The South of France is adored around the world as a destination for summer vacations due to its wealth of outdoor activities, beautiful sandy beaches and refreshing cuisine, but visiting the region during the holiday season might make it your new favorite Christmas tradition! During the winter, you can enjoy reduced crowds, cheaper flights and greater availability on South of France furnished villas and apartments. In addition, the South of France has numerous unique traditions and events to help you fall even more in love with the quaint and relaxing way of life in this breathtakingly beautiful area. Whether you’re looking to experience the holidays like a local or just try something new this holiday season, the South of France is sure to satisfy!
The slopes or the sea: the choice is yours!
The South of France’s unique geography gives vacationers plenty of options, especially in the winter! If cold weather makes you cringe, you’ll love a getaway to the French Riviera. Cities like Nice, Cannes and Saint Tropez make popular resort destinations year-round because of their mild climates and proximity to the crystal-clear blue waters of the Mediterranean Sea. It’s pretty easy to chase away winter blues when you spend Christmas under a palm tree with your toes buried in the white sand! If that’s the holiday you dream of, you’re in luck; this colorful 1-bedroom vacation rental in Nice is available for the holidays and has beachfront views from the private balcony!
However, if you’re dreaming of a “white Christmas,” you’re also in luck in the South of France! Only a few hours’ drive north of the French Riviera lies the region of the French Alps. The French Alps are known for breathtaking views of mountain peaks and picturesque valleys, and at this time of year, they’re often dusted or covered with snow! This makes the Alps a great destination for skiing, snowboarding or other winter sports. Additionally, to get in the Christmas spirit, you can visit the Christmas market in Grenoble for artisan gifts, foods, crafts and more (as well as super scenic shopping).
The southern French Alps also offer the unique chance to stay in a beautiful furnished chalet or cabin like something out of a storybook. Avoid the gouging prices of a traditional resort and rent one like this 2-bedroom chalet in La Batie Neuve! The all-wood interior has a flair for the rustic and traditional, and makes it a super cozy place to sleep in any of the twin beds that can be pushed together to form an extra-spacious queen. Besides the possibility for a long winter’s nap, there’s also a full kitchen in this chalet, perfect for preparing filling and tasty casseroles and soups. The interior of the cabin is decorated with twinkle lights to make it extra magical for the holidays, and if you need to warm up after skiing, there’s even a sauna off of the living room. Enjoy all the amenities and snow-covered mountain views of a resort, but with the added privacy and exclusivity of your own personal chalet. Imagine waking up here on Christmas morning!
Local shopping and one-of-a-kind gifts: a Provencal holiday treat
Every year when the holiday season rolls around, Provence celebrates with the opening of several fabulous holiday markets throughout the region! The holiday markets are a wonderful chance to mingle with locals as you shop in the open air, and often the markets are decorated with holiday lights and garlands as well as amusement rides for families. The markets are filled with local artisans selling everything from decorations and holiday treats, to artwork, to clothing, making the markets an ideal place to hunt for your perfect souvenir from Provence! Markets can be found all over the Provence region, but some of the best are in Avignon, Marseille and Aix-en-Provence. For more ideas of where to shop, browse our guide to the best markets in Provence—they’re all sure to receive a facelift for the holiday season.
Give your traditional holiday feast a French twist
Another reason to visit the South of France during the winter and holiday season is the food! The cuisine from the South of France is venerated for its delicious mix of lighter Mediterranean cooking and the richness of northern French food. And of course, there are a multitude of vineyards in the area producing world-famous French wine. During the holidays, you can count on the availability of sweet wines and of course, the namesake bubbly celebration drink from the Champagne region of northeast France!
A spread of tapenade, savory soups and ragout is sure to be found on a Provencal holiday table, especially for the feast of Reveillon—the Christmas Eve feast that lasts past midnight. Participate in Reveillon and you can expect to be served some of France’s finest, ranging from lobster, escargots, turkey and more. Plus, Provence has a special twist to the Reveillon feast: a spread of 13 desserts that everyone is expected to try! One traditional dessert is the delicious bûche de Noël, a log-shaped chocolate cake filled with crème and often served with fruit. We don’t blame you if you go back for second helpings!
You can also put a unique French spin on your holiday dinner when you rent a vacation rental like this 5-bedroom duplex penthouse in Cannes! The rental’s 5 bedrooms all have sloped ceilings to make a post-dinner Christmas slumber extra cozy, and it also sleeps 12 people, perfect for enjoying the holidays with family. There is a huge kitchen for cooking and 2 dining tables and a breakfast bar for plenty of flexible seating options come time for Reveillon. The slightly sunken living room seating area is perfectly conducive to socializing and conversation with all your guests, so your holiday will be filled with warmth and laughter. Plus, Cannes is right outside your door, meaning you can enjoy Christmas Day on the beach or shop for dinner ingredients at Forville Market.
If you crave the more traditional country look for your holiday, try this 4-bedroom vacation rental in Riez, French Alps. This rental has it all for a quaint, classic Christmas: classic furnishings, a working fireplace, and wide, sunny windows! The kitchen has a rustic look thanks to wooden cabinets and comes outfitted with all the tools you’ll need to prepare a holiday feast. You’ll also find sleeping space for 7 in this vacation rental, and the cushy armchairs and 2 dining tables will accommodate everyone during family time. If you happen on warm weather this Christmas during your vacation in the Alps, you can even enjoy the unique chance to dine al fresco at the dining table on the patio!
When you’re in search of an authentic local experience for the holidays, the one thing you can’t miss is the chance to explore the town. Last but not least on our list is perhaps one of the most universally-appreciated things about Christmas in the South of France: the holiday lights and decorations! Villages across Provence traditionally decorate with a crèche scene of the nativity at their town halls, but you can also find more modern lights decorating destination towns all across the South of France, from Nice to Aix-en-Provence.
The most can’t-miss event for an illuminated holiday season is the Fête des lumières (Festival of Lights) that happens annually in Lyon. Many houses in the city place candles outside their windows and major buildings and public areas are decorated with light installations and specially-lit facades. The event draws millions of visitors and is known as one of the largest light festivals in the world! This year’s festival will take place from December 6-9, making it an excellent precursor to the Christmas season.
The unique climate, breathtaking beauty and charming traditions of the South of France will make it a sure contender for the holiday getaway of a lifetime! If you’re interested in putting a Provencal spin on your holiday season, be sure to check out our full inventory of vacation rentals, villas and furnished apartments to find a place to stay that will give you a truly local experience. Happy holidays!