In the little village of Lucéram, perched on the side of a hill overlooking the Paillon valley near Nice, something magical takes place every December. Known as the Circuit des crèches, Lucéram decks its streets with hundreds of nativity scenes (crèches). Or rather, it adorns every lane, alley, doorway, balcony, cellar, windowsill, and nook and cranny with somewhere between 450 and 500 crèches.
This explosion of nativity scenes, the Circuit des crèches, is the brainchild of Christiane Ricord. In 1996 in her role as President of la Maison de Pays she created an elaborate crèche in a very detailed scale model of the village inside the Chapelle St Pierre.
Together with her husband, brother-in-law and sister-in-law, the four of them took 10 months to make this beautiful replica of their little perched village, though it took many more years to create all the different Santons (traditional clay figurines).
It now has over 100 Santons, all made by hand by a traditional santonnier from Lucéram and many local characters are represented, including Christiane herself (in the black outfit with blonde hair bottom left of the photo).
Christiane is passionate about crèches and encouraged other villagers to make their own, starting the tradition in 1998. Initially, 30 households displayed their nativity scenes. This caught the eye of the local paper which in turn brought curious visitors.
Nowadays, in its 26th year, between 450 and 500 crèches are displayed in the village and around 40,000 visitors enjoy the Circuit des crèches each festive season.
The Circuit des crèches extends through the winding, steep alleyways and tunnels, all decorated in red and gold and branches of pine trees. The inhabitants of Lucéram are an imaginative lot creating nativity scenes out of all manner of different materials.
Look out for crèches made from corks, Playmobil, chicken wire, pebbles, twigs or felt. Look closely and you might see one in an oyster shell or a hazelnut. How about a marine-themed crèche? Or a knitted nativity scene? An old saddle or antique plough!
Keep your eye out for crèches in unusual places such as letter boxes, cracks in the wall, caves, fountains, the old wash house and cellars. There are life-size replicas and minuscule scenes, some are minutely detailed others are simplisticly basic. There’s something for all different tastes from kitch to traditional, stylish to tacky, elegant to plain ugly!
As well as the nativity scenes on the streets, don’t miss the displays in Sainte-Marguerite church. The late 15th century church, a classified historical monument, is worth a visit for its highly decorative rococo interior and 1498 altarpiece attributed to Louis Bréa.
It also houses several crèches with explanations and descriptions, a souvenir stand and surprisingly snacks for sale in the foyer!
I’ve been to visit the Circuit de crèches twice, the first time was in 2012 when it was notably smaller than 2023. It’s hugely popular these days, with a more commercial feel. There are more signs up directing the flow and even souvenirs to buy.
One detail that struck me, something I’ve never seen in France before, was the attempt to get dog owners to clear up after their dogs. Top marks for effort but perhaps a little heavy-handed. Many crèches had the surprising addition of piles of “poo bags” tucked into the display, somewhat ruining the festive feel!
If you’re not “crèched” out after walking the circuit Lucéram has a crèche museum, run by volunteers and free during the festive period.
Getting to Lucéram is an easy drive from Nice (only 27 km) and under an hour from Lou Messugo. Driving is realistically the only option which makes parking difficult at busy times.
I recommend going early in the day, getting there around 10 am and spending the morning there. It’s busier in the afternoon.
Food options are not extensive, there are only a couple of restaurants. It’s probably best not to rely on eating in the village, though on days when the Christmas market takes place, there are snack stands.
Visiting the Circuit des crèches in Lucéram is a must during the Christmas period on the Côte d’Azur. It’s charming, picturesque, a little bit magical and so very festive.
For information on the dates of the Circuit des crèches, click here. It runs every year from early December into the first week of January. It’s on until 7th January 2024 so there’s still time to go this season.
If you are on Instagram you’ll find plenty more photos and some videos in my Noël Côte d’Azur story highlights. Why not pop over and take a look.
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