29 Nov Christmas on the Côte d’Azur
Welcome to our guide on celebrating the festive season on Côte d’Azur. Below you’ll find everything you need to know about the Christmas markets, local traditions, as well as some cool things to do this time of year…
The Christmas season is celebrated to its fullest on the French Riviera, both for its religious implication as well as for its social aspect. In early December, the streets are starting to twinkle with festive lights at night, carols are playing in the stores that replaced swimsuits for Santa’s hats and the Christmas spirit is palpable in the air on every step.
Provencal Christmas officially starts the 4th December on St Barbara’s Day and continues until Fête de la Chandeleur’ (Candlemas), also known as ’Fête de la Lumière’, and even the literal translation of ‘jour des crêpes’ (a pancake day) on 2nd of February.
Christmas Eve is considered as important, if not more important than Christmas Day, and a lavish Christmas Réveillon dinner (wake-up dinner) is eaten with the family, sometimes for up to 6 hours. Many families would then go to Midnight Mass in a local church. After the mass, the family sits down to open the presents and to indulge in 13 desserts, representing Christ and the 12 disciples. It consists of dried figs, almonds, raisins, walnuts, dates, black and white nougat, candied fruit and fresh fruit, oreillettes (sugar pastries) and fougasse (a typical Provencal bread). Each of the 13 desserts has a special meaning.
Let yourself fall under the festive spell of the annual Christmas Market – Marché de Noël – held in Jardin Albert 1er, just beside Massena Square from 30th November 2018 till 1st January 2019.
Around 70 chalets host the best and most unique craftspeople, artists and artisans selling Christmas themed goods, sweets, roasted chestnuts, traditional vin chaud (mulled wine) and other delicatessens. Keep an eye on the stall serving oysters and champagne…
The market is opened every day from 11.00 – 20.00 (Friday and Saturday till 21.00).
The other attractions of the Christmas Market include :
Father Christmas House with Santa being present every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday and on 23rd, 24th and 25th from 14.00 – 19.30.
A Ferris Wheel with marvellous views over Nice opened daily between 11.00 – 23.00. Magical especially at night time.
Free spectacles for kids held in Theatre Verdure (at the seaside part of the Christmas Market) every day from 22nd – 31st at 15.00
Skating rink, newly located beside the ‘3 Graces fountain’ just behind Father Christmas House. Daily sessions at 11.00, 12.30, 14.00, 15.30, 17.00, 18.30. For 5€, you get a use of the ice skates for one hour, just bring gloves and ID.
Retour en images sur le lancement des illuminations et l’ouverture du village de Noël de #Nice06. Un formidable succès pour le village avec déjà des milliers de visiteurs ce week-end ! Rendez-vous place Masséna jusqu’au 1er janvier ! #NoelaNice #ILoveNice pic.twitter.com/ybGf923lyr
— Christian Estrosi (@cestrosi) December 2, 2018
Watch the opening of the Christmas Market by Mayor Christian Estrosi
Christmas Concert and Christmas Mass at Cathedrale Sainte Reparate
Cathedrale Sainte Reparate is worth visiting in its own right.
If in Nice before Christmas, immerse yourself into the festive atmosphere by attending traditional Christmas Concert on the 11th of December 2018 at 19.30. Dutch sopranos Lenneke Ruiten accompanied by French classical music ensemble Café Zimmermann will be performing works from Telemann and Bach. Tickets start from 6.80€ and can be purchased directly in the Cathedral, by phone 06 12 73 63 11 or at www.fnac.fr.
Another tradition is attending Midnight Christmas Mass, if in Nice, don’t miss the service in Sainte Reparate Cathedral on 24th December . The mass starts at 23.00, not at midnight, so don’t be late! Christmas Day mass is held on 25th at 10.00, followed by midday mass in Latin.
A Nativity Scene on Place Rossetti just outside Sainte Reparate Cathedral will exhibit 17 real size statues of baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, wise men, shepherd and animals between 17th and 27th December 2018 from 10.00 – 20.00 every day.
This jolly, heartwarming and very respected event takes part the very last Sunday before Christmas since 1944. Over two hundred swimmers wearing Christmas hats, including the mayor of Nice Nicolas Estrosi, throw themselves into the sea every year. Come and join for a swim or applaud the brave as they dip into the cold waters – even the Mediterranean is freezing this time of the year!
In the 2017 event the youngest contestant was only 12 while the oldest was 90 years old!
Christmas Dinner / Lunch in famous Hotel Negresco
Hotel Negresco is a legendary institution in Nice. Why not to go festive in style?
Hotel Negresco’s La Rotonde restaurant is closed for renovations till spring 2019 but its temporary replacement, Le Restaurant 37 Pop, serves a traditional Christmas menu for dinner on the 24th of December and for lunch on 25th of December for 85€ per person. The menu includes delicatessens such as snails in parsley butter, scallop carpaccio, roast turkey with all the trimmings, cheese and dessert. This is a real treat that will not break a bank.
Call to reserve 04 93 16 64 11 or email email@example.com
The fancier Le Chantecler serves Christmas menu for 180€ per person.
Christmas at Ma Nolan’s Irish Bar
If the thought of Christmas without a traditional lunch, in friendly, lively company and a homely surrounds breaks your heart, then look no further than Ma Nolan’s Irish Pub in Vieux Nice.
The Christmas menu runs for several weeks and you can choose between a 2 course meal for 19.90€ or three courses for 25.90€. Main courses include turkey and ham, salmon or vegetarian nut loaf. Live music and plenty of brandy and Baileys in the stock to get you into the festive mood…
Starting on the 7th December 2018, don’t miss out on the 19th edition of the Monaco Christmas Village, ‘Village de Noël’, the main winter event in Monaco, which will delight and entertain attendees of all ages for one month. Every year, the Christmas Market embraces a new theme, with 2018 being New Orleans.
Sweets, gift ideas and crafts will fill around 25 wooden chalets along Port Hercule in Quai Albert 1er. The market is opened Sunday to Thursday from 11.00 – 21.00, Friday and Saturday from 11.00 – 22.00, on 24th December 11.00 – 19.30 and 25th December and 1st January from 14.30 – 21.00. Get ready to experience a number of magical moments of great entertainment, original attractions, Santa Claus workshops, all accompanied by Christmas carols.
This time of the year, the municipality will tickle all your senses with a magnificent show of lush lights and decorations that are changed annually. Casino Square becomes a forest of Christmas trees filled with thousands of warm pulsing illumination.
A view from a Ferris Wheel over the city’s fairy tale lights, yachts and the princely castle towering high above the city, where else could visitors experience such a regal experience at a Christmas market? You don’t need to be in the snow covered Alps to experience a true winter romance!
The famous swimming pool Stade Nautique Rainier III will turn into 1000 sq m ice skating rink with a smaller option for younger kids (parents can accompany their children free of charge), €6.70 per person for the main rink, kids under 5 years go free.
It will open on 7th December until 3rd March, Monday to Thursday from 11.00 – 18.00, Friday and Saturday from 11.00 – 23.00 and Sunday from 11.00 – 21.00.
On 9.12, 13.01, 27.01, 03.02 and 24.02 the ice rink will be transformed into a circuit for radio controlled cars between 8.00 – 12.00, free of charge for everybody.
Try Le Pan Natale, an almost forgotten monegasque tradition slowly finding its way back. It is a round loaf decorated with nuts and olive branches. In pre-Christmas period you can purchase it in the aid of a local charity.
Tour of Nativity Scenes
Take a tour of 50 nativity scenes and cribs from all around the world ‘Chemin des Crèches’ between the 8th December 2018 and the 8th January 2019.
Discover paths starting at the foot of Major Ramp, continuing to the Royal Palace, Cathedral, Palace of Justice, Saint Nicholas fountain, through the streets of Vieux Monaco, ending in front of the National Council.
You can pick up the brochure with all the necessary information at the Tourist Office or at the entrance of the path – Major Ramp near Place d’Armes.
For some people, a Christmas without the Nutcracker just wouldn’t be Christmas! A beautiful masterpiece by P.I. Tchaikovsky that celebrates a magical world of young children, parents, toys, Christmas trees, snowflakes and candy, with authentic music, choreography and the eternal fantasy of Christmas coming to life on stage thanks to the Moscow Classical Ballet performing in Grimaldi Forum, Monaco from 28th to 30th December.
Tickets start at 35€ Adult / 17.50€ Children. Book your tickets online on www.montecarlotickets.com.
Christmas Market Cannes
The turning on of the Christmas lights on the 1st of December at 18.00 will mark the official beginning of this year’s Christmas season in Cannes.
The annual Christmas Market on Les Allées de la Liberté is a joy for the senses, heart, mind and mood. Fifty lovely stalls will be selling all you need for Christmas, from toys to jewelry, traditional Christmas decorations, gourmet food, mulled wine, courses of oysters and champagne.
Opening Hours : Sunday to Thursday from 10.00 to 21.00, Friday and Saturday from 10.00 to 22, 31st December 2018 from 10.00 to 23.00.
Children can meet Santa Claus and his helpers in his chalet on the 1st, 2nd, 8th, 9th, 15th, 16th, 22th, 23rd and 24 December 2018 from 14.00 to 18.00.
The Christmas Parade will take a place on Rue d’Antibes on 24th December at 15.00 and The Musical Parade on 31st December on Croisette starting at 23.00, followed by fireworks.
The little ones will be thrilled to enjoy 400 sq m Ice rink free of charge for children aged 4-10 years between 10.00 -13.00. Adults can test their skills onwards for a small fee €3, including the hire of the skates but bring your own gloves. There are several free events planned at the ice rink in the evenings :
Snow Storm on 2nd December
Live music on Ice on 15th December
Snow Queen, Elsa, Anna and Olaf on ice 22nd December
Christmas party with Santa Claus 23rd December
Fancy dress ice skating on 29th December
The ice rink is opened every day from 10.00 to 21.00, on Friday and Saturday till 22.00.
The highest Christmas tree in Alpes Maritimes – whooping 33 m high, will be displayed on Esplanade Georges Pompidou.
This year’s main attraction in Cannes includes a traditional Provencal nativity scene from the private collection of Albert II of Monaco and the illumination of Le Suquet Church and Le Malmaison by a famous lighting designer Gaspare di Caro between 15th and 22nd December 2018. Some of di Caro’s works are considered masterpieces, such as the lighting of Christ, The Redeemer, in Rio de Janeiro in 2009.
Christmas Service at Holy Trinity Anglican Church
For a very special, spiritual evening, join the Holy Trinity Anglican Church services in English. The church is located on Rue du Canada, behind Carlton Hotel.
17th December at 19.30 – Christmas Carol service followed by mulled wine
24th December at 16.00 – Children’s service and at 23.30 Midnight Mass
25th December at 9.00 – Christmas morning service
You might have never heard of this small medieval village, but when it comes to festive season, it is one of those, off the beaten track destinations, where you might find the true spirit of Christmas. How come?
The local folks put all their efforts into decorating the village, creating over 450 nativity scenes (crèches) scattered through the whole place. And the village has only around 1200 habitants! That’s a real community effort!
Get a map in the tourist office or at the information desk as you get off the bus and the treasure hunt for the crèches can start. There is no corner which is not decorated, look everywhere, in every doorway, balcony, window, alleyway, plant pot, in village fountains and ancient wash houses and you will find crèches of all sizes, from the simple to the most sophisticated.
A small Christmas Market is held in the village between 16th – 23rd December, and it is focused on locally produced food, arts and crafts and the tradition of 13 desserts. If you’re visiting with children, they’ll love the pony rides and Père Noël visits.
Christmas Concerts are held in St. Marguerite Church on Sunday 16th and 23th at 14.30.
How to get there?
The easiest way is of course by car, if you have one rented. Follow D2204, the journey takes around 35 mins from Nice.
By bus the number 340 or 360 from Nice Vauban bus depot, The journey takes about 50 minutes. Get your ticket with bus driver for 1.50 €. You can check the bus schedules on following links.
Christmas Market Valbonne
The village of Valbonne will be transformed into an enchanting winter wonderland as the traditional Christmas market kicks off on the 22nd of December 2018 for 3 days in the Place des Arcades. Why, Valbonne over the other picturesque villages in the area? There is a real Christmas ambience in welcoming, good humoured and cordial surroundings, the atmosphere is just a very unique place to be.
Over 100 stalls offer visitors a wide range of lovingly crafted advent decorations, Christmas gifts, local food products, culinary treats, as well as selected wines, champagne and mulled wine. There is an excellent entertainment programme for young and old alike.
Magic shows, children’s workshops, musical parades, carousels, Père Noël along with his helpers, petting farm and much more will put a gleam in children’s eyes and your own inner child might make an appearance here as well… Don’t miss on the Christmas Parade on 23rd at 14.00, 16.00 and 17.30 or 24th at 11.00 and 15.00.
Garbejaïre – Haut-Sartoux holds the Christmas market prior to the village one in Place Mejane between 17th and 19th December 2018.
Valbonne Christmas Art Fair
A Christmas Exhibition in Salle Saint Esprit from 7th – 24th 2018 brings together 20 carefully selected artist showcasing their original works of art such as paintings, sculptures, Raku ceramics, jewelry, maps, photographs… all very budget friendly. A perfect place to pick something different for your loved ones to unwrap this Christmas!
Gospel Choir Christmas Concert is held in Saint Paul des Nations Church on 8th December at 16.00.
For the full schedule click on the following link:
Other places and events to check out this festive season
Antibes and Juan les Pins
The Christmas Market in Esplanade du Pré des Pêcheurs, Antibes – 15.12. 2018 – 06.01 2019. Opened every day from 10.30 to 19.30 (Saturday’s till 21.00), exceptional closing on 24th and 31st December at 18.00, exceptional opening 25th December and 1st January at 14.00
The Christmas ‘Regatta’ – Gravette Beach, Antibes – 14th December 2018 at 17.30 – release of floating lanterns at sea with sailor songs interpreted by the Societé de Regates Antibes.
The ice rink in Antibes – 250 sq meters ice rink opens on 15th December and is free for kids between 2 – 10 years old. 3€ per hour for the rest. Bring your own gloves. Opened from 10.30 to 19.30 every day except 24th and 31st, exceptional opening on 25th at 14.00.
Yule Log Party – Fête de la Bûche – 16th December at 17.00, Place du Safranier, Antibes. Traditional tasting of the Yule Logs made on the spot. Yule log is a traditional Christmas cake served in Provence.
Christmas run – 20th December at 18.15, starting point at Parking de Salis, Antibes. Opened to everyone dressed in Santa Claus costume
Traditional arrival of Santa Claus on the water skis – 23rd December at 10.30, Juan les Pins – Promenade du Soleil Beach
Saint Paul de Vence
Christmas Market – 8th December from 11.00 – 19.00 at Place de Gaulle. Crafty stalls selling local handmade products such as candles and tea lights, hand-woven clothes, bags and jewelry, Christmas decorations, teas, dried fruits, olive oils, biscuits…. Entertainment for children all day long, inflatable castle, Christmas decoration workshop, games and Santa will be present too! Christmas carols sung by children’s choir at 11.30
Truffle Market – 22nd December from 9.00 – 18.00.
Large local market that is all about truffles – ‘the diamonds of the kitchen’, often used in French Christmas dishes. You’ll get to meet around twenty producers of truffles and their extraordinary truffle sniffing dogs from Alpes Maritimes, buy some truffles, taste truffle dishes, get on the ‘truffle’ guided tour at 15.00…#must love truffles.
Both markets are the go-to place to meet small, independent business entrepreneurs to shop an array of unique artisanal products. Saint Paul de Vence has a compact historical centre, a true delight just to wander around at will any time of the year. Christmas lights and its unique romantic atmosphere make it even more special. (Read more about Saint Paul de Vence in our Guide here)
Kidooland Christmas Fair Vallauris
Kidooland, an English Language activity centre will hold its first Christmas Fair on 2nd December 2018 in Vallauris (1890 Chemin de Saint Bernard) in conjunction with local Mimosa association against cancer. The event will take place from 10.30 to 15.30.
4 sets of Christmas carol singers, activities and games for children, together with refreshments such as minced pies, mulled wine, hot chocolate and pancakes will quickly get you into the pre-Christmas mood. Père Noël will visit between 11.45 and 12.45, collecting the letters from children.
There will be many stalls and rather interesting local traders attending and donating to the cause as well as the raffle draw.
Everybody is welcome, please, if you can, confirm your attendance and check further details at www.kidooland.com.
ETSY Christmas Fair Menton
Etsy team 06 (06 for Alpes Maritimes) is organizing a Christmas Fair with the aim of promoting the magic and value of handmade products and encouraging everyone to buy local and from independent sellers. One of the best alternative Christmas shopping events on the French Riviera is promising to get you Christmas ready with the most unique and high quality gifts. Whatever you are looking for, you are sure to find in one of the twenty stalls, from fashion accessories to jewellery, skincare to crochet, mosaics to lovingly crafted decorations, the market will be bursting with creative and contemporary stocking fillers. There will be a crochet workshop and a raffle too.
Join for a weekend of craft and festivities on 8th and 9th December in Grand Hôtel des Ambassadeurs in Menton, from 10.00 to 18.00. No need for tickets or admission fees, just come down and hopefully shop on the day.
Check out the wonderful line up on following link www.radiotopside.com/agenda/etsy-menton-nouvelle-edition-161
Grand Hôtel des Ambassadeurs, 3 Rue Partouneaux, 06500 Menton
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