Summers in France are glorious. But if your travel budget is limited, you’ll find much cheaper air fares in the off-season. Before we moved here we traveled to France in early spring or fall, to catch the bargains. The weather, however, can be cold. So why not plan your next trip around Christmas and catch some of the festivities, when a good winter chill just adds to the spirit?
Of course it’s lovely to see the beautifully decorated Champs d’Elysée in Paris at Christmas, but here’s something else you absolutely should not miss: La Fête des Lumières. This is the most famous annual festival in France’s second city of Lyon. It’s held for four days around the 8th of December, and it’s a true big-city festival that’s worth the trip. Four million-ish people show up, so plan ahead with reservations! Photo at top: a square on the presqu-îsle (peninsula) in Lyon, transformed by a light show that shifts by the minute. Above, la Cathédrale Saint-Jean in Vieux Lyon, dressed in blue for the occasion.
The festival started as an homage to the Virgin Mary on December 8th each year, back in the middle ages; her statue overlooks the city of Lyon. The tradition began with all the residents putting candles in their windows (nearby towns often have their own small festivals of lights; even in tiny Balleure, all the kids in the village come over, and put candles in all the windows of the château). It gradually grew to become a full blown, high-tech international event, with 70 or more radiant venues around the city.
We went to the festival one year with a big group of friends. Nicole (who used to work in Lyon) was our guide. Excitement was in the air, with dazzling displays everywhere. And the light shows! I can’t begin to describe them to you—I’ve never seen anything like them. The best way to get a feel for what the outdoor shows are like is to watch this YouTube video. Of course the shows change every year.
As you would imagine, the streets are alive with merry-makers, music, parades, and street food. No church, square, riverbank, fountain, or street scape is left untouched by clever displays of lights. Prepare to be utterly amazed. If you want to go, find more information at this Lyon Tourisme site.
Writing this makes me think it’s time to go again—see you there next year?
IMPORTANT NOTE: This week I switched to a new server for email subscriptions, which will hopefully be more reliable. I hope those of you whose subscriptions were dropped will be back in business. If you’re still not getting your subscription email, just enter your email address in the top right hand corner to re-subscibe. IF you experience any problems with your email (which should arrive every two weeks in winter, and weekly the rest of the year), please let me know. Merci!
Favorite READS: My friend Benito discovered this book, The French House: An American Family, a Ruined Maison, and the Village That Restored Them All. He hasn't read it and neither have I, but the story line is intriguing: a NY family buys a house in France on a tip and on impulse, and the house turns out to be a ruin, and then the recession hits. Have to read it to see if there's a happy ending!
Exceptionally, these photos are not mine, they are gathered from around the internet.