The Provence region of southern France is wonderful way to experience the food and culture of France without the overrun of tourists and high prices of Paris. And while most people think of the never-ending lavender fields when it comes to Provence, the winter, and Christmas season in particular, are still a great time to visit with their own unique charms. Just replace touring lavender fields and sitting at outdoor cafes with drinking mulled wine while strolling through beautiful Christmas displays!
During my usual research before our trip in 2016, I wasn’t able to find the expected flurry of information for visiting Provence during Christmas, so I’m adding my two-cents on what we enjoyed most while visiting this region during the most magical time of the year. These activities are not necessarily in order of importance (except for #1 and #2 — if you are foodie and wino like me, you will not want to miss these under ANY circumstances!)
So without further ado, here are my top seven must-dos if you are visiting Provence in December!
#1: Have a magical evening at La Table Haute de La Mirande
So you have had a full and tiring day of sightseeing (or you basically spent all day moving from one cafe to another – if so, bravo, you are doing life right). What sounds good to you? How about an entire evening focused around a chef preparing you delicious delicacies in a 19th century kitchen enlivened with good company and conversation?
If so, the chef’s table at La Mirande provides just that. Your incredible host and chef, Séverine Sagnet, will keep you satisfied with every course, and if you are lucky enough, she will provide some surprise entertainment at the end of the evening.
Check out the entire post on our experience at La Table Haute de La Mirande!
#2: Go on a full day wine tasting tour of the Rhone region
When you are ready for a break from the official Christmas activities, head into the small wine towns found throughout the Rhone region. If you are a wine lover, there’s a good chance that you have come across a wine from the Rhone region. Going on tour with a wine guide ensures you the ability to taste world-class wines where they are made. I doubt that these wineries are ever overrun, but this time of year assures you that you will have the place to yourself!
There are a few great options for wine tour guides in the area, but we had a fabulous day touring the Southern Rhone with Mike Rijken of Wine Safari. Even in the dead of winter, the landscape of the Rhone Valley was a delight to drive through on our tour.
For an in depth review of our wine tour, check out my post Wine Tasting in Southern Rhone.
#3: Picnic and visit the Christmas markets at Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue
This depends on the weather, but if it’s sunny and warm enough, bring some picnic supplies (we got ours at Les Halles in Avignon) and a bottle of wine from your wine tour with you on the train to Isle-Sur-la-Sorgue and picnic on one of the scenic spots along the water.
If it’s warm enough, this is also a great town to rent some bikes! But it wasn’t warm enough for us that day, so instead we walked around the town and spent some time at the small, bu quaint, Christmas market.
By this time you will be ready for another snack, and a cup of mulled wine and nutella crepe can never lead you astray. The Christmas market itself is small, but has well-chosen vendors, with more handmade and unique items than what you would find at a large city market.
If it’s dark when you leave, the lights strung up across the river are a light show in themselves!
#4: Get windswept at Chateau des Baux
Chateau des Baux, which consists of the ruins of a fortified castle from the 10th century, is the place for views of southern France. The views stretch so far that you can see all the way down to the Mediterranean.
When I say get windswept, I mean that literally. It is super windy at the top of the hill! So make sure you bundle up well to be able to enjoy the panoramic views of the area as you walk around the enchanting fortress.
Even at the top of this windy summit, there are plenty of reminders that the Christmas season is in full swing.
One note about getting to Les Baux (and this actually applies to several of the small towns in Provence), is that there is not regular public transportation or in some cases none at all. We did not research this enough ahead of time and ended up paying exorbitant taxi fees. If we had it to do over again, we would have rented a car for at least part of the trip. I am normally an advocate for public transportation while traveling, but getting around to the smaller towns in Provence, especially right around the holiday, is not practical.
#5: Visit the open street markets at St. Remy de Provence
Is there anything that peaks your culinary taste buds more than a French market? Yes! A French market during Christmas.
Not pictured, but equally enjoyable, are the non-food stations sprinkled throughout the rest of the market and across the street. I believe more than one beautiful hand-made dishware was purchased. But if you are just here for the food, the fresh fruit, meats, sweets, and cheeses will not disappoint you. This would also be a great spot to pick up some picnic supplies.
Don’t forget to sit down and enjoy one of items that you were bound to give in to, after all, French markets are not meant for window shopping!
#6: Experience the Droles de Noels in Arles
Arles, known for its wealth of Roman ruins and amphitheatre that has become a UNESCO World Heritage site, does have a Christmas market that can be found on one of the first weekends in December. However the main event in Arles appears to be the Drôles de Noëls (literally translated to “funny Christmas”) and runs for the few days leading up to Christmas day. This is an ideal choice if you have kids, as the events focus on puppet shows, a circus, and magic and musical performances. But there’s plenty for adults to do as well!
We didn’t spend too much time in the main square where the festivities were taking place, but if you hang around longer than us, you will probably get a better shot of the puppet and light show!
For more information on the events in Arles, visit their website.
Before you head home, end the night with a meal at Les Filles du 16.
#7: Take an evening walk in the main square of Avignon
Some of the best parts of being in another country for Christmas is taking it slow and seeing how the locals enjoy and celebrate Christmas, and the main square in Avignon provides that atmosphere.
This could be true for any town you base yourself in while exploring Provence, but since we were staying in Avignon we found ourselves here most evenings. Avignon has a great main plaza flanked by restaurants and shops, and was a hopping place on Christmas Eve!
While you are out, don’t forget to take a peak around the corner at the palace and cathedral. Both buildings are gorgeously lit up in the evenings.
Embrace your inner child with a ride on the festively decorated merry go round.
And end your stroll with a cup of mulled wine and a nutella crepe — are you noticing a trend here — from one of the stands around the square. (These are my friends Andrew and Ashley, aren’t they perfect models?)
I hope this gives you a taste for the Christmas season in the Provence region of France!
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