February in France may be right in the middle of the chillier off-season, but those who venture here during this month are in for some pleasant surprises and wild parties. Not only are there fewer crowds to contend with but all across the country, the French welcome in the spring with one of the biggest celebrations of the year: Carnaval.

Weather

Anywhere in France that isn’t the mountains is likely going to be drizzly, damp, and most often overcast. If you intend to make the capital of Paris your base of operations, plan on average temperatures of 36-46°F (3-8°C) during this month with a definite possibility of showers and even snow. If you have plans to travel throughout the country, you can expect averages of 28-46°F (-2-8°C) in the northeast, 45-48°F (7-9°C) on the Atlantic, and 43-55°F (6-13°C) in the south. Wherever you find yourself in February, you’ll want to check the weather forecast beforehand to pack accordingly: winter gear, waterproof boots, and a windproof jacket.

Crowds & Costs

February is still very much offseason for much of the country even if it is one of the busiest ski months of the year. The weather and few daylight hours make this a slower time to travel in France, and flights, as well as hotels, will be at their cheapest (with the exception of ski resorts). If you are planning on a ski/snowboard holiday this month, remember to book all reservations in advance.

February also kicks off the approaching spring with Mardi Gras and Carnival celebrations across the country (depending on the Catholic calendar). Keeping this in mind, it’s best to book reservations for accommodation and restaurants in advance. It's important to note, too, that many hotels, restaurants, and bars are closed in the coastal towns and islands (though something is always open) and ferries to Corsica operate on a reduced schedule.

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Where to Go

Party dwellers will be happy to know much of the country’s best festivals occur in February and early March in the run-up to Easter. No matter where you are in the country, you’ll find plenty of Mardi Gras celebrations with many lasting for weeks (and months!) on end. You’ll want to venture to Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France for the Limoux Carnaval where you can expect to see parades of musicians and costumed tongue-in-cheek revelers dance through the narrow streets. Meanwhile, you can join in the Nice Carnaval ruckus as you take in the oldest running carnival scene: cavalcades of masked participants, grosse tête (giant head) puppets, and theme-decorated floats.

Alternatively, smaller affairs are found across the country, both spectacular and confusing in their own right, like Dunkirk’s loud sea-faring carnival, Strasbourg’s well-rehearsed event with around 3,000 active participants, and the Mulhouse Carnaval on the border of Switzerland and Germany for a taste of something more international.

One of the most romantic countries in the world, there are a number of cities that make the perfect getaway for couples. A classic option is to spend time in the City of Lights and enjoy a more intimate experience with some of Paris’s best-loved attractions now that there are fewer holidaymakers. See world-class art at the Louvre, tour the Notre Dame Cathedral and Eiffel Tower, and do as the French do and take a romantic dinner cruise on the Seine. Alternatively, there’s the small town of Chartres just outside of Paris. Steal a kiss from atop the north tower of the Gothic cathedral—one of the wonders of the world. Buy flowers for your sweetie at Cours Saleya in Nice, stroll hand-in-hand amid black and white half-timbered houses in Rouen’s town center, or take in the fairytale view of the turreted fortress in Carcassonne or the charming lake-and-canal setting of Annecy in the French Alps.

What to Do

Though there may not be grapes on the vine, February is still an excellent time to tour France’s wineries. Now that there are fewer tourists demanding winemakers’ attention, you’ll have a better chance of having a more thorough and conversant experience. Similarly, you might find better service in hotels and restaurants as you dine unhurried savoring local and seasonal fare. If you find yourself in the central-eastern part of the country in Jura, check out La Percée du Vin Jaune event that celebrates the oak-aged “yellow” wine.

The days are a little longer than the month before, making this an ideal time for enjoying winter activities and cultural festivals that celebrate the return of spring. Enjoy fresh powder at any number of France’s excellent ski slopes or for something different, try snowshoeing, sledding, skating, or snowmobiling. And if being outdoors in the cold is not your cup of mulled wine, enjoy the après-ski scene without the skiing. Cozy up to a crackling fire in a traditional alpine ski chalet with a warming drink in hand.

If you happen to be from a northerly climate looking for less snow and more sun, get yourself to Menton to stroll along the mostly sunny Côte d'Azur and partake in their colorful Fête du Citron (Lemon Festival) celebrations. Alternatively, head to the medieval village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup for their welcoming-the-spring Violet Fête (Violet Festival). If you time it right you might be able to join in their flower battle.

Not surprisingly, shopping is a big thing in the major cities in France. To this end, February represents the end of the country’s annual winter sales period, where you can find great bargains at all those fashionable boutiques and retail stores in cities like Lille, Montpellier, and Lyon. Just look for the signs in store windows that read soldes (sale). And while there’s great shopping to be had in Paris, don’t expect to find too many deals.

Events in February

Fête du citron (Menton Lemon Festival). The small town of Menton, also known as the Cité des Citrons (City of Lemons), on the French Riviera runs a two-week spring festival honoring the fruit. Parades of impressively large and ornately decorated fruit-covered floats line the streets and drinks, jams, soaps, and perfumes made with lemons are sold.

Le Carnaval. Held annually 40 days before Easter on the liturgical calendar, France’s Carnival celebrations occur sometime between January and April but often fall in February. The Nice Carnaval attracts over one million visitors to the French Riviera and is arguably one of the most famous events in the world, lasting for two weeks.

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France in March
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