What is so nice about Provence in winter?
I would rather say Provence is nice in any season and there is not much need for an excuse to go there in any time of the year. In winter though, without tourists, loud parties and burning sun you get a chance to discover the real heart of the region. I have visited south of France many times in the past before but only after my resent February trip I managed to understand what makes this part of the world so special. It’s all lovely in summer but it’s winter that reveals its true face.
For local people time goes by with its own slow and undisturbed rhythm, market stands fill in with best seasonal produce, mimosa is already in bloom, men meet for their afternoon game of pétanque and Provençal life flows uninterrupted…
What can I do at the seaside in winter?
French Riviera, the warmest part of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, benefits from over 300 days of sunshine per year and with temperatures reaching 17ºC in February it is a perfect spot for anyone who just can’t wait spring. Of course we don’t recommend you to have a swim in the sea (however, on a windy days surfers are not a rare sight there) but there are plenty of possibilities to walk across the coastline and in the mountains. I have tried few routes this year and both long distance walking and climbing became my favourite holiday activities. I will definitely be doing more of walking now and you can check our blog this week for more details about the routes I recommend in Côte d’Azur.
Is there anything to do when it actually rains?
It is true it can be a bit challenging to entertain yourself during rainy days in Provence (I have to admit there are hardly there though!). Most of the restaurants and bars close after lunch and open later for dinner so it’s not easy to find a nice cosy hideaway when the weather is not actually that nice.
It doesn’t mean that you won’t find anything to do. There are plenty of interesting museums and events to choose from. This year during one of those less sunny days I visited a stunning Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild in Cap Ferrat. The palace is beautifully restored and well prepared for visitors with easy access to information about its history and the famous owner. There is even a nice little tea-room if you feel a bit peckish afterwards.
Greek Villa Kérylos in the nearby Beaulieu-sur-Mer is also definitely worth a visit.
Theatres, operas and ballet of Nice and Monaco are highly regarded and usually have quite interesting programmes, which you can check here:
And if you have any spare cash you can always test you luck at Monte Carlo Casino.
But won’t it all cost a fortune?
It doesn’t have to. Provence and especially the French Riviera are much cheaper in low season, which lasts from December (with exception of Christmas and New Year) to end of March/April. Many restaurants or hotels are closed during this time though but those, which are open, offer much lower rates.
The cheapest and in our opinion the best option is to stay in a rented apartment and cook for yourself though. Almost every town or village in Provence has its own food market open at least once a week. These are our favourite:
– In Monaco we especially liked Le Marché de la Condamine situated at the place d’Armes and offering literally any food you may need at quite affordable prices. It is open every day (including Sundays) till more or less 14:00 and additionally between 16:30 and 19:00 on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. Fresh fruits and vegetables are sols on the square in front of the market hall – look for smaller stands operated by local farmers as they have the best and cheapest products. The food hall itself is a culinary heaven and Monaco’s best kept secret. Local people come here for their breakfasts, lunches, un cafe or daily gossips from the Principality. I especially recommend Bar ‘Le Zinc’ (and their tiny glasses of rosé for 1.30€!) and a little stand next to it offering local specialties – socca and pissaladière. A small piece of socca with black pepper and a cold glass (or two) of chilled Provençal wine, can there be anything better?
– Tourrettes-sur-Loup has, in my opinion, one of the best farmers market in the region! Every Wednesday in the morning (till about 13:00) you can buy local meats, cheeses, olive oils, wines, fruits, vegetable and even clothes. And why not to finish finish your shopping with a glass of finest French wine at Cave de Tourrettes located at the same square.
There are daily food markets in Antibes and Vence as well.
Cave du Tourrettes is at the top of my favourite wine bars.
So how do I find a place to stay?
Staying close to the sea at French Riviera during summer is quite pricey but the rates go down in winter quite a lot so I would definitely recommend looking for something with a sea view this time of a year. Rented apartments are probably the easiest and cheapest option for your holiday accommodation. There are many websites through which you can contact the property owners and compare your chocices, I usually use this one: http://www.homeaway.co.uk/France/r31.htm
The usual stay at Côte d’Azur in a rented flat starts and finishes on Saturdays but outside the high season there is more flexibility offered so it’s always worth checking if you can arrive/leave during the week.
Alternatively, you can always stay a night or two at the hotel. Auberge des Seigneurs in Vence, an authentic country inn, is open in winter (apart from December) and offers nice double rooms for around 90€. Plus their breakfast is one of the best I have ever had in Provence!
Will there be any restaurants open this time of the year?
Don’t worry there are plenty of restaurants still open in winter.
I had one of my best meals during my latest stay in Provence at Auberge des Seigneurs (on the photo below). Very traditional, with wonderful family atmosphere and specialities like spit-roasted meat dishes it is a perfect place for a warming up winter dinner.
Cave du Tourrettes, mentioned above, is still as wonderful as always and their lovely chief creates incredible dishes in their tiny kitchen.
If you fancy (and can effort) something more stylish check Michelin starred restaurants in Eze – La Chèvre d’Or and Chateau Eza (at the top in Eze Village) or the splendid Cap Estel located at the sea front in Eze Bord-du-Mer.
I am wondering how such small place like Eze can have so many world-class restaurants…
Will I need a car?
Not necessary. Of course it’s useful, especially if you want to visit as many places as possible but public transport at Côte d’Azur is reliable, affordable and comfortable. There is a train line between Ventimillia (Italy), St Raphael and Grasse and then further to Toulon and Marseille with stations in every coastal town and village. It’s worth to check local buses as well – they may not be that frequent outside rush hours though but they are a cheap and easy way to travel in larger cities (Cannes, Monaco, Nice) and to many inland towns.
I hope I have convinced you already to book your tickets. Well, when I look outside my window now I wouldn’t mind spending the next weekend strolling across Côte d’Azur sunny beaches myself.
Check us tomorrow for more detailed information about the best walking and climbing routes at French Riviera.