Explore Christmas time in Provence, France. We’ll start in Nice and travel to Aix-en-Proevence. Along the way, we’ll experience amazing Christmas markets, decorated cathedrals, Christmas lights over canals, a Pope’s Palace, and of course, amazing Provencal wine and food.
The second day will include a visit to a nearby winery, and a tour of historic Roman sites in the area. You’ll have the evening to explore Nice’s nightlife on your own.
Today we’ll depart lovely Nice to see more of the French Riviera and Provencal wine country! After a beautiful coastal drive, we’ll stop at a winery to taste traditional Provence rosé wines, and perhaps some whites and reds as well. Then we will overnight in Hyères, the oldest port in Provence.
Charming Hyères has a lovely Christmas market that we can explore together before sharing a gourmet meal in one of the town’s fine restaurants.
After breakfast and a chance to explore a bit more, or just enjoy lingering over your coffee, we’ll head over to Bandol, the home of Provence’s most famous red wine. In our opinion, these incredible Mourvedre-heavy wines age as well as a fine Bordeaux. Then we’ll head north to an amazing gem — Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
This amazing island city is surrounded by the Sorgue river, and has many canals — like a Provencal Venice. Not only does the town have a wonderful Christmas market, the Christmas lights reflected on the water make December nights here particularly magical.
Today we head to Arles, where Vincent van Gogh lived and worked. Arles is also home to a large number of Roman sites, the French national school of photography and an arena where Provencal-style bullfights are still held. (Don’t worry, they don’t kill the bulls in this type of fighting – the goal is to remove a tassel from the bull’s horn without the bull killing you.)
In December, Arles hosts the festival of santon makers. Santons, or “little saints”, are hand-crafted nativity figures that are popular merchandise in Christmas market booths all over Provence. We’ll tour the festival, and get to see these figures from all over Provence, and even the world.
Our second day in Arles will include wine tasting in the nearby countryside, and a historical tour of a Roman site. We’ll also give you time to wander around town and take in the beauty that inspired Van Gogh.
In the morning, we’ll visit the Pont du Gard, one of the best preserved examples of Roman aqueduct architecture that survives. Then we’ll head to the village of Les Baux de Provence, a village that carries on a centuries-old tradition of a Christmas Eve shepherds’ procession, bringing the flock into the town square to be blessed. We’ll see this procession, and explore the Christmas market. After that, we’ll arrive in Avignon, home of the Popes for much of the 14th Century. A large Christmas market sits in the square under the Papal Palace, and the neighboring Cathedral. We’ll give you some time to relax in the early evening, before heading out for Christmas Eve dinner. Then, if you so choose, you can attend Midnight Mass in the cathedral.
Christmas Day will be leisurely, with most businesses being closed for the holiday. The Papal Palace, however, is open. Now a museum, we’ll take a tour of this historic site, followed by a tasting of regional wine, including the famed Châteauneuf-du-Pape (“New castle of the Pope”) wines produced nearby.
Christmas may be over, but the markets are still open, and Aix-en-Provence has a large one down its main street, Cours Mirabeau. We’ll spend our final two days here, where you’ll be able to dine and shop in this hip university town. We’ll also taste some local wines, visiting nearby producers.
On our last night, we’ll have a farewell dinner together.