The French Riviera is the ideal destination to soak up the holiday season with everything happening including Christmas markets dressed in their finest decorations and lights, food festivals and winter activities.
There’s plenty for families to see and do, and it doesn’t have to cost a fortune – here are 35 of my best suggestions to get into the festive spirit on the French Riviera:
Admire the illuminated light shows
As well as the Christmas markets with beautiful light garlands and displays, there are a few worthy mentions for places to go to see spectacular lights at night during these Christmas school holidays.
Saint-Laurent du Var projected video show
On Wednesday 18 December, a free sound and light show will be projected at 6.30pm on the facade of the Hôtel de Ville in Saint-Laurent du Var. At 6.45pm, the Enchanted Forest displays will be opened along with mulled wine and hot chocolate offered by the municipality.
Nice, baie des lumières
Nice, baie des lumières is being hosted at Parc Phoenix in Nice until 23 February 2020. It comprises of around 550 illuminated Chinese lanterns, including a Great Wall, pandas and dragons. The festival also includes kung fu demonstrations, tea ceremonies and traditional dance performances.
Note: Nice, baie des lumières displays are only on from Wednesday to Sunday (closed Monday and Tuesdays). It is open every day during Christmas school holidays, including Christmas Day and New Years Day.
In my opinion, I think €17 for adults and €12 for children (5-17 yrs) is quite pricey for a static festival, especially when I’ve experienced free Chinese lantern festivals overseas, however it’s worth visiting as it’s not something that happens regularly in this region and kids can get a glimpse into another culture. My top tips are to buy a Family Pass, or visit on Wednesday or Thursday when admission is at a reduced price.
More information about Nice, baie des lumières is here: https://www.baiedeslumieres.com/index_en.html . There is also a similar Chinese lantern festival being hosted in Marseille until 19 January 2020, details are at this link for Les Lumières Légendaires de Chine.
Take advantage of the great outdoors
The Côte d’Azur is blessed with mild weather year-round, so there’s plenty of opportunity to get outdoors. Even if the temperature is a bit cooler, you will still experience mostly blue skies and be able to soak up the beauty of nature.
Head to the mountains where you’ll find over 30 ski resorts just a few hours drive from the coast, catering for everyone from novices to expert. Most ski resorts have rental shops where you can hire skis, helmets, snowboards, boots or toboggans/sleds.
There are also group or private ski lessons available, as well as the addition of kids clubs so you can have qualified carers mind your little ones while you get in a few runs and a post-ski vin chaud.
Ventes flash: Don’t miss the opportunity for discounted adult ski passes for Auron and Isola 2000 – look for the flash sales online on Tuesday nights at 8pm where you can buy an adult ski pass for 50% off. Stock is limited and basically runs until the last one sells. Be ready to buy one! Go here for the flash pass links: Auron and Isola 2000 Flash Sales
100% Neige ski buses: Ski buses run to and from Nice to selected mountain resorts during winter season.
I’ve previously used them and they are great if you want to avoid driving winding roads or for a half-day trip to the mountain without worrying about parking, petrol costs etc. The downside is that the ski buses times don’t really sync if you have group ski lessons booked (morning and afternoon sessions), but you can always reserve a private lesson at a time that suits you best.
The 100% Neige ski buses serve :
- La Colmiane, with a navette to Boréon : Bus #90; was previously known as bus number 730; daily service until the close of the ski season.
- Auron, with a navette to Roubion : Bus #91; was previously number 740; daily service until 19 April 2020.
- Isola 2000 : Bus #92; was previously number 750; daily service until the close of the season.
- Valberg : Bus 770; daily service until 9 March 2020.
The cost for the ski buses is €6 oneway per person with pre-booking, €12 return. (Note: There are also regular bus lines that service the mountain towns).
The best stop to get on the ski buses in Nice is right outside the Nice Ville train station, opposite the post office; the name of the bus stop is ‘Poste Thiers – SNCF’. You must book online and you are sent an e-ticket to print and give the bus driver.
For ski buses to La Colmiane, Auron, Isola 2000, book online at www.lignesazur.com
For ski buses to Valberg, book online at zou.maregionsud.fr
Other attractions in the mountains include Parc Alpha Loup, Vesubia Mountain Park and Via Ferrata at Lantosque.
If you’re visiting the ski resorts during Christmas 2019 school holidays, there’s loads of activities and events happening such as torchlight mountain descents (24th and 27th December and 3 January in Valberg), Santa arriving by various modes of transport including skis, husky dog sled or zipline, fireworks displays, free concerts and cinema screenings such as Frozen 2 which will be screened in Auron, Valberg and Valdeblore.
Family-friendly walking trails
Winter is a fantastic time to experience many of the region’s walking trails, without the crowds from summer. Three family-friendly walks are:
Cap d’Antibes loop walk : nice coastal scenery, toddler age will need supervision as there are some steep sections and uneven surfaces, the pathway has some stairs so it’s not suitable for prams/baby strollers. The full walk from Plage Garoupe past Villa Eilenroc is around 1.25-1.5 hours; the mini loop walk from the side track opposite Château de la Croe takes about 25 minutes and is ideal for families with small children.
Villeneuve Loubet seafront : flat seafront walkway from Marina Baie des Anges towards Cagnes sur Mer with cafeterias along the way, plenty of carparking at Marina Baie des Anges and accessible toilets.
Parc du Paradou between Golfe Juan and Cannes : Has limited carparking but lots of great views across the sea, wear comfortable footwear as the path can be rocky in places, take a picnic as there’s no food outlets nearby, lots of trees and chances to see birds and other wildlife. Great location for dog walking too! For directions, click here: Parc du Paradou map
Cycling is a wonderful activity where all the family can participate. The variety of cycling routes on the Côte d’Azur is excellent, ranging from flat coastal pathways to hilly climbs for more experienced cyclists. Interest in cycling is steady year-round with events such as Nice Ironman and Tour de France 2020 helping boost the profile of cycling.
Expert cyclists can take on hill climbs such as Col de Vence and Col de la Madone, but in general family-friendly cycle options are most accessible near to the coast.
Families can avoid traffic by using the region’s coastal cycle paths – the routes are usually paved, smooth and pot-hole free! They are also near to restaurants, snack kiosks or picnic areas so you don’t have to cycle too far if you have small children.
Here’s three fun places to go cycling en famille:
Cagnes sur Mer : The seafront has a marked cycleway, also the Jardin de la Villette playground at 7 Maréchal Juin in the centre of Cagnes sur Mer has a mini roadway marked out so younger cyclists can practise their riding or play on their scooters in a fenced, safe environment.
Nice : A cycle journey on the French Riviera can’t be done without discovering Nice by bike! Did you know that Nice has over 125km of cycleway paths and dedicated parking for anyone on 2 wheels? Hire a Vélo Bleu bike, or take your own.
Casual cyclists can pedal along the Promenade des Anglais enjoying the view across the turquoise sea, while serious cyclists may opt to stop in at Café du Cycliste at Nice Port which retails cycle gear, rents bikes and serves pedal-worthy coffee.
Sanremo: OK, not exactly the French Riviera I know, however the Pista Ciclabile / Ponente Ligure cycle path is worth mentioning if you fancy a day trip just over the border in Italy. The cycleway follows an old railway line and covers 24 kilometres from San Lorenzo al Mare to Sanremo (Ospedaletti). You can stop and start wherever you like!
Along the way, the route is a mix of quality paved coastal path and tunnels with plenty of locations to rent bikes, stop at beaches, sit on benches to admire the view and grab a drink at pretty Italian villages. Highly recommended. For the route map and more information, you can click on this link to Pista Ciclabile.
(images: viagginbici and Pista Ciclabile)
School holidays are a great time to get creative with Christmas-themed craft workshops, fun events and kids cooking classes.
Kids cooking classes
Until Saturday 21 December, Jacobs Création in Nice is running kids patissier classes. Classes from 18 December onwards include making reindeer popcakes, emoji cookies, bûche de Noel and a special themed workshop on 21 December based on Disney’s Frozen with cooking and craft sessions. Reserve a place via Jacobs Création.
Christmas craft workshop
On Sunday 22 December, the Médiathèque in Vence is hosting a Christmas craft workshop from 10am to 4pm with origami, card making and other activities. Reserve a place by telephone: 04 93 58 02 12
BrickLive Monaco / BrickLive Christmas
Last year, we had a fantastic day at the BrickLive Monaco event at the Grimaldi Forum where the kids got to play in different Lego®-style zones making their own creations out of mini bricks for Star Wars, Friends, animals, cities and more.
The good news is that BrickLive Monaco is returning! Head along to the Grimaldi Forum from 21 December 2019 to 5 January 2020 for more interactive, hands-on construction. Don’t miss the special displays featuring ocean creatures and a life-size Lego® version of Felipe Massa’s Formula E car.
Watch the promo video here: https://tv.grimaldiforum.com/video-413-bricklive-2019-2020#embed270
My tip is to ask for the special combination ticket deal at Grimaldi Forum where you can get entry to BrickLive Monaco AND the Monaco Oceanarium for great prices.
More info about BrickLive Monaco is here: https://www.grimaldiforum.com/fr/agenda-manifestations-monaco/bricklive-monaco#.XfZxpG5FzIV
Visit the French Riviera Christmas markets
I love taking the kids to the Christmas markets on the Côte d’Azur. Each one is different and has anything on offer from theme park rides, music, face painting and magic shows, artisan stalls, kids craft workshops, Santa visits and food outlets selling things such as pretzels, gingerbread, hot chocolate, vin chaud or cookies.
Where do you take your kids for ice skating? Head to the Christmas markets at Antibes, Auron, Cannes, Golfe Juan (at Theatre de la Mer), Grasse, Monaco, Mougins, Nice and Saint-Martin-Vesubie which all have pop-up ice skating rinks for school holidays.
Looking for something a bit different? Here’s 6 more ideas:
- Watch the free show ‘Moscow Circus on Ice’ at Monaco Christmas Market on Saturday 21 December from 5.30pm-8.30pm.
- See Santa water skiing in Juan les Pins at 10.30am on Sunday 22 December.
- Visit the Enchanted Forest at Parc Layet during Saint-Laurent du Var’s Christmas market.
- Get up close to farm animals at the mini farm experiences during school holidays at Pinède Gould in Juan les Pins, Saint-Jean Cap Ferrat and Théoule sur Mer.
- Take a free zipline ride on Christmas Eve from 2.30pm-5pm – the zipline goes from the second floor at the Mairie in Saint-Martin-Vesubie!
- Check out the traditional santon and crèche displays at Roquebrune Village or Lucéram over the festive period.
Experience a seasonal food festival
Whether you join in on local festivities such as the Fête de la Buche de Noel tradition that’s hosted by the Commune de Safranier in Antibes each December, or head to a truffle market, you’re sure to find something to tempt your tastebuds.
Top family-friendly picks over the holiday season are breakfast with Santa at the Hard Rock Café Nice on Saturday 21 December, the truffle market at Saint-Paul de Vence on Sunday 22 December complete with live music and truffling dogs, or head a little bit further to Aix-en-Provence for the ‘Market of 13 Desserts‘ from 17 to 24 December to sample goodies that are traditionally enjoyed at Christmas time.
Highly recommended is a visit to the southern France truffle markets that are open until March – Aups is held on Thursday morning, Carpentras is Friday morning and Richerenches is Saturday morning. Visit https://www.richerenches.fr/ for more information.