La Belle Vie: What to eat, where to go and what to do for an authentic French winter

Genevieve Mansfield
Genevieve Mansfield - [email protected]
La Belle Vie: What to eat, where to go and what to do for an authentic French winter
Jean-Claude Rodriguez, head chef of the restaurant Chateau Saint Martin in Carcassonne, prepares a classic cassoulet in the restaurant's kitchen in 2016 (Photo by REMY GABALDA / AFP)

From winter festivals to fun seasonal activities and authentic French dishes to cook, this week's La Belle Vie newsletter offers you an essential starting point for eating, talking, drinking and living like a French person.


La Belle Vie is our regular look at the real culture of France – from language to cuisine, manners to films. This newsletter is published weekly and you can receive it directly to your inbox, by going to your newsletter preferences in “My account”.

Typically, the second week of November involves a jour férié in France, meaning most workers get a day off. Unfortunately, this year, the majority of workers across the country will find themselves pushing through a five-day work week, as November 11th falls on a Saturday.  

France recognises November 11th (Armistice Day) with parades, bleuets and wreaths. If you don't have plans this weekend, you might also consider visiting one of the country's 'ghost villages' which stand as a testament to the loss experienced during World War I. 

Five things to know about Armistice Day in France

Another big part of Armistice Day is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Each year, the French president lays a wreath on it, and this year there will be a special ceremony to recognise 100 years of lighting the eternal flame.


I got to spend some time understanding the history of the Tomb this week, and it was especially fascinating to learn about how France went about choosing the soldier who would rest permanently at the Arc de Triomphe, forever symbolising the many others who lost their lives.

The story of France’s Unknown Soldier

Armistice Day may be the last public holiday until Christmas, but the months of November and December always feel very active in France. Some high-altitude ski resorts start opening up and winter festivals get underway. The last weekend of November even marks the start of Christmas markets across much of eastern France.

10 must-visit winter festivals in France

If you cannot make it to a festival, there are so many other ways to enjoy winter in France. One of my favourite tips is to buy or try your hand at making your own vin chaud. Then, go for a stroll. I am a huge fan of sipping a warm vin chaud while walking through a chilly Parc Buttes Chaumont in Paris.

If you want to avoid the alcohol, you could try asking for 'jus de pomme chaud de Strasbourg'. I ordered this at a restaurant earlier this month, and I made a comment to the server that it seemed eerily familiar to American hot apple cider. He was very quick to inform me that this was no American-copycat, but it was actually a classic hot beverage hailing from eastern France. Regardless, I was happy to be drinking it on a cold, rainy day.

Eight of the best winter experiences in France

It might seem a little early to be thinking about skiing, but this is another classic winter activity in France. In fact, France has recently announced its candidature to host the 2030 Winter Olympic Games. If chosen, it would mark the fourth time France has hosted, so you could say winter sports are pretty important to the French.


That being said, in recent years, ski resorts have had to push opening dates back and some have even closed down due to warming temperatures. A recent study found that 91 percent of European ski resorts are threatened by global warming.

While it does not look like the high-elevation resorts are at significant risk, those at low or middle altitude (below 1,700 metres) certainly are. 

From high altitude to family friendly: 15 of the best French ski resorts

And finally, the perfect thing on a winter's day is a classic, hearty (usually cheese-filled) French winter meal. The Local has put together a list of our favourite 10 dishes that are sure to warm up your insides.

While the best option would be to visit the regions they originate from and test them out at an authentic restaurant, you can test these meals out at home too. 

The 10 heartiest French dishes to get you through winter - with recipes


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