The Côte d’Azur is a great place to be for Christmas with plenty of fun, unusual and traditional events taking place throughout the festive period. Blessed with 300 days of sunshine a year, many of which fall over the Holidays, this is a lovely time to be in Nice and the surrounding area. Here’s a short list of 6 top things to do in and around Nice at Christmas suitable for families, couples and individuals of all ages. And best of all my suggestions won’t break the bank, most of them are absolutely free.
See the decorations at Lucéram
For a hefty dose of Christmas cheer you can’t do better than spending the day in the pretty hill village of Lucéram, around 30 kilometres from Nice, for in December it comes alive with a Circuit des Crèches (Nativity scenes). Literally every little lane, balcony, doorway and every nook and cranny is decorated with nativity scenes in every conceivable shape and size. These scenes (the crèches) are made out of anything and everything including wood, paper, glass, pinecones, traditional santons, wool, twigs and even bread. They come in every size from minuscule to a 10m long replica of the village and even the village’s numerous fountains are decorated with their own floating crèches. You won’t see gaudy displays of brightly coloured plastic here; in this magical setting you’ll be transported to another era, a simpler and more traditional time, you can’t help but be charmed. The decorations start in early December and last till 6 January, the visit is FREE, for more detail click here.
Skate on the famous harbour in Monaco
There are plenty of ice-rinks to choose from at Christmas on the Côte d’Azur but my family loves the rink at Monaco where the pool on the famous port is transformed into a rink for 3 months every winter. Skating to the backdrop of sailing boats and super yachts, under a cloudless sunny sky in mid-winter is an unbeatable experience. The Monaco ice-rink is much larger than the average pop-up rink but best of all, unlike many of the other rinks, it’s rarely crowded, you aren’t limited in time and you don’t have to book. There’s a small kiddie’s rink for beginners/tiny kids attached to the main rink. New for 2016: curling equipment is available to use for free! 6.50€ flat fee, free for under 5s. Check opening hours here.
Visit a Christmas market in a vineyard
There are many lovely Christmas markets on the French Riviera. The ones in the big towns and cities tend to last throughout the month of December while the smaller towns have their own fairs and markets usually for 1-4 days. Our favourites are in the villages of Le Rouret and Valbonne (both about 30 kms from central Nice). Check for dates here. However for something rather unusual why not visit a Christmas market in one of the famous rosé wine vineyards nearby for a particularly Provencal experience. You can find links to vineyards which hold Christmas events here (the article is from 2015 so the dates are not current but the links still work). FREE.
Visit a “Foire aux Santons”
Now here’s another typically Provencal tradition at Christmas that appeals to all ages: visit a Foire aux Santons, a fair selling clay figurines for Nativity scenes. Santons come in all shapes and sizes and depict traditional characters from the Nativity as well as more original characters from village life. They are used to decorate houses at Christmas time and are available at most Christmas markets as well as at specialist fairs. Kids enjoy looking for, and picking out, funny and unusual characters such as the village idiot and the “crapper” (depicted with a bare bottom and a poo, yes really!) Find out more about Santons here (plenty of photos.) The main market is in Marseille but closer options are Mouans-Sartoux and Valbonne. FREE.
Take a ride on a big wheel
Christmas time sees the installation of ferris wheels in many towns along the coast of the French Riviera but my favourite has got to be the one in Nice for the fabulous views it offers over the town. Try to plan your ride for just before sunset so you can really take in the sweeping views of the old town, Promenade du Paillon, Christmas village and seafront Prom as the sun goes down and the sparkling Christmas lights come on. Once you’ve had your ride and it’s dark walk into the park for beautiful reflections of the wheel in the water mirror. There is a fee for the ride.
Watch or take part in a Christmas swim
Several towns along the coast hold Christmas “ice-breaker” swims “bain de noël” in the sea during December. These are jolly, noisy occasions where many people dress up or at least wear a Christmas hat, but you won’t see wetsuits. Check town websites for dates and information. Popular places are Nice, Cagnes sur Mer and Villeneuve-Loubet. Check out this news report from France 3 to see what it’s all about.
What do you think? Would you like to spend Christmas on the Côte d’Azur?
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