Greetings dear readers and friends. Well, here we are… in the middle of winter in Provence and, honestly, it’s been pretty fantastic so far. I can’t remember a year when we’ve had so much sunshine. Of course the south of France is known for its sunny climate, but really folks, winter here is not quite that… I had a Facebook memory pop-up from last year at this time & it was snowing… in our front yard.
And since everyone around here pretty much “turns-off” during the winter months – ie. rosé bottles are left chilling in the basement while we sit around, eat melted cheese, and wait for the calendar to flip over to spring – I’d never really thought about writing about what to do in Provence when things get chilly. But, in fact, this could be a great time to visit the region.
With sunny, blue skies and nary a tourist around, what could be better than to have some of these beach resorts and hilltop villages all to yourself?
Here are a few ideas of things to do in Provence in the winter:
-Hit the slopes
We’d certainly be amiss if we didn’t mention that there are actually some great skiing resorts in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region (especially since this is the first week of the 2-week “ski holidays” that school children enjoy every year). I can’t say that I’m an expert skier, but we’ve gone skiing twice since I’ve lived here, in the Vars resort area, and it was quite a nice experience. The French ski culture is something to experience, and a stay at one of the area’s chalets is a real treat (think chilled wine and oodles of fondue / raclette to greet you after a hard day on the slopes).
-Soak up some culture in Avignon at the Palais des Papes; take a foodie walking tour of the city
There’s so much to see and do in Provence that even when it turns cool and beach trips are not an option, you can take in a multitude of historic and cultural sights. The Palais des Papes, the world’s largest medival gothic palace and home to the papacy in the 14th century, is an impressive feat of architecture to say the least. We were lucky enough to tour the palace and visit the grounds a few years back, and found the tour both informative and easy-to-understand. Like many modern tours, you can rent an audio guide onsite and visit the structure at your own pace.
And any trip to Avignon must include a visit to its famous food gallery, Les Halles, and perhaps a guided foodie tour couldn’t hurt either. Aurélie offers guided foodie walking tours with Avignon Gourmet Tours.
-Shop til’ you drop at the winter sales
Of course you need to like shopping, but if the winter sales happen to be on during your stay, it’s a nice bonus. Some of your favorite French brands are discounted to 40, 50, and sometimes 70%. I once snagged a lined, camel coat for €5 at my favorite (affordable) boutique, Camieu. Even the saleslady was impressed.
Find the dates for the annual French sales here.
-Take advantage of off-season prices and visit a beach town
We’ve been lucky enough to spend many Saturday mornings in pretty Sanary-sur-Mer, and let’s just say that it’s as beautiful in the winter months as in the summer. You might not be able to go splashing about at the local beaches, but you can enjoy a quieter, less touristy Sanary in the off-season – as with many other beach towns in the south of France.
-Spend a few days at the Gorges du Verdon – spectacular all year round
The Gorges du Verdon is an absolutely stunning area to visit in the Haut Var and one of the top destinations for a visit to Provence. While in the spring, summer, and early fall months, the area is known for its water sports – rafting, kayaking, boating, fishing, etc. – the winter brings another kind of calm beauty that is equally impressive.
About five years ago, we started out on a 3-day trip to the Gorges, for what we thought would be a chilly, but uneventful weekend break. Instead, it started to snow as soon as we left Toulon and we had a bit of a panic – continue on in our little Clio car or head back home to warm comfort? I’m so happy that we braced the weather because we experienced incredible, snow-capped views of the Gorges and picturesque Sainte-Croix lake – an unforgettable trip and definitely another “view” of Provence.
-Take a cooking class in Aix-en-Provence or Uzès
Aix-en-Provence and Uzès are two towns that have activites going on all year round. I’ve kept up a bit with the cooking classes they both offer, and the winter months are just as interesting as the rest of the year. In Aix, with Tastes of Provence, you can choose pastry or savory classes offered by chef Mathilde. Cook’n with Class in Uzès has cooking classes with a market visit, bistro cooking classes, and week-long cooking programs – not to mention specialized lessons like breadmaking and Provençal desserts.
-Go truffle-tasting with the Maison de la Truffe in Aups
Truffles are the happening thing in the village of Aups in the Haut Var, and there are two seasons in which to indulge in this regional favorite: winter and summer. In liaison with the Maison de la Truffe, you can do any number of truffle-related activities: tastings, night markets, cooking classes, and truffle-themed dinners in partnership with local restaurants. Hop in the car and you’re about 30 minutes from the Gorges du Verdon – a great way to combine the best of inland Provence.
Bonne journée and happy travels!