What’s on in France - December 2019

Our pick of what to do, where to go and what to see in France. This month: Seasonal cheer and lights come to markets and festivals

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The Magic of Christmas, Colmar, Grand Est until December 29

The Christmas market of Colmar (photos abone and below) was voted the second best Christmas market in Europe in 2017.

There are six markets in total, with each forming its own mini-village.

The old town is illuminated and decorated like a fairy tale.

There are 180 stalls and the exhibitors are selected on the quality and originality of their products. As well as the outdoor markets, artists and craftsmen can display their work at the indoor craft market.

Christmas at Colmar is also special due to the children’s choir, who come from the nearby town of Niedermorschwihr to sing Christmas carols whilst floating on the canal in festive boats.

As well as the markets, there are other activities such as advent wreath making workshops, a guided tour of Colmar’s historic centre, an 800m² ice rink and a giant letterbox for children to post their letters to Father Christmas.


Cannes Dance Festival, Cannes, until December 15

Cannes Dance Festival is a major international event for choreographic art, which features 24 dance companies from all over the world.

The festival showcases different types of dance, from the romantic ballet masterpiece to a refined hip-hop score.

With 21 performances, three world premieres, and one piece created entirely for the festival itself, the programme is diverse.

Thanks to the screenings of documentaries, it is also an opportunity to increase your knowledge of major figures in the world of dance and to understand the process of creating a choreographed performance such as a ballet.


Fête de l’Huile d’Olive, Mouriès, Bouches-du-Rhône, December 1

This festival is an extensive market where sellers present the new harvest’s olive oil.

As well as the market, there is also the tasting and sale of other delicacies, such as gingerbread, wine, champagne, snails, liqueur de frigolet, honey, chocolate with olive oil, truffles, Savoy cheese, saffron from Provence, nougat and poultry.

Some activities are dedicated to children, and cooking demonstrations will also take place.


Trans Musicales, Rennes, December 4 - 8

This music festival is a cultural project, which has been held each year in Rennes since 1979.

Initially focused on the local scene, over the last four decades the festival has gradually taken on a more national, European and international dimension with eclectic musical line-ups.

The festival has a longstanding reputation for providing a platform for rising artists and so has become a hub for industry professionals, music fans and artists alike from across the world.


La Braderie de l’Art, Lille, December 7 - 8

This art fair was born in 1991 in Roubaix.

The idea was to create an event that brings together 150 artists, designers, makers and inventors from all walks of life in the same place for 24 hours.

The artists are faced with all kinds of recycled objects and materials from local companies, from which they can create their own artwork.

Visitors can stroll around the market as the artists transform, create and then sell their pieces themselves when they have finished.


Habits de Lumière, Epernay, Marne, December 13 - 15

Epernay celebrates its cuisine and artistry with an annual arts and food festival.

Included in the festivities are performances, champagne bars, fireworks, culinary experiences, vintage car parade and many other events.

The first edition of the festival was organised in December 2000 to celebrate the first champagne season of the new millennium.

The idea was to enhance the town with special events, lighting and decorations for one night.

The event has now evolved but always keeps its original festive spirit.


Noël aux Nefs, Nantes, December 21-31

When the city of Nantes began a process of urban renewal, Les Machines de l’île was created on the city’s former shipyards as a cultural and touristic project.

One of the biggest attractions is the Grand Eléphant, a 12metre-high elephant constructed from 48 tonnes of wood and steel which can take up to 50 passengers for a walk.

There is also the Carrousel des Mondes Marins, a giant carousel made up of mechanical boats in the form of different sea creatures which transport you through three different heights.

Although open all year round, the Machines de l’île are particularly magical with the Christmas lights.

There is also a small carousel for young children, as well as ice sculptures, mulled wine and more.


Strasbourg Christmas Markets, Strasbourg, until December 30

With more than 300 stalls, the majestic ‘Grand Sapin’ and dazzling shows and concerts, the Christmas markets in Strasbourg are a famous must-see.

The market is spread throughout the city’s historic centre, along with miles of lights adorning the streets, houses, church facades, windows and balconies.

Attracting two million visitors each year, Strasbourg is known as the capital of Christmas.

The festive markets were first held in 1570, making them the oldest in Europe and the first to be held in France.

The history of the city is not forgotten amongst the celebrations, as on the Rue des Tonneliers, 22 illuminated and twinkling barrels are hung up, recalling when imported barrels from the docks were rolled into the businesses.


Foire aux Santons, Aix-en-Provence, until December 31

A true showcase of the skill of santon (figurine) makers, this traditional fair allows visitors to discover new characters created for Christmas and to start or complete their own crèche provençale.

Whilst the santon fair is taking place, a large crèche on the Cours Mirabeau is displayed.

This traditional crib is the result of the collaboration of the santon craftsmen of the fair.


La Cathédrale de Guillaume, Bayeux, Calvados, until January 4

‘William’s Cathedral’, set in the magnificent cathedral of Bayeux, is a projection show that reimagines the Bayeux Tapestry.

On either side of the nave, on the entire length of the balustrade, the Bayeux Tapestry is projected and the architectural details of the cathedral are highlighted.

The entire projection show is set to music as well as historic comments of the Conqueror’s epic adventure narrated by Odo, Bishop of Bayeux and William the Conqueror himself.


Fêtes de Saint-Nicolas, Nancy, Grand Est, until January 5

Every year Saint Nicholas’ festivities return to Nancy with a big Christmas market on Place Charles III.

Although spread out over the winter, the focus of the festival is on the weekend of December 6-8, when over 65 exhibitors come to the market to offer their original gift ideas and local specialities.

The weekend begins on the evening of the Friday, December 6, with the illumination of the Christmas tree.

Throughout the weekend, street performances and parades of enchanting floats can be enjoyed in the city’s streets.

The festival continues until January 5 with exhibitions, puppet theatre shows, dance classes and concerts.

In total there are over 80 shows on the programme, featuring over 60 troupes and 300 artists.


Fête des Lumières, Lyon, December 5 - 8

For four nights a variety of different artists light up buildings, streets, squares and parks all over the city of Lyon.

Over 40 light installations create a magical atmosphere. In 2018

the festival attracted 1.8 million people in total, 100,000 of which were international tourists.

There are a number of different shows involved in the festival, including an illuminated meadow with 500 four metre tall pampas grasses, 20,000 tiny illuminated boats which will sail down the river Saône, and a display of 15,000 candles which are lit every evening by 160 volunteers and some local residents.

There is also a chance to visit Lyon’s Museum of Fine Arts and the Grand Hôtel-Dieu at night time.

It is advised to be there early, or to visit on weekdays to be able to see everything in the city.


See also: Lyon's Fête des Lumières lightshows revealed

Fééries de Chine Festival des Lanternes, Gaillac, until January 31

A jewel of traditional Chinese culture, the lantern festival in Gaillac (Tarn) is a must-see.

For the third time, the small town hosts the four hectare city of light, which amazed more than 370,000 visitors in 2018.

This event is the biggest festival on Chinese culture in France and offers a family show every night from 18.00 to 23.00.

The festival contains more than 1,500 monumental light sculptures as well as 46 thematic paintings.

The sculptures take you from the provinces of China, to the Great Wall, the imperial cities, the panda forests and more.

The centrepiece of the festival is an 18-metre-high giant seated Buddha surrounded by a 75-metre mountainous landscape, a replica of one of Sichuan’s classified wonders.

As you stroll through the festival, you will meet Sichuan artists performing circus tricks and traditional Chinese dances.

There is also a Sichuan handicraft market where you can discover more about the art of Chinese craftsmen and artists such as stone sculptures, statuettes and Buddha’s, traditional Chinese paintings and freshwater pearl jewellery.

It can also be a good way to take a break from the Christmas frenzy taking over the country at this time of the year.


The Connexion works with local tourist offices for the information on this page. Due to possible last-minute changes to programmes and event timing we recommend that you always check with individual organisers before making a trip.