March begins to warm up as the days grow longer and by the middle of the month, spring is well on its way with average temps falling between 41-61°F (5-16°C). And with little rain, you can expect plenty of cloudless, sunny days, a precursor to what the south of France is known for: dry Mediterranean summers. Having said that, the sea remains at its annual bone-chilling low of 55°F (13°C) and if the mistral winds blow from the north, the weather will be cooler and the sea choppier.
Given the geographical diversity of the region, Provence experiences varying micro-weather beyond its Mediterranean climate. There’s snow in the Southern Alps inland of Nice, especially at the start of the month, and it's drier and cooler in the northwest area of Vaucluse. Wherever you find yourself, you can’t go wrong with layered clothing, sunglasses, and a warm waterproof jacket.
For more on weather this month, see France in March: Travel Tips, Weather, and More.
Crowds & Cost
Still considered off-season, March is a great time to explore Provence without the onslaught of tourists you see during the peak summer season. Not to mention, flight deals and budget-friendly hotel prices are still to be found. Yet, this is also the last busy month of the ski season so you can count on some crowds on the slopes. Having said that, the further into the month you are, the cheaper ski packages are likely to be.
If you’re coming to the country during Le Carnaval and Pâques you’ll be competing with locals vacationing (students have a month-long spring break starting around Easter), so it’s worth booking accommodation and reservations ahead of time. You’ll also want to be aware of business closures and public transportation running on a holiday schedule (see events below).
Where to Go
If you start your holiday in Nice, spend a couple of days exploring the cultural highlights: great restaurants, historic neighborhoods chock-full of architectural treats, and plenty of venues offering artistic performances. Visit Musée Matisse to discover one of the world’s largest collections of the famed artiste. Explore the nearby archaeological site of Cimiez Hill, once an ancient Roman settlement, before you wander through a quaint olive grove to a 15th-century Franciscan monastery. For a typical French evening, cap off the day with a night at the Opéra de Nice. And when it’s time to leave the coast, rent a car and explore Provence’s diverse landscapes and charming villages, as you take in the first sightings of almond tree blossoms.
Ski slopes are still seeing plenty of action in the mountains. For something close to Marseille, there’s the family-friendly Val D’Ollos that offers free entertainment for the kids as well as two resorts in one—Val d’Allos-Le Seignus and Val d’Allos-La Foux. There’s also Orcières near Gap that has 51 runs, including nearly 11 miles (17 km) of beginner slopes and two slalom and two bobsleigh runs, all offering stunning panoramas over the Champsaur Valley.
Meanwhile, Le Carnaval continues throughout the month so if you find yourself along the coast, get yourself to Nice and celebrate the beginning of spring alongside costumed revelers. You can expect cavalcades of costumed participants, musicians, jugglers, and massive theme-decorated floats as well as masked balls, food festivals, and pageants. Other Mediterranean towns nearby host celebrations marking the end of the winter, like Marseille’s version of Carnaval. Check out their Saturday-afternoon fête (party) in Parc Borély for fantastic and absurd costumes, decorated floats, and wandering circus acts.
What to Do
Though it isn’t quite hot enough for a proper beach holiday, toward the end of the month the white-water rafting season begins, offering plenty of excitement now that the rivers are swollen with freshly melted snow. Try the wild Ubaye river in northern Provence. If you’d rather not get wet, there are plenty of cycling options to consider. The Paris-Nice Bike Race is a weeklong competition that culminates with two days in and around Nice. And there’s a major mountain bike (VTT or vélo tout terrain) event, Coupe de France, this month. Fans of the sports will want to either spectate from any point along the respective routes or pick up a bike and try some of the terrain for themselves.
Foodies will want to get themselves to Nice for a gourmet food tour of the city's historic core, Vieille Ville. Feel like a local as market vendors offer sweet and savory symbolic treats, like pain pascal, an anise-flavored Easter bread. And you won’t have to go far for dessert now that it’s Easter. Look no further than any number of patisseries and chocolatiers for mouthwatering offerings of Easter candy and chocolates. Meanwhile, France’s nationwide Foires aux Vins starts up this month. Purchase a couple of heavily discounted bottles of wine at a local supermarket, buy farm-fresh produce from any available street vendor, and do as the locals do: go out for a picnic under the spring sun.
Events in March
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 that sometimes runs into March. 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 Carnaval de Nice attracts over one million visitors to the Côte d'Azur and is arguably one of the most famous events in the world, lasting for two weeks.
Pâques (Easter and Holy Week). Because Easter follows the liturgical calendar, it doesn't fall on the same day each year. Sometimes it doesn't even occur in March. If it does, however, enjoy the celebrations and processions that occur throughout the country and expect closures on Vendredi Saint (Good Friday), Lundi de Pâcques (Easter Monday) and Sunday.
Traveling to Provence in March? Check out these great itineraries.
“Like a Local” Tour in Provence and the French Riviera - 7 Days. Love getting off the beaten track and traveling like a local? This tour was tailor-made for you. Experience the best of the French Riviera, including the hilltop villages of Luberon, multicultural Marseille, charming Aix-en-Provence, and vibrant Cannes.
Paris & Provence Road Trip - 9 Days. This scenic itinerary starts with a self-guided road trip through exceptional villages, cities, and wine regions in the heart of Provence. Over the course of 9 days, you’ll explore Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Avignon, and the Rhone Valley with visits to a number of UNESCO World Heritage sites as well as hidden gems. Finish the adventure in Paris with a mix of private tours and free time to explore on your own.