Four Season Provence!
Updated: Dec 15, 2018
Why not winter in Provence France? Discover Provence at its normal pace, when you can find the true heart and soul of the region. People have more time to welcome you, and the markets, museums, and attractions are less crowded.
Days are warm and sunny, while the evenings and mornings bring an invigorating crispness to the air. The milder temperature and the beautiful bright days allow you to take full advantage of nature. The Provence tourism crowds thin out, and you can feel the area starting to unwind. Now’s the time when the villages are full of locals rather than tourists. Rather than just another face in the crowd, you’ll likely be treated as a VIP. Not to mention that your travel budget will go a lot further. Take advantage of this opportunity to upgrade your travel experience!
There are treasures to be found here -- culture, history, and gorgeous scenery await you around every corner. And the food! Rich meat dishes, seafood straight from the sea, indulgent pastries…plus you’ll have no trouble finding a seat at a bistro, brasserie, or café to sample them. Discover the towns of Vaucluse (for ex. Regional Natural Park Luberon), Bouches du Rhône (for ex. les Alpilles) or Var (Regional Natural Park Verdon). From the warm seaside to the cooler Southern Alps region, you will be able to enjoy different seasons and landscapes during your winter trip to Provence. Everything is a short ride away, so you can visit Roman ruins, medieval castles, cultural events, and wineries with ease. But that’s no reason to do it all in one week! Provence is a place where time takes time…Here are 19 things to do in Provence in winter…
1. The Local Towns
The dry, mild climate of Provence will inspire you to get out and explore. Cities in Provence like Avignon, Arles, Nimes, Marseille, and Aix-en-Provence are great to visit during the winter. Even the most popular tourist attractions will be less crowded, so you won’t have to stand in line to visit them.
The larger towns have so much to offer that you can easily spend a whole day visiting one. At other towns, you might visit surrounding areas as well. At St Rémy de Provence, for example, there’s the small village of Les Baux nearby as well. But no matter where you visit, if you find a market or café that draws you in, feel free to take your time enjoying it!
Saint Rémy, just one of the many towns to visit
Saint Rémy de Provence is a picturesque Gallo-Roman village with Roman ruins and stone buildings built in a circle around the center of town. The ancient center has lovely squares, fountains, Medieval buildings, and cobblestone streets, and is a perfect place to relax and take in the scenery.
Provence has long been a haven for artists and writers, and is still well known for its art. St. Rémy is the town which housed and inspired the most well-known Provence artist of all time, Vincent Van Gogh. See 31 Van Gogh original paintings at its Van Gogh foundation! http://www.provenceparadise.com/single-post/2016/08/17/Paint-Like-Van-Gogh-Visit-His-Home-in-Provence
In the shadow of ancient hilltop ruins, Les Baux is a sleepy little village near Saint Remy. Below scenic white stone ruins is a beautiful valley full of grape vines and olive trees. The colorful foliage and the absence of most tourists make this a perfect destination in winter in Provence. Les Baux-de-Provence is one of the Most Beautiful Villages (Plus Beaux Villages) in France.
2. Visit the many Roman monuments and ruins in Provence
The region is steeped in rich culture and history. Even 17th century townhouses are built from pieces of ancient Roman ruins! You can see the entire guide on Ancient Roman ruins of France HERE.
3. Provence Wines
Provencale wine is always in season. In fact, wine has been produced here for thousands of years! The region is full of outstanding wineries where you can sample some of the most delicious wines France has to offer. And nowhere are the changing colors more beautiful than on the grape vines, turning bright yellow, warm orange, and vivid red.
Try some of the excellent rosés at Domaine de Sainte Roseline vineyards. The Chapelle de Sainte Roseline, where the saint’s remains are displayed, is on the grounds here. In winter, you might even have the Marc Chagall mosaic titled “The Meal Served by Angels” all to yourself. You can see the entire guide on rose vineyards HERE
Although most wines in the region are vin rosé, the nearby Rhone Valley is home to some of France’s most famous reds as well, in the "Côtes du Rhône" designated area. Perhaps the most well-regarded Provencale wine is Chateauneuf du Pape, from just outside Avignon. Another well-known Provence wine is Bandol, produced in one of the oldest wine-growing areas of France; it is a distinctive dark red wine, which is very southern Mediterranean in flavour.
For a truly unique wine-tasting experience, visit Château La Nerthe, one of the oldest vineyards in France, with a subterranean cave dating from 1560.
4. Culinary Adventures in Provence
In Provence in winter, you’ll be able to visit some of the best restaurants, even Michelin-starred, without booking weeks in advance or having to wait around hoping for the next free table. As the weather cools, local specialties like wild game and truffles start to show up on menus. Stop at an “auberge” to enjoy a cozy dinner at a wooden table beside a warm fireplace. At the seaside, be sure to sample the local soupe de poisson.
These are a few popular Provençal dishes that are especially enjoyed in the cooler months:
Soupe au pistou - a thick vegetable soup flavoured with basil and herbs
Bouillabaisse Marseillaise - the great Mediterranean fish soup
Daube Provençal - beef marinated in red wine, with herbs pepper, garlic and olive oil
Lapin Provençal – made from rabbit marinated in white wine, then stewed with shallots, rosemary, thyme, black olives, tomatoes, garlic and bacon
5. The Markets of Provence
There’s a market in any given village every day of the week in Provence. Almonds, bushels of olives and last year’s wine fill the stalls, as well as all kinds of hand-crafted objects.
Wednesday is the main market day in Saint Rémy-de-Provence. The market spreads across the northern and western boulevards that circle the old town.
The truffle market is held in the town of Aups’ main square on Thursday mornings from the end of November through February.
Try to come through Carpenteras on a Friday morning, when hundreds of vendors take over the streets for an outdoor market. In the cooler months you can sample fresh almonds, taste fresh cheeses, olives, oils, and abundant late-season produce. This pedestrian market is a great place to do some of your best French market shopping.
How about buying your food at the market and taking a cooking class to learn how to cook the Provencal way? The flavors of Provençal food are direct and uncomplicated, reflecting the sharp clarity of the light and the landscape. You can see an entire guide on French Cuisine and Culinary Classes in Provence HERE.
Now’s the time for wonderful Poires d’hiver (winter pears) like Le Beurré, sweet and juicy; Le Conference, for desserts, tartes and jams, or Le Comice, a delicate fruite with very fine white flesh. Try them on their own, poached whole in white wine, or in a delicious Tarte aux Poires.
7. Olive Oil of Provence
Olives, like wine grapes, have been grown in Provence for thousands of years. The most well-known Provencale olives are the rich black Olives de Nyons, the mild green Picholine, and the small niçoise olive. And Provençal cooking, like most Mediterranean food, centers on the use of olive oil.
In winter, you can find excellent local fresh olive oil. By Provençal tradition, the olives are picked by hand and processed within hours of their harvest. The Cooperative Ollioules is where all kinds of growers take their olives to be milled into extra virgin olive oil. When you visit, you’ll feel the pride the growers have for their own olive oil produced in their own region. In Ollioules, they care deeply their precious Provençal heritage.
Northeast of Draguauignan, the Moulin de Callas is a smaller olive oil mill in the village of Callas. It’s been run by the same family for four generations, since 1928. The current mill uses modern equipment housed in a low building just above the original mill. There’s also a tasting room and gift shop.
8. The Cafes of Provence
Locals often meet in their local café to order a warm alcoholic drink or a coffee. They typically ask for un café, un petit café, or un expresso. For a stronger brew, ask for un café serré. On the other side of the spectrum, coffee with milk can be either un café noisette -- expresso with a dash of milk or cream -- or café crème --expresso with steamed milk in a larger cup. If you plan to order coffee in Provence France here are a few tips:
Take your coffee after you finish your meal. The waiter won’t be too happy if you order it with your dessert.
Locals don’t drink coffee in the street. If you haven’t got much time, order and drink it at the bar.
Don’t order café au lait; order a “café crème”, or “un grand crème” if you’d like a larger cup.
9. Seaside in Provence in Winter
Provence’s seaside is definitely worth a visit in winter. The calanques, which are steep-walled inlets of the sea, are especially beautiful now, and are great for a bracing and inspiring walk. You could also take a long stroll on the beach. Relax afterwards in one of the seaside village’s cafes or restaurants. If you pick a local seafood restaurant, be sure to try the local soupe de poisson, or fish stew.
10. Cultural Museums
There are two museums in Provence that celebrate its unique culture:
The Lavender Museum in the Luberon Regional Natural Park explores the cultivation, qualities and many uses of this1,000-year-old beautifully fragrant plant.
The Brotte Wine Museum in Chateauneuf-du-Pape gives you an overview of winemaking in the Rhone Valley.
11. Cathedral d' Images
The Cathedral d' Images is a fascinating site near Les Baux. It’s located in the enormous limestone quarries of a cliff face.
The French photographer Albert Plecy created a tremendous visual and musical display deep in the quarries, and his legacy continues to this day. There are gigantic images projected onto the walls, ceilings, and floors, throughout the vast spaces. The images create a magical 3D effect, accompanied by hypnotic music. The theme of the show changes annually.
12. A Walker’s Paradise
Walking in Provence
Walkers can take advantage of the mild winter weather to explore the countryside. Whether you want to stroll to a local cafe along the tree-lined village pathways or wander out into the hillsides, you’ll find a route to match your ability and desire. The sky is such a gorgeous blue this time of the year, it truly invites you to get out there.
Hiking in Provence
There are around 60 walking and climbing routes created, maintained, and marked in the Côte d’Azur/Alpine region.
The calanques, the cliffs lining Provencal’s Mediterranean coast, are exquisite in the cooler months. It’s the perfect time to hike in and around them.
The Gorges du Verdon is amazing in winter. The gorge is 25 kilometers long and 700 metres deep. There are several hiking routes, the most famous of which is the Sentier Martel, which traverses some of the most notable passes, ravines, tunnels, pyramids, and caves. If you don’t have time to hike it, you can drive around the top of the gorge or kayak down the river, where the limestone cliffs beckon rock climbers as well.
13. The Camargue
The Camargue is a beautiful seaside nature preserve. A major wetland and nature reserve in the Rhone Delta, it’s great for spotting wild white horses, migratory water birds including pink flamingoes, and the bulls that are bred there. Winter is one of the best times for seeing the birds, bulls and horses of the Camargue. Bring your bird book, binoculars and camera.
Horseback Tours: there are many guided tours of the Camargue on the white Camargue horses. Stop at any of the clearly marked locations, mostly between Arles and Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer.
14. Cycling in Winter
Cycle through Provence and follow the trails of the Tour de France without the blazing heat. Whether you're a vacationer, local, cycling enthusiast or pro, the Provencal region of France offers splendid cycling routes.
15. Boat Trips
Boat trips to the calanques are fun to arrange. Walk along the line of boats at the Cassis harbor and see which ones are filling up for which trips, and choose one to join. The calanques are deep narrow inlets, like fiords, in the rocky cliffs along the coast between Cassis and Marseilles. They were formed by rivers flowing into the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. The long narrow caverns in the steep white rocks are truly stunning. Some have tiny harbors or beaches at the ends, and often you’ll see rock climbers scaling the walls along the sides.
16. Southern French Alps
In winter, the Southern French Alps have a charm all their own. Before the snow comes, the weather is perfect for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, kayaking, and even sky-diving. Once it starts snowing later in the year, these mountains become a skiing and snowboarding paradise. The Southern French Alps are home to some of the largest ski resorts in France, like Serre Chevalier, Orcières / Merlette, Les Orres, Puy Saint Vincent, Vars, and Ancelle.
17. Cross-Country Skiing and Snow-Shoeing
In winter, the Calern Plateau is popular, but not crowded, for cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing. It’s about 15 kilometers long, with gentle hills, and it’s expansive and beautiful in the winter months.
The Plateau de Caussols is large, open and flat, where you can build a snow man, go sledding, or cross-country ski with the whole family. Both areas are great for walking and picnicking if the snow has not yet arrived. 18. Consider spending your holidays here!
For Thanksgiving, take advantage of the quiet season to browse the food markets at your leisure, and put together a spectacular meal for family and friends.
Christmas in Provence is really a whole season of its own, beginning on St. Barbe’s Day on December 4th and extending through Candlemas Day on February 2nd. It’s a time that’s rich in unique traditions.
19. Relax and Read a Book
To add another layer of Provençal reality to your experience, we recommend reading “A Year in Provence” by Peter Mayle while relaxing on your terrace in the winter sun. Mayle describes pursuing a long-cherished dream -- moving into a 200-year-old stone farmhouse in the remote Lubéron country with his wife and two large dogs. He endures the frosty Mistral wind as it comes howling down the Rhône Valley, discovers the secrets of goat racing through the middle of town, and delights in the glorious regional cuisine.
Provence in Winter: By the Month
Here are some of the special highlights in Provence during the winter months:
Provence in November
With the weather still warm, the evocative fragrance of Provençal maquis, colorful vineyards, quaint hilltop villages and fewer tourists, November in Provence is truly magical.Provence Wine Harvest: The area around Brignoles has a later wine harvest in November, so it’s a great time to visit the local vineyards.
Avignon: The Côtes du Rhône Wine Festival takes place in early November to celebrate the grape harvest here. You can stroll the narrow cobblestone streets, go to wine tastings and enjoy local cuisine. And there’s plenty more to discover in this lovely city.
Truffles: November is the height of truffle season, and if you want to see and taste it in every possible shape and form, head to Richerenches in the Vaucluse, which contributes 80% of the country’s truffle production. The season begins on November 19 with the Ban des Truffes (Truffle Proclamation).
Mushroom Picking: This pastime can become an obsession when you know where to look for edible Provencale mushrooms like cepes and chanterelles. If you’re new to the experience, be sure to enlist the help of an expert. You’ll have guidance this time around and you’ll know where to look next time.
Provence in December
Take in the colorful Christmas markets and live nativity scenes that take place in most towns in Provence through the month.
Sample traditional specialties of the season, from mulled wine (“vin chaud”) at the markets to the “Great Supper” and “Thirteen Desserts” of Christmas Eve
The Santon fairs throughout Provence in December celebrate the artistry and craft of these charming clay figures that depict life in Provencale villages. Many Provencal homes have Nativity sets with figures they’ve collected for generations.
Provence in January
New Year’s Eve, or Saint Sylvestre, is another busily festive event in Provence. The feast, Le Réveillon, is great excuse to indulge in luxurious foods like oysters, fois gras, and Champagne.
Another January tradition is the celebration of Epiphany, when locals share the traditional King’s Cake, or Galette des Rois.
January in France means great sales! Stores in France are restricted to two sales periods, July and January. But you’ll have much less competition for your treasure-hunting in January.
Flea Markets! No matter what your passion -- housewares, antiques, jewelry, books, art, clothing – you’re sure to find something special.
Provence in February
February 2nd is another feast day, Candlemas, which is also known as La Jour des Crêpes, or Pancake Day
The Mimosas start to bloom. These fragrant yellow plants, used for making perfume, are celebrated during Mimosa festivals in the region, and along the 130-kilometer long Mimosa Trail.
The Lemon Festival in Menton celebrates citrus with designs and floats made from tons of oranges and lemons. The streets are transformed by musicians, dancers, and citrus-themed decorations.
The Carnival in Nice, starting mid-February, is different every year, with parades, floats, street entertainment, and concerts.
Choose a home base like Provence Paradise that will give you access to undiscovered corners of the region. Even in winter, the climate of Provence is very mild, so you’ll still be able to enjoy a local rosé wine sitting on your terrace in the sun. You’ll find that Provence in winter is a true delight. Invite your friends to join you for the weekend. There are many ways too get to this hidden gem. You can land in Paris, Marseille, or Nice, and take the TGV to Avignon.
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