Christmas market in France
Christmas market in France. Photo: Fotolia

Public holidays are sacrosanct to the French, and none more so than Noël, when the Champagne flows liberally and there are countless options for festive fun…

REIMS AT CHRISTMAS

One of Champagne’s major cities, Reims stages an enormously popular Marché de Noël, which attracts over 1.5 million visitors and offers local food, arts and crafts, presents, children’s attractions, an ice rink and, of course, lots of bubbly. This year’s market runs from 20 Nov to 27 Dec. www.reims-tourism.com

THE GERMAN INFLUENCE

Thanks to its Franco-German history, Alsace knows how to put on a Christmas market. The traditional treats on offer include gingerbread, mulled wine, malt-rich Christmas beer and Bredele biscuits, all against a backdrop of half-timbered houses, Teutonic architecture, sparkling lights and the region’s wonderful white wine. www.tourisme-alsace.com

Color holiday decorations
Color holiday decorations. Photo: Damien Maziller/Flickr

FESTIVE FIGURINES

Families love displaying nativity scenes at Christmas. The colourful clay figurines, or santons, which populate these scenes are made by specialist craftsmen, and displayed in fairs all over Provence. In addition to the usual Bethlehem posse, it’s traditional that santons feature characters from a typical medieval Provençal village. www.visitprovence.com

SHOPPING IN PARIS

Smaller and more compact than London, the French capital takes the hassle out of Christmas shopping. If the high fashion of the Avenue Montaigne doesn’t tire you out then head for the huge underground mall Le Forum des Halles, the outdoor stalls at Montmartre or the massive department store Galeries Lafayette. But don’t miss Paris’s wonderfully eclectic independent stores or its enormous Saint-Ouen flea market. www.parisinfo.com

SPECTACULAR LYON

Granted, Lyon’s Fête des Lumières isn’t actually Christmas-themed, but it does take place on 5-8 December and will get you firmly in the festive mood. It attracts some of the very best light artists in France, who illuminate the city’s buildings, streets, squares and parks. www.lyon-france.com

J’AIME AMIENS

The multi-coloured light show at Amiens’ Cathédrale Notre-Dame is the centre-piece of this Picardy city’s Noël celebrations. Surrounding it is a Marché de Noël (20 Nov-30 Dec) with 130 wooden chalets, Père Noël’s village, an ice rink, an enchanted forest and merry-go-rounds. www.visit-amiens.com

FAMILY SKIING IN AVORIAZ

Feed your inner Santa at this child-friendly ski resort, where cars are banned and the locals use horse-drawn sleighs. Other bonuses include an excellent kids’ ski school, the Aquariaz water park and free lift passes for the under-fours. www.avoriaz.com

bûche de Noël
bûche de Noël. Photo: Fotolia

CHRISTMAS EVE MEAL

Traditionally, the French have their main meal, Réveillon, on Christmas Eve after midnight mass. It includes chestnut-stuffed roast turkey or goose, oysters, lobster, venison and a bûche de Noël (Yule log).

XMAS ON THE BEACH

Why not head for one of France’s overseas departments and territories, or ‘Dom-Toms’? You could enjoy turkey sandwiches on a Polynesian beach, sip Champagne on a Caribbean yacht or savour foie gras in the Indian Ocean… www.domtom.fr

A FESTIVE SPA BREAK

Midwinter is the perfect time for a spa break. Many of France’s top hotels feature luxurious spas, but for the real deal you need to head to one of the country’s natural ‘hot springs’, at such resorts as Bains de Dorres, Ax-les-Thermes, Cauterets, Digne-les-Bains, Le Mont-Dore, Saint-Nectaire or Vichy.

From France Today magazine

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