January in Provence is generally the coldest month of the year with average temperatures across the region ranging between 36-52°F (2-11°C). And while Provence as a whole experiences a mild, relatively sunny Mediterranean climate with even less rain than the month before, the area has varying micro-weather. Inland of Nice experiences a colder Alpine climate and the northwest part of Vaucluse is characterized by a Continental climate expressed as colder temps in the winter months.
There’s also the mistral winds to be aware of, a cold and dry wind that blows through the Rhône Valley to the Bouche-du-Rhone and the Var reaching speeds of up to 60 miles (97 km) per hour. Pack sunglasses with your umbrella, windbreaker, and warm layers. And if you’re on a ski holiday, you know what to bring.
For more, see France in January: Travel Tips, Weather, and More.
Crowds & Cost
Travelers who visit southern France after the Christmas festivities leading up to December 25 have come to an end will be rewarded with relative peaceful environs and discounted hotel stays and airfare. The Mediterranean coast remains quiet with near-empty beaches, hotels reduce their rates if they aren’t altogether closed (many businesses that rely on the beach close for the season), and ferries and boat excursions scale down their routes. Ski season is in full swing with vacationers heading to the slopes, though unlike other more popular French destinations, the Southern Alps' resorts are uncrowded, less costly, and friendlier.
January 1 is a national holiday in France, which means many places, including restaurants, shops, museums, and historic sites will be closed, although there are usually several eateries that will be open for lunch and dinner in any given city. And with any national holiday, like Epiphany on January 6, you can expect restaurants being booked solid and nationwide closures where transportation services are operating on a reduced fête schedule.
Where to Go
The Christmas season in Provence, known as La Calendale, begins on December 4 and continues throughout January offering up plenty of events and long-standing traditions. At the start of the month, you can catch the tail end of the marchés de Noël (Christmas markets) selling Provençal delicacies like the orange flower-scented pompes à l'huile and navettes cookies and the ceramic Christmas crib figures known as santons. For some of the prettiest sights, get yourself to elegant Aix-en-Provence, historic Avignon, and Marseille.
Moving further into January you’ll find a host of festivals that center around food and wine, like Aups’ Journée de la Truffe Noire for Haut-Var's prized black truffle. There are truffle pâté tastings in addition to other truffle-related concoctions, and music, truffle-dog competitions, and local restaurateurs cook up tasty truffle dishes. If you have a strong stomach and are open to new experiences, you might like to make your way to the small town of Barjols, near Verdon Gorges and Lac Sainte-Croix for their Fête des Tripettes—a street and food festival that combines entrails with a touch of religion.
Though if you’re in search of a more cultural experience, find your way to Lourmarin, one of the liveliest spots in the Luberon, where its Château has a busy cultural program worth looking into. Be sure to spend a little time exploring the village, classified as one of the "Most Beautiful Villages of France." Then there’s the mini-Venice village of Martigues that sits on the large Étang de Berre (Berre Lake) at the mouth of the Caronte channel. Start in Place Mirabeau on L'Île to discover the brightly painted former fishermen's houses along the idyllic Canal Saint Sébastien, stroll the cobbled streets and squares to pretty lake views, and visit the many medieval and Renaissance buildings.
What to Do
Where to start? Those that favor the outdoors, or at least the fun après-ski experience, will want to get themselves to a ski resort to hit the slopes. And if skiing or snowboarding isn’t for you, there are plenty of alternative snow-based options to try, including dog sledding, ice climbing, snowshoeing, and snowmobiling. And for the truly daring, there’s even the option to overnight under the stars in an igloo on the Rocherousse plateau in the Orcières 1850 ski resort.
Meanwhile, if the weather is less than ideal, it’s best to experience Provence’s cultured, indoor activities. And while museums and galleries are excellent options, so too is staying in and enjoying Provence’s hearty winter dishes. Try daube, a rich beef casserole that’s Provence’s response to beef bourguignon, Alouettes sans têtes, thinly sliced beef simmered in a rich sauce with herbs, or the savory falafel-esque panisse that goes by other names along the coast, like socca in Nice or cade in Toulon. For something sweet sink your teeth into chichi frégi a donut from L'Estaque that’s perfumed with orange flower water and dusted with sugar.
And for those that love to shop, you can take advantage of France’s government-regulated shopping seasons. The second Wednesday of January kicks off one such period and lasts until mid-February, so just look for the signs in the windows of stores and boutiques that read les soldes ("sale"). Marseille offers plenty of post-Christmas retail therapy options, while Avignon and Aix-en-Provence are no slouches either and then there’s Cannes along the French Riviera for a more leisurely shopping experience.
Events in January
New Years Day. A bank holiday you can expect nationwide closures and transportation schedules will be on a holiday schedule (if there's one running).
Epiphany/ Feast of the Kings. A national holiday held annually on January 6 marks the 12th day of Christmas. It is customary to serve a special cake known as une galette de rois which contains a porcelain figure inside. Whoever receives the figure in their slice is named king for the day.
Journée de la Truffe Noire. For 25 years the small town of Aups turns its largest public space into a day-long celebration of the prized black truffle from the Haut-Var. There are tastings of truffle pâtés and a slew of truffle-related concoctions, as well as music, restaurants featuring dishes made with the delicacy, and truffle hunting demonstrations.