Christmas 2017 : Festive events and activities on the French Riviera

The Zone B school holidays over the Christmas period run from 22 December and finish 7 January so it’s a good time to use the fortnight’s break to partake in some festive activities.

As well as the usual Christmas markets that pop up each year in every town, there are themed activities and shows with plenty of options to choose from that will suit all ages.

Here are some ideas for things to do during the Christmas period on the French Riviera:

ANTIBES

From 15 December, the Antibes Christmas markets will be open with small animations and stands at Place de Gaulle and Place Nationale with a larger market area at Esplanade du Pré des Pêcheurs opposite Port Vauban.

The ice skating rink is back!  Very popular, it’s located in the Christmas market area opposite Port Vauban, opening hours are from 10.30am to 8pm daily (until 10pm on Saturdays).  From 18-22 December, it is reserved for school groups during the day so the rink is open to the public from 5pm to 8pm.

The Antibes ice skating rink is free entry for 2 to 10 years; €3 for adults or kids older than 10 years.  You must take your own gloves as they don’t supply or rent gloves.  Skate hire included on entrance and there are a few skating support aids for young skaters/novices.

(image: Jacques Bayle)

CANNES

Cannes Christmas festivities will run the entire school holidays.   The traditional Christmas market is based at the Allées de Liberté opposite Vieux Port and open daily.   Santa’s House will be located in a chalet here where kids can meet him from 2pm to 6pm on 16, 17, 20, 23 and 24 December.

This area also hosts kids craft workshops in a chalet there – until 20 December, the workshops are open weekends and Wednesdays from 2pm to 6pm.  From 22 December, kids workshops are on every day during school holidays from 2pm to 6pm.  The types of things that kids get to make are Christmas lanterns, key rings, mini chocolates.

christmas market cannes

Marché de Noël in Cannes (image: ©Mairie de Cannes)

For theme park rides, a big area is set up right beside the port with arcade games, dodgems, bouncy castles etc and open daily from 2pm to 10pm. There is a cost for each ride, generally around €2,50 to €3 for a single ticket or the cost reduces if you buy a few tickets.

On 24 December, Santa and his sleigh will parade down rue d’Antibes at 3pm.

The Cannes ice skating rink is open daily from 1pm to 8pm (open until 10pm on Fridays and Saturdays).  Note:  From 10am to 1pm daily, the ice skating rink is exclusively just for kids aged 4-10 years, free entry but €3 for accompanying adults.  After 1pm, the rink is open to everyone for 1-hour sessions and a cost of €3 per person including skate hire.

There will be a number of shows held at the Cannes ice skating rink (therefore the rink will close to the public), the show dates are:

  • Friday 15 December :  Live music on ice with Blue Ice Cocktail
  • Saturday 16 December : Generation Top 50 with DJ Max and Charly la Voute
  • Friday 22 December :  ‘Frozen’ with Elsa, Anna and Olaf
  • Saturday 23 December : Christmas Party with Santa and his elves
  • Friday 29 December : Crazy skating party with DJ Mozart, fancy dress compulsory
  • Saturday 30 December : Disco party
  • Friday 5 January : Snow storm party with mascots
  • Saturday 6 January :  ‘Break the Ice’ demonstration of freestyle skating
patinoire cannes

Cannes ice skating rink with host a number of shows over Christmas (image: Press Agence)

There will be fireworks on New Years Eve from 11pm in the bay of Cannes.

JUAN LES PINS

On Saturday 23 December in partnership with the Belles Rives Ski Nautique Club, Père Noel arrives by water ski at 10.30am.  He lands on the beach by La Jetee / Reve Plage and hands out a chocolate/bon bon to each child.

pere noel ski nautique juan les pins

Père Noel arrives by water ski each year in Juan les Pins (image: Centre-Ville en Mvmnt)

From 24 December to 30 December, there will be free pony rides and a mini farm set up at Pinede Gould with rabbits, sheep, goats etc.  It is open from 10.30am to midday and 2.30pm to 5.30pm.

On Saturday 30 December, floating lanterns will be released from Ponton Hollywood at 5.30pm.  (Ponton Hollywood is the concrete jetty by Café plage).

On New Years Day, the public fireworks display starts at 6.30pm in the bay of Juan les Pins.

NICE

On 17 December at Parc Carol du Romanie from 10am to 5pm, a Christmas day with Père Noel, candy floss machine, Christmas stands and a show at 3pm

All through December until 1st January 2018, Nice will celebrate Christmas with the theme ‘Dans l’Espace’.

The main Christmas festivities are centred around Jardin Albert 1er, place Massena and Promenade du Peillon and open daily from 11am to 8pm (9pm on Fridays and Saturdays).  Here you’ll find the Christmas chalets, the ferris wheel (open 11am-11pm), carousels (paying) and pony rides.   The Apollo fountain will be illuminated, there will be 6 illuminated rockets and Christmas trees decorated in keeping with the space theme.  A giant Christmas tree 20-metres high will be placed at Promenade du Peillon.

marche de noel nice

Christmas in Nice is centred around place Massena, Jardin Albert 1er and Promenade du Peillon (image: nice.fr)

The ice skating rink has moved this year from below the ferris wheel to the Fontaine des 3 Grâces.  Ice skating is €5 including skate hire and sessions go for one hour at the following times 11am, 12.30pm, 2pm, 3.30pm, 5pm and 6.30pm.

Santa’s House is located at Theatre de Verdure and open daily during school holidays from 2pm to 7.30pm until Christmas Day.

chrismtas in nice

Marche de Noel in Nice (image: Nice Matin)

THÉOULE SUR MER

Santa’s House will be located at avenue Charles Dahon where kids can get a souvenir photo from 2pm to 6pm on 16, 17, 20 and 24 December.

22 December – There will be a Christmas parade from 5pm on avenue Charles Dahon.  Espace Botta will have a mini farm for kids to see animals.

29 December – At the Salle des Fêtes there will be a marionnette show ‘Pierre et le loup’ at 4pm.  Entry is just €1. Limited places, book via the Office de Tourisme, Phone 04 93 49 28 28,  2 Corniche d’Or, 06590 Théoule sur Mer.

noel theoule sur mer

Pierre et la Loup marionnette show in Théoule sur Mer over the festive period

On until 7 January, every day during school holidays a santon fair at the Espace culturel will showcase crèche decorations, painted figurines and miniature Provençal houses.

This is not an exhaustive list for activities over the Christmas school holidays, just simply some inspiration to enjoy some of the French Riviera’s programme over the holiday period.  Access Riviera wants to wish everyone a safe and enjoyable festive season!

Joyeux Noël ! 

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7 reasons NOT to visit the Côte d’Azur in winter

Over a century ago, the Côte d’Azur was a destination for those who wintered here for health reasons and old money who holidayed here, drinking red wine and wondering how to magically transport the sky, sea and sunshine back to their own part of the world.

Faced with grey skies and snowfall that encourages marathon Monopoly sessions by the fireplace, many tourists could easily just skip going on a winter getaway, right?  Here’s 7 reasons NOT to visit the Côte d’Azur in winter:

1. Having to decide between the beach or ski resorts

Do you prefer beaches or the mountains?  Well, don’t visit the French Riviera in winter if you need an easy choice because you can do both in one day, if you like.

That’s right, you can be on the slopes in the Alps in the morning and enjoying a late afternoon snack at a coastal cafeteria on the same day.   Sound impossible?  Well, it’s not.  And while swimming in the sea may be out of the question for most and only the brave dip into the Mediterranean during winter, we are very lucky to have the chance to do this!

The French Riviera in winter : it’s possible to enjoy the sea and mountains in one day

The geographical location of the French Riviera stretches from the Mediterranean coast to hinterland communities and Mercantour region that includes alpine towns.   The Alpes Maritimes region has easy access to established ski resorts, and you’ll find no shortage of pistes to ski or snowboard including Isola 2000, Auron, Valberg, La Colmiane and Val d’Allos La Foux.  Gréolières is the closest to the coast and while it doesn’t have the amenities of the other resorts it’s perfectly fun for a day out with the family.

Even if you don’t ski there are many exciting things to do at the mountain resorts such as toboganning, DJ concerts on the pistes or simply visit one of the restaurants for a lovely meal overlooking the mountains.

Of course, if winter isn’t your thing then the mountain resorts can also be visited in warmer months when the wildflowers are in bloom, walking trails are beautiful and other attractions and activities are open such as the zip line at La Colmiane, the luge at Valberg, Vesubia Mountain Park with climbing wall, swimming pool and canyoning, Parc Alpha Wolf Park and the natural pool at Roquebillière.

2. Too many winter options for families

If you prefer to have a relaxing winter with your family, the French Riviera isn’t for you.  How could you possibly decide what to do when there are ski resorts, Christmas markets, ice skating, food festivals and traditional celebrations such as the santon fairs or local events including the Lucéram nativity / crèche displays?

Not to mention, the weather is usually mild throughout winter so you can still play outdoors at any of the numerous French Riviera playgrounds.

Lucéram has a nativity crèche display each Christmas with around 450 displays throughout the town

3. Uncrowded walking trails

It rarely rains for days on end throughout winter on the French Riviera so people simply dress up warmer for their regular promenades through town.

However, it seems the change in weather causes a mass exodus from popular walking routes and hiking trails.   If you prefer busier walking paths (excluding the Promenade des Anglais in Nice and Croisette in Cannes which generally have foot traffic all year), go on holiday elsewhere as you’ll likely have little or no company on many walking trails here during colder months.

4. Seasonal winter food

I do sometimes hear from visitors that the restaurants here are tourist traps churning out average food in high season.  So, if you’re a ‘meat-and-three-vegies’ kind of traveller then don’t come back in winter!

The cooler months kick start some absolutely lip-smackingly good food fairs, the popular truffle season, oyster sales, chestnut festivals, grape harvesting and more.  Also, one of my favourite festive season pastimes is a glass of vin chaud and a slice of pain d’épices at the Marché de Noëls 🙂

Marrons chauds (hot chestnuts) are found at many winter festivals

5. No long queues at tourist attractions

Many of the Côte d’Azur’s tourist attractions close over winter or have reduced hours, but there are still plenty of attractions that are open and you won’t have to brave long queues of tourists to enjoy them.

Drop by one of the French Riviera’s popular museums, visit the gorgeously ornate Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild or take a French Riviera art trail soaking up the sites and landscapes painted by famous artists.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is a year-round attraction worth visiting

6. Quiet hilltop villages

I love the buzz of big cities, but it can be overwhelming to be constantly bombarded with urban noise from traffic, construction and city life!

If you prefer a more sedate experience, you can’t miss visiting some of the towns on the French Riviera during autumn and winter when time moves at a much slower pace.

Go to Eze, St Paul de Vence, Tourrette-Levens, Gourdon or Sainte-Agnès and stroll around appreciating the history, village houses and medieval architecture.

I also find taking photographs is great during colder months because you don’t have other people crowding the background of your panorama, you can get some fantastic photos of daily life without residents feeling they are on show (that perhaps they may feel in high season) and people are generally going about their day at a more relaxed pace.

Sainte-Agnès is exceptionally tranquil during cooler months

7.  Classy festive decorations

Some people love over-the-top Christmas decorations, but you’ll find the Côte d’Azur eases back on the tacky factor and decorations are mostly classy.

Casino Square always has an amazing festive display every year

While Christmas on the coast may be short on snow, you’ll find no shortage of festive imagination.  Expect to see garlands of festive lights, giant Christmas trees and lots of Christmas markets – without the repetitive song of ‘Frosty the Snowman’ 20 hours a day, every shop window crammed with yuletide merchandise from early November and every house decorated excessively with neon lights blinking to synchronised music.

Also, most shops tend to stick to civilised opening hours – you won’t see mass frenzies of late-night shopping at most stores right up to Christmas Eve putting pressure on consumers to grab a late Christmas bargain.

Luxury hotels have elegant displays for Noël, Casino Square in Monaco looks suitably grand during the festive season and who won’t think a torchlight descent down the mountain with fireworks over the snow isn’t a fantastic way to see in the New Year?

Some people prefer grey skies, heavy snow and freezing temperatures in winter, however while the French Riviera may not be an obvious choice for a winter getaway it is a perfectly viable destination to visit with tolerable weather, lots of activities and less crowds.

Photo Credits:  Tyrolienne La Colmiane (Neo Extreme), Lucéram image (Departement06), Marrons chauds (Provence7), Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild (Paris Frivole), Ste Agnès (Notre Provence Group),