Even though there’s a definite nip in the air, the climate across Provence remains mild and pleasant with an average range between 37-52° (3-11°C). And while there’s far less rain this month, there’s still a good chance you could get caught in a sudden downpour, so be sure to slip an umbrella into your suitcase.
The good thing about Mediterranean rain is that it typically passes quickly, leaving behind clear skies and bright sunshine. Meanwhile, other areas of the region experience their own micro-climate: colder in the northwest part of Vaucluse as well as in the Southern Alps beyond Nice.
It may be too cold for casual swimmers to brave the sea 59°F (15°C) at this time, though if you’re a watersport enthusiast and have access to a wetsuit, you’ll enjoy the choppy winter waters. For more on weather this month, see France in December: Travel Tips, Weather, and More.
Crowds & Cost
Traveling to Provence in December is considered off-season so you can expect cheaper airfare and flights than peak season. However, you’ll want to book your reservations in advance leading up to Christmas as you’ll be competing with French tourists holidaying, noting travel prices tend to spike. And if you find yourself on the ski slopes (December marks the beginning of the ski season), you’ll be competing for powder (and paying more) around the holiday, too. Though resorts in Les Alpes du Sud (Southern Alps) which includes the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence and Alpes-Maritimes departments are relatively less costly than more popular resorts further north.
Leading up to Christmas, bear in mind that transportation services will be operating on a reduced holiday schedule and you’ll want to double-check hours for museums, monuments, and churches. As well as be aware of establishments and attractions that altogether close for the season.
Where to Go
If you're a winter sports enthusiast and the weather conditions in the mountains are favorable, you’ll want to head straight for the slopes of any of the more laid-back and family-oriented resorts found in Provence. One of the best places for early-season skiing are the resorts of Serre Chevalier near Briançon in the Alpes-de Haute-Provence department or Isola 2000 on the Italy-France border in Alpes-Maritime. Unlike the rest of Provence that sees next to no snow, the higher altitudes found in the Southern Alps of the region means there are snowy conditions by the middle of the month.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking to escape the cold, make your way to the Riviera where you can take a brisk stroll along the Mediterranean while the sun is shining, and warm by a roaring fire over an aperitif in the cooler evening. Popular with royals and aristocrats from centuries past who used to winter here, Hyères is one such charming seaside locale worth exploring.
And now that the Provençal Christmas season, known locally as La Calendale, has begun there's something going on for all tastes. Get yourself to sophisticated Aix-en-Provence for its festive makeover of twinkling lights, convivial window displays, food stalls, and bustling Christmas markets. Most other towns and villages like Saint-Rémy-de-Provence, Marseille, Arles, and Aubagne, to name but a few, celebrate Christmas with great enthusiasm. If you find yourself in Arles, you'll enjoy their street art festival, Drôles de Noëls.
What to Do
Festive marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) across Provence offer plenty of holiday cheer along their respective streets, squares, and marketplaces. Wherever you happen to be, wander amid the numerous small wooden chalets for that perfect one-of-a-kind gift as you delight in the sights and sounds: bright lights, laughing children, and scents of Provençal soaps and orange flower-scented pompes à l'huile. Marseille, Nice, and Avignon are a few of the more well-known venues, where Marseille’s santonniers (traditional ceramic-figurine makers) display their wares in chalets in the Vieux Port, while in the hilltop town of Allauch you can find an impressive Provençal crib, consisting of up to 650 unique santons.
Meanwhile, if you’re here for the outdoor attractions, rent a car and explore the calanques where you won’t have to worry about parking now that it’s offseason. The Gorges du Verdon offers plenty to see, though be warned the most spectacular part of the routes, Route des Crêtes, is closed during this time and the nearby towns and villages are very quiet. For something more accessible, there’s the Gorges de la Nesque near Mont Ventoux where the truffle season is well underway. And if you’re a nature lover, stick to the southwest of Provence and tour the remote Camargue for a variety of migratory birds, including flocks of pink flamingos, that remain over winter.
Toward the end of December, the focus shifts away from Christmas and toward le réveillon du jour de l'an (New Year's Eve). Traditionally many Provençaux spend the evening quietly at home with friends, family, and foie gras, though restaurants in large cities will offer elaborate and pricey menus for those looking to spend the night out. And while generally there aren’t big street celebrations, you can count on fireworks to go off along the coast, like in Nice, Sainte-Maxime, and Marseille.
Events in December
Fête de la Sainte Barbe. The Feast of Saint Barbara kicks off the two-month La Calendale Christmas season on December 4 when wheat seeds or lentils are grown in sets of three to represent the Holy Trinity. You’ll see them in windowsills and on shop counters where they’ll make an appearance on the table of the Great Supper. As the Provençal saying goes Quand lou blad vèn bèn, tout vèn bèn or, "When the wheat goes well, everything goes well."
Christmas Eve & Christmas Day. Both days are celebrated across France in much the same way as they are in many countries that celebrate the Christian holiday, with a Christmas Eve meal, followed by a visit from Santa in the night. Christmas is a national bank holiday so note there will be plenty of business closures.
New Year’s Eve. Cities and towns throughout Provence launch fireworks, family and friends gather for music, dancing, and champagne toasting.