January is a great time to go to France for three reasons: it’s not too cold, there are less tourists, and there’s great stuff to do.
For those who frequent France, January can be repetitive: hunting for les soldes, smiling at the remains of the holiday décor, and counting the days until the holiday markets return.
Those are all lovely (touristy) things to do, but it’s understandable to feel un peu fatigué. Luckily, there are other things to do with les vrais francais. Get out of Paris this January and try something a bit different.
1) The Polar Plunge (Jan 1)
Coastal towns on the Channel such as Etretat, Dieppe, and more across Normandy partake in a tradition many Americans are familiar with: jumping into a body of freezing water. Temperatures hover around 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) so this certainly isn’t for the faint of heart. To find out exactly when and where the jumps take place, ask at your hotel’s front desk or a local bar. Take advantage of the opportunity to meet some of the people in the town. (Don’t leave immediately after you jump, some groups of bathers pop Champagne and drink together!)
Happening at various locations in France, mostly coastal towns
2) The Flamenco Festival in Nîmes (Jan 12-21)
Believe it or not, for more than 20 years, Nîmes has been struck by a heatwave in the beginning of January. In a reverse Christmas-in-July-style party, the Nîmes Flamenco festival interrupts the usually cold winter months to spice up the city. For two weeks, musical performances, songs, dances, and flamenco lessons will be held at the Théâtre de Nîmes. Ticket information is available here. The program of events is available here.
Ticket Office: 1 place de la Calade, 30017 Nîmes cedex 1
3) Un weekend ski
Faire du ski? Un petit weekend ski? Un après-ski? It’s all so French. Combine physical fitness with some cozy relaxation by the fire, then add in some vin chaud—it’s the perfect recipe for un weekend ski. During the winter, France’s famous resorts in Les Pyrenées and Les Alps jolt to life with the arrival of the snow sports crowd. Ski towns capitalize on their winter weekend popularity and often host festivals, markets, concerts, and competitions. Check out this list of southern ski towns and their 2017 events.
Happening in various locations in France, mostly the south and east
4) Côte d’Azur Hippodrome (Nov-March 2017)
Despite the chillier temperatures in the rest of the country, the winter is when Côte d’Azur’s horse racing track really gets busy. The warm winter climate of the south allows for the track to stay open through the cold months for the winter racing season. Everything about the hippodrome is easy. Tickets are cheap (4€50 for adults, and free for kids under 18), there’s food on location (a restaurant, brasserie, café, and snack bar), and betting starts at 2€. Saturdays and Sundays are especially fun for kids, when the hippodrome sets up bouncy houses, pony rides, and games. Check out steeple chasing on the 8th, a flat race on the 18th, and a trotting event on the 23rd. See the full calendar of nearly daily events here.
Hippodrome de la Côte d’Azur – 2 boulevard J F Kennedy, 06800 Cagnes-sur-Mer
5) ART au Sommet Graffiti Art Festival in Courchevel (Dec 10-April 17, 2017)
Back for its 8th edition in partnership with Les Galeries Bartoux, the ART au Sommet festival brings spray paint to the slopes. Street artist Julien Marinetti decorates the slopes with his signature giant graffitied animals, street artists demonstrate their work in daylight, and decked-out gondolas carry skiers up the mountain. The festival reframes graffiti in a positive light, as being a rebellion for freedom of expression, rather than defacement. Guided tours only happen on January 12th and 26th, so sign up here now.
Courchevel Office of Tourism – rue de l’église, 73120 Saint-Bon-Tarentaise