Colourful lavender fields in Provence, wine tasting in the region of Bordeaux and sunbathing at the French Riviera – France attracts millions of tourists in summertime. But the country is just as mesmerizing in winter. Here are some travel ideas for those who would like to experience a different kind of France.
Exploring the French Alps
Winter sport enthusiasts know that the French Alps are a perfect spot for skiers and snowboarders. Compared to Austria and Italy, the French Alps have one huge advantage: the best variety of resorts can be found here. From beginners to intermediate to advanced, the French Alps offer something for everyone. One of the oldest and most popular ski resorts in the French Alps is Chamonix. The site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, it attracts more than 5 million visitors each year. In Chamonix, you can also find Europe’s highest cable car that takes visitors 3842 metres high into the Alps in only 20 minutes.
Watching Snow Polo
If you like the allure of snowy, mountainous surroundings but are not into winter sports at all, the annual Megève Polo Masters tournament held each January at the Alpine resort of Megève might be worth a visit. Here, you can simply be a spectator and admire riders and horses from afar. The event beautifully combines the town’s equestrian heritage with its snowy, icy charm. Megève was once the prime holiday destination for the French aristocracy and prominently featured in the popular Audrey Hepburn movie “Charade”, when her character Regina Lampert meets Peter Joshua, portrayed by Cary Grant, at a ski resort.
Relaxing in Thermal Spas
France is home to more than 50 thermal spa towns that can work serious wonders for the weary. The water in these towns are said to have a healing quality, like in the Vichy Region. Located on the banks of the Allier River, the thermal waters of Vichy have been praised for its therapeutic effects, and even Napoleon allegedly visited Vichy to benefit from the special water. Other famous thermal spa towns include Evian-les-Bains, which is also home to the popular mineral water, Pombieres-les-Bains in the Vosges in Lorraine, Bourbon-l’Archambault in the remote Auvergne, Aix-les-Bains in Savoie, and Saint-Gervais-les-Bains – the Monte-Blanc spa offers unique treatments using volcanic clay, and even assists those who want to quit smoking.
Enjoying the Festival of Lights
Lyon’s Fête des lumières or Festival of Lights dates back to 1852 when the city wanted to celebrate the installation of a Virgin Mary statue on the Fourvière hill. But when the day came, a storm blew over the city, forcing the organizers to cancel the event. When the storm had passed later at nightfall, it was already dark, but the residents of Lyon spontaneously lit their homes with candles to light the way to the hill. Every year since then, the people of Lyon have honoured the tradition of decorating their windows and balconies with little lights. This ritual has grown into the spectacular Festival of Lights, during which the landmarks of the city become the canvas for light installations and shows by internationally renowned artists. Rivers, hills and roads – everything creates a colourful light caleidoscope capturing the rhythm and vibe of Lyon, attracting millions of visitors from around the world. This year, the Festival of Light takes place between December 8 and 10.
Strolling Through Enchanting Paris
The beauty of Paris shines throughout the whole year, be it spring, summer, autumn or winter. Starting in early December, Parisians will put up Christmas decorations and the main streets will be illuminated with bright lights in the evening. The museums will be less crowded, and some of the most beloved French dishes served in those typical Parisian street cafes are especially tasty and warming in winter: onion soup, fondue and pot-au-feu. If that isn’t reason enough to visit the city of love in winter, here is another draw: in January, the France’s winter sale that usually lasts for six whole weeks, will see retailers around the country offering major discounts on clothing, jewelry, electronics and more. What could be more enticing than walking along the Champs-Élysées, knowing you might even be able to shop there without spending all your savings? And if you are really lucky, it might even snow – Paris looks pretty fabulous in white as well.