alsace Christmas. Details: Strasbourg Christmas Market

North-east France is generally the place to be in France if you love Christmas (it's all to do with the historic German influence) so if you're in the area don’t forget to check out the Christmas markets in Colmar, medieval Eguisheim, and Mulhouse, too. 

Marseille and Aix-en-Provence Foire aux Santons - November 18th - December 31st

The south of France has a Christmas tradition all its own, the santons or mini figures that are used to populate Christmas cribs. 

Santons: France's 'little saints' that come out at Christmas

The 221st (yes, you read that right) Foire aux Santons in Marseille opens on November 18th this year, and runs until December 31st, while the one in Aix-en-Provence kicks off a a day earlier. Details: Foire aux Santons, Marseille

Small town Christmas

Don’t forget smalltown France. Many of them organise some sort of Christmas market, even if they’re just for a couple of days, and these are sometimes nicer and more relaxed than those big events.

Local craftsmen and shops take stalls and you can also try local food specialities – such as Toulouse sausage and aligot in the south-west, hot spiced cider in Brittany or the ‘12 desserts of Christmas’ in Provence.


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