25 October 2013 by Jessica Boston
Spending Christmas in France – Festive Breaks for Two to Twenty-two!
There are lots of reasons why you might want to get away from it all over the Christmas holidays. You might fancy a relaxing, romantic break, just the two of you, or a family break away from difficult relatives and the pressure of rushing from one house to the next as you try to please everyone!
Or maybe you’d love to have a big Christmas get together with all your extended family but your house is just too small to fit ten plus guests around the table, never mind find a place for them all to sleep!
With all this in mind Christmas in France might sound like a rather tempting prospect… here are some tips and suggestions for a festive French break:
Where to stay?
There are lots of French holiday properties that are available to rent all through the year so you should be able to find something to suit you. The climate might be a little milder than the UK but it can still be cold so make sure you choose somewhere with proper heating and, ideally, a wood burner or open fire for a festive feel.
From a cosy one-bedroom cottage for two to a sprawling country house or chateau that sleeps over 20, make sure you pick the right size property. You don’t want to be rattling around in a great big place, nor run the risk of feeling overcrowded and on top of each other if there isn’t enough room.
Think about where you’ll be eating your Christmas meal and make sure there’s room for everyone. Larger properties are usually equipped with a kitchen suitable for catering to groups, but if there are a lot of guests it may be worth confirming that there is enough crockery and cutlery to go around. The property owner may also be able to help with ordering in any special ingredients (such as a turkey, goose or even lobster) to be delivered to you, avoiding any last minute panic or disappointments.
You may be keen to have your holiday rental decorated for the season, especially if you have children in your party. Many property owners will do this as a matter of course but you might want to check details beforehand and make any special requests.
You could even ask for an undecorated Christmas tree to be put up and bring your own tree decorations for the children to hang if that’s important to you. The beauty of renting a holiday cottage is that you can really make it your home from home and bring along all your Christmas traditions, and hopefully make some new ones too!
What to do?
Come prepared for the weather and wrap up warm for country and coastal walks – rural France is as beautiful in the winter as it is in the summer!
The towns and cities will be decorated with Christmas lights and the cafes serve delicious mulled wine and hot chocolate. You will usually be able to find carol singing, nativity services and Christmas markets and festivities to join in with. Check with your holiday homeowner or the local Tourist Office to find out what’s on. Some celebrations even include a nativity parade with real animals! Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is followed by ‘Le Reveillon’, a huge feast enjoyed at home or in one of the restaurants or cafés that stays open all night for the occasion.
The Christmas markets in France are an attraction for day-trippers and holidaymakers alike. The markets usually consist of wooden chalets selling handcrafted gifts, food and drinks. Sometimes there will also be street entertainment, fairground rides or even an ice skating rink. The atmosphere is full of Christmas spirit and a wander around will soon get you in a festive mood! Some of the biggest French Christmas Markets in Normandy and Brittany include those at Caen, Rouen and Brest.
French Christmas traditions
The way Christmas is celebrated in France is not too dissimilar to the UK festivities: decorating the house, presents and good food are all involved. The religious significance of the occasion does get more recognition here with crib scenes a part of the decoration in most homes, and church services and celebrations being central to a town’s Christmas events.
Traditionally the French Christmas meal is eaten after Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. The menu usually includes roast turkey stuffed with chestnuts or roast goose and might also feature oysters, lobster, foie gras, venison and cheeses – all the most decadent and luxurious treats!
Dessert is a richly iced, rolled chocolate cake called a ‘Buche de Noel’ or, as we less graciously might say, a ‘chocolate log’. Self catering means you can please yourself with a Christmas meal of your choice – go traditional with turkey and Christmas pudding, or borrow some French ideas and be inspired by local produce instead!
Join in with another French custom by burning a ‘Yule log’ on Christmas eve: it’s a cherry wood log sprinkled with red wine you put on the fire. The festive fragrance sets the scene and the idea is that you leave it, together with some candles, to burn all night with some food and drinks left out in case Mary and baby Jesus come in the night. Children need not worry, that other Christmas Eve visitor ‘Pere Noel’ is also expected in France, although children traditionally leave out shoes rather than stockings to be filled with treats.
Our top picks for a festive break this Christmas:
(Christmas 2013 availability at time of writing)
Le Chatel, Isigny-le-Buat, Normandy (NM003340)
This gorgeous, medieval timber-framed cottage is set in an acre of private gardens and is equipped with cosy leather sofas and a large wood burning stove (fuel included). Don’t forget to take a trip to nearby Mont-St-Michel to visit the Christmas markets and see the famous site beautifully lit up after dark.
La Maree, Royan, Poitou Charentes (PM003191)
A delightful 19th century cottage with views of the salt marshes and Gironde estuary. There is a wood burning stove and open plan dining area sympathetically restored in the traditional style. The property is just five minutes walk from the pretty port of Les Monards and a 10 minute drive from the sandy beaches at Meschers, perfect for a winter walk on the shore.
Ty Gwyr, Chateaulin, Brittany (BF002563)
A family house on the banks of the river Aulne featuring a sitting room with an open fire, and a music room with a grand piano! It’s a small village setting so very quiet, but perfect for holing up with the family for a week with some good food and wine. There’s even room for Granny and Grandpa to come along with three double bedrooms as well as a larger children’s room with a double, a single, a set of bunkbeds and a cot – perfect for sharing the odd midnight feast!
Les Lilas, Poitiers, Poitou Charentes (PV003242)
This three-bedroom farmhouse is ideal for children with a climbing frame and swings as well as chickens, ducks and rabbits to feed. There is a cosy lounge with a log burning stove and the open plan kitchen/diner is perfect for family meals. Take your wellies and get out in the countryside for winter walks to discover the local wildlife.
For larger groups…
La Grange with Belle View, Saint-James, Normandy (NM003126)
This stunning property sleeps up to 20 people with six bedrooms that include three doubles and three with a mix of single and bunk beds. Accommodation includes an outdoor hot tub, table tennis table, trampoline and X-box 360 console for guests to use. The gite is in the small town of Saint-James with shops and patisseries only a short stroll away and there are plenty of beaches and historic sites to discover in the area.
La Palmeraie, Cherbourg, Normandy (NM003382)
An elegant four-storey manor house set in wooded grounds with seven bedrooms sleeping up to 22 people. This gorgeous house has been beautifully restored and features a warm, friendly kitchen with a table that seats up to 12, as well as a formal dining room seating up to 35 people! The property is fully equipped to cater to up to 40 people so entertaining larger groups will be no problem here. The house is centrally heated and there is a log fire in the lounge too. Explore the grounds and the medieval town of Bricquebec that’s just five minutes walk away and has a castle, markets, shops and restaurants.