11 December 2011

What I love about France in the Winter

It can be quite hard to love Paris/France in the winter.  You barely see the sun.  It's really cold, grey, rainy.  You have to wait in said cold if you frequent public transportation.  Most of us just want our summer back so we can have warmer temperatures, picnics in the parks with friends, and longer days.  Yet, there are so many delightful sights, smells, and tastes that only occur in the winter in Paris, making the city just that much more charming and irresistible.  Here are some of my favorites:

1) Marrons rôtis with white wine

Marrons (Photo: Saveurs Hors-Série No. 9 Hiver 2011)

When I lived in Valence as a teenage exchange student, my host father took me out in his garden one cold October evening and fired up his grill.  He poured fresh chestnuts onto the roaring flames and while they cooked, uncorked a nice, dry white wine.  We sat in the backyard, savoring the warm richness of roasted chestnuts and the contrasting coolness of the wine.  We talked about France, school, my life back in the USA.  It was one of the moments when I felt finally at home in this foreign country.  Now, I look forward to finding vendors who sell marrons in the street.  Call it my Proustian pleasure.

2) Oysters

Huîtres de Vendée

The months that end in R means one thing to me:  oyster season.  I am fortunate to be married to a Vendéen, someone who comes from the coastal area of France which is known for its delicious oysters.  My father-in-law introduced me to oysters last fall, and again at Christmas.  This year, we devoured oysters with his special shallot vinaigrette dressing and lemons before the main Thanksgiving feast.  Gillardeau oysters are my particular favorite.  They don't need anything on them to give them more flavour.  They are meaty, salty, and somewhat sweet.

3) Ice skating rinks

Patinoire de l'Hôtel de Ville, Paris

You can go ice skating in most parts of this world.  But there is something magical about skating in front of the illuminated Hôtel de Ville here in Paris.  As a former competitive figure skater, it is absolutely wonderful skating in such a fantastically beautiful spot.  There's also a rink this year at the Eiffel Tower.  Check out rates and times here.

4) Christmas Markets/Decorations

Parisian neighborhoods decorate themselves in Christmas splendor, and markets are becoming more and more popular (Bastille, Champs-Élysées).  The real Christmas market action is over in Strasbourg or in Lille.  Vin chaud à l'orange, numerous stands selling figurines for your crêche, lovely handmade crafts...nothing gets you in the mood faster for the holidays than strolling in these wooden stall markets.

Christmas market, Strasbourg

Saintons for your Christmas crêche
5) Le Ski

So last year (if you've been stopping by for that long) I went skiing in a town called La Tania.  And I got hurt.  I spent the rest of the time reading and sleeping while others skied.  Despite that little incident, there is something peaceful about skiing up in the Alpes.  Maybe it's the mountain air, the relative quiet, the glistening snow.  Or maybe it is being athletic all day only to come back with friends, get a little toasted on wine and beer while eating your fill of gooey cheese dishes.  But if you have the chance to go skiing with friends, you should definitely not hesitate and go.  It is one of the quintessential winter experiences in France.

Skiing and sightseeing in the Alpes.  Ah-mazing.
6) Mont d'Or

Or Raclette.  Or fondue savoyarde (gruyère and emmenthal).  Or Saint-Nectaire.  Winter is hot cheese season here in France.  Nothing beats a meal composed of hot gooey cheese, flavoured with some wine or other tasty liquor, and served with either crusty bread or boiled potatoes and charcuterie.  Well, maybe confit de canard.  But that's besides the point.

What are your favorite things about France in the winter?


  1. Thanks for this post. I really needed it. I've been getting really fed up with the weather this last week since here in central France it's wet, windy and cold - totally miserable. But you've reminded me there are bright sides to winter. I enjoy the Christmas markets and vin chaud, following animal tracks in the snow and cosy evenings by a roaring fire (thank goodness we chopped so much wood earlier in the year!)
    Happy Winter!

  2. Hey Steph! I completely understand. I sometimes feel as if I have seasonal depression here because it can be downright cold and grey! At least you have a fireplace to cuddle up to...no can do in Paris. Keep sippin' that vin chaud and look forward to spring.

  3. Hope you had a great trip but I have to say you were missed.

    French Mountain Ranges