Provence in south-east France has long drawn people during the summer months, due to its sunny shores along the Mediterranean Sea and sweet-smelling lavender fields. However, the colder months of winter reveal Provence to have a whole new charm.
The climate of Provence is much colder in the winter due to the cold, dry wind that comes from the north, but that also brings bright blue skies and sunshine. It rarely snows in Provence, except further north and closer to the mountains, where you can be in with the chance of a white Christmas. Also, bear in mind that the weather can change suddenly. You can be enjoying mild weather and sunshine in the morning, but suddenly forced inside by a cosy fire when it turns icy cold and frosty in the afternoon. However, the changeable weather and cold seem to make Provence all the more charming in the winter months!
While you may not be spending December 25th in Provence, the Christmas season lasts longer, from Sainte-Barbe at the beginning of December to Candlemas in February. France has many Christmas traditions, from elaborate meals, nativity plays, processions and more. Then there are the markets too. Aix-en-Provence is particularly special, as the whole place is lit up with beautiful lights and illuminations, and local shop windows put on fantastic displays. Markets continue through January too, in many of the towns and villages, so you are never far from a good spot of shopping!
Though the ski season in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence begins at the end of November, the peak time for winter sports is around February. However, this means the impeccable slopes remain relatively untouched for at least two months, giving beginners to winter sports like skiing and snowboarding a chance to head to the mountains. The resorts found in the southern Alps are very welcoming to beginners and those who have been skiing for years, and often more family oriented. There is also a chance to try snow-shoeing and ice driving when visiting the Alps to try some winter sports.
Provences food markets continue through the winter months with the best seasonal produce, which includes the famous black truffle. Many towns and villages hold regular truffle markets throughout winter all the way to March, when the season ends. You can also book a private truffle hunt tour too! Also around winter is the olive harvest and festivals, with tastings, music and cooking demonstrations. Then Christmas brings about the gourmet food that France is well-known for and many fantastic desserts. You can find the bakeries in Provence simply by their sweet smell. And if you dont fancy any of the rich foods of the season, there is always the hearty meals and comfort food to warm you up after a day out in the cold.
Christmas is not the only festivity that should draw you to Provence in the winter, as there are a plethora of winter festivals that revolve around food and the arts. Many of the villages have some odd festivals that are worth checking out if you are holidaying at the time they are on. In Barjols, there is the Fête des Tripettes, which dates back to the 14th century and marks the feast day of the villages patron saint, and the day an ox arrived to end the famine. Every four years, a bull is ritually sacrificed to ensure prosperity for the coming years and a huge street party. In Avignon, there is the Cheval Passion, the largest equestrian festival in Europe, a popular event for all horse lovers, with pony rides, demonstrations and sporting events.
Sights and Attractions
You may worry that Provences towns and villages close up for the winter months. While that is true in some places, where you can struggle to find a restaurant, some locations remain busy, so much so, they are better to visit in winter. Put Les Baux de Provence on your list of places to visit in the winter, as it is lovely around Christmas without tourists bustling around its streets. Other open-air attractions you can visit all year include the Pont du Gard, the Camargue, Gorges du Verdon and the Gorges de la Nesque, which you can enjoy without the summer crowds.
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