Christmas is truly a magical time of year, no matter where you spend it, and Christmas in France takes beauty and pageantry to a whole new level.
While a traditional French holiday might bring up images of strolling the Christmas markets in Alsace (which is indeed totally fantastic!) or warming your toes by the fire at an exclusive ski resort, but a vacation spent “down south” can actually be one of the best spots to experience a traditional French Christmas… with a Provençal twist.
Here are a few spots that really “splash out” when it comes to holiday traditions, and I’ve added in our own local favorite because, well, there’s no place like home!
If you want to get to the heart of chic Provence, then you must certainly head to Aix-en-Provence. And Christmastime is no exception.
Whether it’s the rustic chalets lining majestic Cours Mirabeau, or the bakeries full of elaborate (and beautiful!) Christmas sweets, or the Provençal crèche (Nativity scene) market, Aix has a little something for everyone.
Beyond finding the whole of the old city decked-out for Christmas, Aix hosts a series of concerts and parades throughout the holidays. Download a free brochure for all of the seasonal activites from the Aix-en-Provence tourist office.
*Don’t miss your chance to pick up a few springs of holly, or a multi-colored poinsettia at the Aix-en-Provence flower market. Full “ambiance”, plus multiple photo ops, assured!
While Aix might be your answer to a chic and stylish holiday, Isle-sur-la-Sorgue goes even more traditional with its annual Festival of Lights. The entire town lights-up its streets, and shopkeepers decorate their storefronts and welcome holiday-goers with hot wine and warm bags of chestnuts (to name a few!).
Several other events take place throughout the season, check with the tourist office for a complete holiday agenda.
*Don’t forget to take advantage of Christmas deals at Isle-sur-la-Sorgues’ famous antique shops.
Almost a stone’s throw away from Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, you’ll find the old-world charm of Avignon with its imposing Palais de Papes. While a far larger city than Aix or Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, it’s easy to navigate the historic center and also where you’ll find the town’s central Christmas market. In keeping with Provençal tradition, nativity scenes are staged around town, along with other decorations that transform the city into a “fairytale world”.
You can also take part in Avignon’s Christmas vigils, concerts, and midnight mass.
For a complete event listing, please visit Avignon’s tourist office site.
*Although it is Provence, remember to pack heavier, winter clothes for your trip. Cities like Avignon get surprising cold at Christmastime.
We live about 15 minutes from Hyères and what I love about this city is that they are really well-organized – “au top” as the French would say. And they are used to having a lot of English-speaking tourists which is a big plus. All you need to do is visit the tourist office, one of the most modern and most helpful I’ve ever encountered, and I believe you’ll be convinced as well.
And boy, their Christmas program is chock-full of fun activities for adults and children of all ages.
Besides the traditional Christmas market and Provençal crèche scenes, Hyères has an impressive list of events that promise to keep residents and visitors busy right into the New Year. There are gospel concerts, traditional concerts, fireworks shows, face painting for the kids, a village “du Pere Noel” (Santa’s village), street painting, and a “stuffed animal” parade. Ooh la lahhh!
Download a comprehensive list of events here.
*Take a whirl around the city’s ice-skating rink at Place Clemenceau.
No Christmas tour around Provence would be complete without a stop in our very own “hometown”, Toulon. And they’ve really stepped up their holiday offerings over the past few years. The Christmas market has gotten a major upgrade with a “snow village” for the kids, a hot chocolate bar, lunch stands, and an oldie but a goodie, a walk-up oyster bar. Several events take place at the Christmas market including parades, cooking shows, dessert “expos”, costume-making workshops for the kids, and music concerts.
Other interesting Christmas activities around town are “folk tales”, crèche exhibits, a Christmas race (17k), and theatre shows. Contact the Toulon tourist office for all of the details.
*Don’t miss a trip to the Mourillion “village” of Toulon, a cozy escape from the “big city” and full of chic Christmas boutiques and foodie shops.
These are few of our favorite spots to spend the holidays, of course Provence has many more beautiful places to experience the best of the season, joyeux noël!