The atmosphere in France at Christmas is magical; most towns and villages are proud to get into the festive spirit. Each mairie (town hall) takes care of lights, decorations and even Santa Claus in the weeks running up to Christmas. Like the rest of Europe, the big day is Christmas Eve, when the family gathers for a grand meal and to open their presents. There is less of a commercial feel to Christmas in France and more of a feeling of community and celebration.
We take a look at six beautiful places across the country where one could spend the most fabulous Christmas – if not this year, then next year. After all, everyone needs something to look forward to, particularly right now!
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Arras is a gorgeous town situated in the Nord Pas de Calais region of northern France. It has a long history going back to the 12th century and is now proud of its military history. Many major battles took place here during the First World War and Britain was involved in an attack on the German army here during the Second World War.
Nowadays, Arras is best known for its stunning medieval squares adorned with Flemish style buildings, as well as its Citadel. The bell tower is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is a fantastic monument which is free to the public. From the top, you’ll get the most amazing view across the ancient buildings and monuments.
The Christmas market in Arras is one of the most popular in France: wooden chalets sell all manner of Christmas goodies, mulled wine and chocolates. There are also some superb restaurants and lively cafes in the centre of town.
Arras is very easy to reach from the UK. It is situated an hour or so north of Paris, so can be reached in a couple of hours by car or car and train.
Property prices are reasonable here. Around €200,000 will buy you a 3 bedroomed house with garden.
With plenty of forests and open space all around the town, Arras has something to offer everyone.
Dinan is situated in north-western France in the Cotes d’Armor department of Brittany. It is undoubtedly one of the prettiest small towns in the region. The lovely port, timber and stone houses and cobbled streets are an absolute joy to behold and Christmas time is beautiful here, with a festive market throughout the month of December. There are also some attractive boutiques, art galleries and pretty little bars and restaurants.
Easy to access from the UK, you can take a boat across the Channel and be here in less than an hour. The old town feels just that: old! Walking around here, one could well imagine living in a century gone by.
Dinan is a popular place with the French too and property prices are a little higher here. Prices in the centre of town are, unsurprisingly, quite high, but you may find a nice lock up and leave apartment here for a budget of under €200,000. For around €250,000 and going out of town, you can find a decent 2-3 bedroom house.
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We’re going down to the south of France now to the gorgeous seaside town of Collioure, set on the Cote Vermeille in the Pyrenees Orientales department of Occitanie. One of my personal favourites, Collioure, has a sophisticated feel to it and boasts a famous artistic history, inspiring the Fauvist art movement in the 20th century. It is truly picturesque and Christmas is a special time here. The little shops and galleries are adorned with lights, as are the lamp posts along the sea front.
With plenty of welcoming bars and restaurants, this is a very popular place in the summer but a Christmas visit is a must, especially if you like a milder climate and being by the sea.
The nearest airport is Perpignan with regular flights from the UK.
Property is dearer here. You will need a budget of around €300,000 for a house in the town, a little less on the outskirts. A good investment is ensured, however, and a Christmas visit is highly recommended.
Sarlat is one of the most popular and beautiful villages in the Dordogne. It truly comes alive at Christmas time with an enchanting festive atmosphere. The ice rink in the centre of town is surrounded by wooden chalets selling works from local craftsmen, Christmas goodies and, of course, wine. Expect to find some luxurious items such as foie gras and truffles here, as well as lots of stocking fillers. There are some lovely little bars in the market area to warm up when you have finished shopping.
Sarlat truly comes alive at Christmas with an enchanting festive atmosphere.
The easiest way to travel to the Dordogne is by plane to Bordeaux and then rent a car.
Property is fairly expensive here but is unlikely to lose its value. Expect to pay around €300,000 for a fully renovated home with some outside space.
Reims is a very beautiful town in the Marne department in champagne country. It’s dominated by its majestic cathedral, designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991, where the kings of France are buried, and the town comes alive at Christmas time. Its Christmas market is one of the largest in the area, boasting over 100 wooden chalets selling all sorts of products, including some wonderful food stuffs. It is held in the centre of town amongst the pedestrianised streets and the ice rink.
Reims is easily accessible by train from London and a nice idea is to stop off in Paris and then travel through from there.
Property prices in Reims are a little higher than in the rest of the department. This is because it is a popular tourist town and properties also rent out very well. So an investment in property here will pay dividends. Expect to pay upwards of €250,000 for a fully renovated character house, or a modern villa or apartment near the centre of town.
Perhaps a lesser known place over on the east side of France, Colmar appears to come straight out of a fairy-tale! It is the most glorious ancient town in the Haut-Rhin department of the Alsace region, with colourful buildings and full to the brim with restaurants and small boutiques. Surrounded by medieval monuments and vineyards, the town is very popular with the Swiss and Germans. Colmar has to be seen to be believed: it’s a wonderful place to spend Christmas and there are plenty of winter sports on offer too.
Colmar can be accessed via its nearest airport, Strasbourg.
Property is fairly expensive here as it is such a popular area generally. Expect to pay around €300,000 for a 3-bedroom house or apartment with outside space. However, as always, looking a little outside the town means you’ll get a lot more for your money.
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Christmas in so many parts of France is a traditional affair and you will find festive Christmas markets and a wonderful atmosphere almost everywhere you go. Buying a property in one of these six areas means that you can take an annual trip during the Christmas period and enjoy the festive delights that France has to offer. Something to plan for Christmas 2021!