Amiens in the region of Picardie (now called Hauts-de-France) northern France is known as the “The Green Venice”. 65km of waterways lie in the shadow of France’s biggest Gothic Cathedral. It’s a truly surprising city…
The hortillonnages are floating market gardens on the edge of the city. They’ve been cultivated since the Middle Ages on a maze of canals, thought to date back to at least the 13th century. The best way to experience this historic heritage site is by guided electric boat tour (from April to October). It’s incredible to see the city’s Cathedral spire in the background while you spot wild birds and lazy fish on the tranquil waterways. The perfect way to spend a couple of hours away from the bustle of the city.
The weekly Saturday morning market along the pretty Quai Belu in the old district of St Leu with its pretty half-timbered houses in the shadow of the Cathedral has a festive atmosphere. The market on the water as it’s known, is where the market gardeners of the hortillonnages sell their produce and have done so for centuries. Almost everything here comes from the hortillonnages or around the Somme area - from flowers and vegetables to wild herbs, cheese, honey, charcuterie and even beer. It’s a must-see on a weekend visit.
The great Gothic UNESCO listed Cathedral of Amiens celebrates its 800th anniversary in 2020. It’s vast interior is filled with statues and frescoes, the soaring vaulted ceiling is mind-boggling. This is the biggest Cathedral in France.
During summer months and December, a stunning sound and light show takes place, lighting up the façade of this majestic building and bringing it to colourful life. Details: www.amiens.fr/Vivre-a-Amiens
Surely everyone has read Around the World in 80 days, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – or seen the films! Jules Verne wrote dozens of books and thrilled millions with his adventure stories. He lived in Amiens for 18 years and his old home, where so many of our favourite books were written, has been restored to look just as it did when he was there. There’s a fascinating collection of his artefacts, books and items which illustrate his tales.
There’s plenty of choice for great restaurants and if you like authentic, local and seasonal French food – you’re in for a treat. Le Quai Restaurant alongside the Canal in the old St Leu district is friendly and delicious. Further along the Canal Au Fil de l’Eau serves fabulous authentic dishes including a Ficelle Picarde, a Picardy pancake. On a sunny day, head to the terraced garden for wonderful views over the water. And if you really want to push the boat out, Brasserie Jules, a traditional bistro which specialises in fish dishes, is legendary in the city. Photos of Jules Verne adorn the wall and look on approvingly as you feast on the freshest of shellfish, prepared in a glass booth Parisian style.
Discover more things to do in Amiens and northern France: www.french-weekendbreaks.co.uk
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When it comes to public holidays in France, unlike the UK, most businesses, shops and offices will close although you’ll find supermarkets and bakers may open in the morning. Some restaurants may open for lunch and/or dinner, but it’s best to make a reservation in advance to be sure.
If a public holiday falls on a Thursday or Tuesday, it’s usual for businesses to also close on the Friday or Monday to create a long weekend known as “faire le pont” (make a bridge).
Some days are changeable, others are fixed but these are the official public holiday for France in 2020.
1 January: New Year's Day
10 April: Good Friday. This is only observed in eastern Alsace.
13 April: Easter Monday
1 May: Labour Day
8 May: Victory Day
21 May: Ascension Day
31 May: Whit Sunday
1 June: Whit Monday
14 July: Bastille Day
15 August: Assumption Day
1 November: All Saints' Day
11 November: Armistice Day
25 December: Christmas Day
26 December: St Stephen's Day. This is only observed in eastern Alsace.
Saint-Malo sits on the Emerald Coast, department of Ille-et-Villaine, Brittany. It’s a port town with ferries crossing from England, Guernsey and Jersey to this gateway to the rest of further afield, but it’s well worth stopping off for in its own right. Channel your inner Jack Sparrow and follow in the footsteps of the famous seafarers and pirates and grab your bucket and spade and head to the beach.
The old town is well preserved with ramparts, cobbled streets and ancient buildings, a great place to wander. Saint-Malo is known as the “town of corsairs”. Corsairs were sailors on a civilian ship officially sanctioned by government to attack enemy ships. A bit like pirates, their targets were mainly commercial ships, except their activities were “legal”. There are several museums in Saint-Malo – including one on a boat.
At the foot of the ramparts visit the Etoile du Roy (Star of the King) ship - and be an honorary Corsair for the day. Etoile du Roy is a replica of a 1745 built frigate. A 3-masted, 47m long boat with 20 cannon guns, on this floating museum you can learn about life on board almost 300 years ago. Great for the whole family.
Meet around 10,000 fish in the Saint-Malo Aquarium. More than 600 species of every shape and colour of fish live here including sharks. Board the ‘Nautibus’ submarine to navigate underwater among 5,000 fish.
Saint-Malo is famous for its spectacular tides, the difference between high and low tides at Saint-Malo is among the largest in the world. There are vast sandy beaches peppered with rock pools. Off the coast there are tiny granite islands including one with a fort.
Fort du Petit Bé was built in the late 17th century and was armed with 15 guns, including two mortars. Climb to the top and you’ll immediately know why this location was chosen, there are wonderful views all round. You can walk out when the tide is low, otherwise a boat ride is necessary.
In the charming cobblestone Rue de l’Orme you will find La Maison du Beurre. Here, Monsieur Bordier sells his world famous butter from a blue painted store front. Since founding his company in 1985, this famous Brittany butter-maker has used a traditional method of kneading butter using a teak frame and wheel. This technique dates from the end of the 19th century and serves to both homogenize and soften the butter. Salt is added by hand and the kneading time is dependent on the season - longer in winter and shorter in summer. The butter reacts to the salt and releases water, prompting locals to say the butter is “crying”. A great take home edible memento if you bring your cool box.
When you’re in Brittany, it’s pretty much the law to eat crêpes (pancakes) so it’s no surprise to find that Saint-Malo has plenty of delicious creperies. Crêperie La Touline (6 Place de la Poissonnerie) is a quaint little restaurant in the central area; they serve both sweet and savoury buckwheat crêpes and have a small terrace at the front that’s great for people watching. It’s very popular with the locals both for the crêpes and the homemade ice cream. Bouche en Folie (14 rue du Boyer) is a friendly family run restaurant with a superb menu and delicious fresh sea food, and the locals love it!
Four miles north of Saint-Malo in the former fishing village of Rotheneuf, the huge granite cliffs are well worth a detour. In the late 19th century, a priest named Adolphe Julien Foure lived almost as a recluse, after a stroke left him deaf and partially paralyzed, yet he chiselled hundreds of figures into the granite cliffs using only a hammer and chisel. It’s an extraordinary and quite beautiful sight.
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Strasbourg is the capital of the Alsace region in the north east of France, bordering Germany. It’s a land of vineyards and lush countryside peppered with picturesque hamlets.
In parts looking like something out of a fairy tale with half-timbered houses and cobbled streets historic Strasbourg has something to please all visitors. Great gastronomy, history and culture by the bucket load, pretty, elegant and easy to walk around.
Here are our top things to see and do in Strasbourg:
In the 16th century people suffering from syphilis were sent to the little island surrounded by canals in the middle of Strasbourg, to isolate them from the mainland. Now UNESCO listed, it’s a major attraction and perfect for a stroll, eating out, sitting at a terrace watching the world go by and for shopping, with many of the former washhouses now restaurants and quirky stores. It’s easy to spend a half day wandering here soaking up the atmosphere and admiring the beautiful half-timbered houses – very Hansel and Gretel.
The great Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame is the most popular attraction in Strasbourg. The soaring red stone Cathedral receives a whopping four million visitors a year. The sheer monumental size and exquisite detail is mind boggling. The cathedral is, to quote a cliché, breath-taking and features amongst its medieval stained glass windows, a 14m high rose window. It was the tallest man made building in France until the 19th century. Climb the 329 steps in one of the towers for a birds eye view over the city and as far as the Vosges Mountains.
Strasbourg Cathedral is over one thousand years old. Construction of the original, on the site of a Roman temple, began in 1015 but was destroyed by a fire. Reconstruction started in the 12th century, when the Gothic style of architecture was coming into vogue. Building when on through the 13th century and was finally completed in 1439 with the addition of the spire.
If you love food – you’ll love Strasbourg. There’s a massive choice of restaurants to choose from. In the main tourist areas, they’re touristy of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean bad, you’ll get gorgeous views and some have excellent food too. But if you’re looking for authentic and the most delicious Alsatian cuisine, the restaurants the locals go to try Chez Yvonne (10 rue du Sanglier). Presidents Chirac and de Gaulle loved it’s cosy authenticity. For authentic dishes with a modern twist, Les Chauvains Pere Et Fils (3 rue du Faisan) is top notch.
There are a dozen museums in Strasbourg ranging from modern art to ancient artefacts. Many are in wonderful, ancient buildings like the Museum of History which is in a 16th century former slaughterhouse and a voodoo museum (yes you did read that right), in a water tower. Don’t miss the magnificent Palais Rohan where you’ll find three museums: Musée des Beaux-Arts with a major collection of European paintings which includes Botticelli, Rubens and Canaletto. The Musée Archéologique is in the basement. And there’s a Musée des Arts Décoratifs which is absolutely superb. And, if you like medieval art, you’ll be in Seventh Heaven at the Medieval Museum.
Hire an electric boat and see Strasbourg from its watery arteries at your own pace. Or, if you’d like to relax and take in the sights including the immense buildings of the European Parliament, join a guided boat ride with Batorama and choose an open top boat on a sunny day for the best views.
On Place Rihour just off the huge Grand Place in the centre of the historic part of Lille, 80 wooden chalets are filled with gift ideas, nativity figurines, Christmas decorations and festive food. You’ll find lots of regional specialities here, and arts and crafts from Russia, Canada and Poland. With around 4000 shops in the city, restaurants galore and more cultural venues than you can shake a stick at – Lille is a fabulous Christmas destination.
Lille Christmas Market: 22nd November to 29th December 2019
Over 300 chalets are set up for the big Christmas market in Strasbourg, and there are several markets spread throughout the city. Delicious Alsacian food, local crafts including toys, lights, jewellery and wooden accessories are definitely tempting. The town squares are lit up and decorated in a traditional style and various concerts and shows take place. Standing at over 30 metres high, the Christmas tree on Place Kléber is one of the tallest, decorated trees in Europe. It’s no surprise that Strasbourg is known as The Capital of Christmas!
Strasbourg Christmas Market: 22nd November to 30th December 2019
For six weeks, the whole of Old Colmar becomes one huge colourful Christmas Market. More than 160 stalls make for a magical Christmas event. Colmar's six Christmas Markets essentially create their own mini-village, each inhabited by passionate craftsmen.
Colmar Christmas Market: 22nd November to 29th December 2019
Amiens town centre turns into a winter wonderland during the lead up to Christmas. More than 130 chalets that take over the main shopping streets! Some are from local sellers from France, but others have come from as far as Canada and India. You'll find a huge variety of handmade crafts and original Christmas gifts for sale. Don’t miss a visit to the city’s 800 Gothic Cathedral…
Amiens Christmas Market: 23rd November to 30th December 2019
Get into the spirit of the Christmas when you visit the markets on the city’s six main squares. Find hand-crafted gifts in the Christmas pyramid and taste the finest gingerbread biscuits. Take a turn around the open-air ice-rink, then warm up your cold hands around a mulled wine or hot chocolate. Stock up on delicacies at the city market hall or take a ride on the big wheel and ogle the twinkling illuminations.
Metz Christmas Market: 20th November to 29th December 2019
The Mulhouse Christmas Market features exceptional fabric, not surprising in this city which is famous for its textile heritage. There are regional delicacies from the Alsace and with the scent of cinnamon and mulled wine combined with the magical illuminations, it makes for a shopping pleasure. This market features a unique tradition, as the Renaissance former town hall (now museum) is transformed into a giant advent calendar, and every night in the lead up to Christmas a window is opened and lit up.
Mulhouse Christmas Market: 23rd November to 29th December 2019
At the Christmas market in Champagne’s capital city, discover more than 140 chalets on the Parvis of the Cathedrale. There are lovely illuminations and, new for 2019, having browsed the stalls, overflowing with delicacies and treasures, what could be better than a glass of bubbly on the big wheel? Sipping a glass of champagne above the beautiful illuminated city – what’s not to love?!
Reims Christmas Market: 21st November to 28th December 2019
The Christmas market starts late November and runs through to late December at the famous Place du Capitole, the heart of Toulouse. Chalets filled with original gift ideas from local woodcrafts to regional specialities, and with toys, pottery, jewellery, candles, clothing and leather goods – there’s something for everyone. Nibble on grilled chestnuts, accompanied by a warm drink or stop for a mulled wine at one of the chalet bars while you admire the twinkling decorations and illuminations. Father Christmas can also be found among the chalets, handing out sweets!
Toulouse Christmas Market: 22nd November to 26th December 2019
Montpellier, the sunny southern French city is lovely at Christmas. There’s a giant Christmas tree on the main square, Place de la Comedie, a Christmas market and late night market where you can enjoy local foods and drink wine in a giant heated tent. Christmas parades, workshop, ice-skating rink and much more.
Montpellier Christmas Market: 28th November to 28th December 2019
Montbéliard in the department of Doubs, Franche-Comté, holds its annual Christmas Festival of Lights – thousands of twinkling lights – and lovely, festive Christmas market which is one of the best in the area. There’s a craft fair and many other seasonal festivities. Attractions include pastry-making workshops for children, wine tasting and sleigh rides.
Montbeliard Christmas Market: 23rd November to 24th December 2019
We Brits love the French Alps, and no wonder, with plenty of snow, tons to do for skiers and non-skiers, fabulous countryside and great food and wine – honestly what’s not to love?!
Whenever you visit the alps, you’re guaranteed breath-taking views in the French mountains. When the snow smothers the slopes, take your pick from downhill skiing, cross-country skiing and Nordic Skiing to conquer the frosty peaks
Non-skiers and families are also perfectly catered for in the Alps with cosy mountain spas, snowshoeing and sunny terraces, ideal for those who want an active break or simply to relax.
With 112 resorts, Savoie and Haute-Savoie offer mountain holidays for everyone. The 3 Vallées make up one of the largest ski areas in the world. Sophisticated Courchevel combines skiing with a spot of superb shopping. In Méribel you’ll experience an authentic Savoyard atmosphere in traditional chalets. Reach for the sky at Val-Thorens, the highest ski resort in Europe at 2300 metres high (2,515 yards). For lofty mountain sports, Tignes will float your boat. Avoriaz is a fully pedestrianised resort (except for sleds!) and hosts a unique series of contemporary art exhibitions and music festivals each year. And from Saint-Gervais or Chamonix, discover the famous Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France, on the slopes of Mont Blanc, one of the most legendary peaks in the world.
Winter brings many types of snow sports including the unusual, like diving under the ice, flying down a zip-line and even ski-joring - being pulled on your skis by a horse! If you’re not into skiing that much, then there’s loads to entertain. Dog sledding, tobogganing and snow shoeing will give you plenty of chances to enjoy the stunning landscape. And, there’s also plenty of opportunity to be pampered at one of the many luxury spas. From salt walls to ice caves, beauty products created from mountain specialities like donkey milk and bee pollen, the Alps are the perfect place to recharge your batteries.
A little indulgence is a good thing, and in the mountains fine dining reaches new peaks! No less than 30 starred restaurants with a total of 48 stars, feature in the Michelin Guide, an unusually high number in one area. And there are cosy alpine bistros and tasty food trucks and cheese bars for less formal dining including the famous raclette, tartiflette and fondue dishes. You may not be able to get your salopettes on the next day but you will feel very happy!
French Connections has a great range of holiday rentals in the French alps, pop over to our home page to browse the listings and find your ideal snowy wonderland home…
Christmas Paris style Photo: Amelie Dupont, Paris Tourist Office
Christmas in France means wonderful festive events, beautiful illuminations and gifts galore! Enjoy the festive season and discover the special magic of this happy time - France is the perfect place for a fabulous celebration.
At this time of year towns, villages and cities across France arrange brilliant arrays of festivities, special events, gourmet fairs, shows, shopping, decorate the wonderful chateaux and of course, fabulous markets to create an unforgettable Christmas visit.
You could watch turkeys parade down a high street in northern France (Licques), see the lights in Paris or enjoy a spot of winter sunshine in the south of France while you indulge in a spot of al fresco dining.
Here are some of our favourite places to spend Christmas in France…
Nice, Cannes and Marseille generally have plenty of winter sunshine in the winter. In fact you can often eat your lunch outside on Christmas Day in a T-shirt.
The city of Aix-en-Provence is popular for summer visitors but it’s great for Christmas breaks too. Streets decked out in shimmering lights and shop windows dressed up to the nines make for a very festive atmosphere. Aix has a lovely vibrant Christmas market where you’ll find artisan goods and local specialities. There’s also a December olive oil and truffle fair - perfect for foodie gifts.
A different kind of fair is the Foire aux Santons, a sort of miniature village of little, terracotta, hand-painted figurines. Expect to see the usual biblical figures as well as figures from Provençal village life, such as a woman carrying an armful of lavender, or a man playing boules – the locals adore their santons, and they make great souvenirs too.
In the south of France, it’s a tradition to celebrate Christmas Eve with dinner followed by a dessert known as Les Treize Desserts (yes you read that right – 13 desserts) which symbolises Christ and his twelve apostles. In Aix, from mid-December through the end of the month, there is a Marché des Treize Desserts at the Place Jeanne d’Arc where you can buy loads of sweet things for your Christmas celebration.
Reims Christmas Market Photo: Greg Oxley, Reims Tourist Office
There’s nothing quite like a glass of Champagne in Champagne to usher in the Christmas spirit.
The Christmas market at Reims is the biggest in the region and of course has a fabulous Champagne bar. The centre is beautifully lit up with Christmas lights and there’s an ice rink, Ferris Wheel and fun fair.
Not far away, Epernay, home to Moët et Chandon and a host of other legendary Champagne houses also has a lovely Christmas market.
Champagne is home to the ‘World Nativity Scene Route’, an astonishing collection of crib scenes of all shapes, sizes, materials and origin, from hand-knitted settings to historic hand-carved figures, all with their own unique charm. The cribs are on show throughout December in and around the churches of 46 towns and villages between the coronation city of Reims, Epernay, Châlons-en-Champagne and the historic town of Fismes.
In the Loire Valley, several of the chateaux put on their Christmas finery, which definitely delivers the wow factor! Chenonceau is full of sumptuous banquets.
Vaux le Vicomte in the Ile de France looks amazing with a carousel, fake snow and thousands of decorations. It will feel truly magical wandering the grounds and rooms of the chateaux, seeing the huge Christmas trees and experiencing what Christmas might have been like when the chateaux were in their prime.
Meanwhile, in the royal city of Blois the annual Winter Festival presents 50 shows and street theatre performances, concerts, choirs, sleigh rides, ice-skating, and more. For those of you looking for ideas for Christmas gifts, there’s the lively St. Nicolas rummage sale and the fabulous Marché de Noël, place Louis XII, with its cheerfully decked stalls and tempting aromas of gingerbread and mulled wine.
The locals love their festival and throw themselves wholeheartedly into the event, decorating and illuminating streets and storefronts from the cobblestoned downtown area up to the Château Royal de Blois, perched majestically above the town and overlooking the Loire. Wander to your heart’s content, taking in the Christmas sights, sounds and magic.
While you’re at it, don’t miss a visit to the château, the home of 7 kings and 10 queens of France, and a splendid example of medieval, Renaissance and 17th century architecture. The château was magnificently restored in 1984 and has since been used as a model for the restoration of numerous other chateaux.
Pop over to our Home page to browse a whole host of fabulous holiday homes, perfect for your Christmas in France break.....