From the Alps to the French Riviera, winters around France are filled with exciting festivals, performances and snow sports. Whether you are on a search for the perfect tarte au citron or wondering where to wander through exquisite ice sculptures, Forbes Travel Guide has insight on this season’s five must-see events in the country.
La Grande Odyssée
The Savoie Mont Blanc region of the French Alps is hosting the 12th edition of one of the greatest sled dog competitions in the world through January 20. The 10 stages cover more than 372 miles of trails (and over 82,000 feet in elevation), passing through 22 ski stations where spectators can cheer on teams while enjoying live music, mulled wine, traditional fondue, cozy campfires, themed exhibitions and an introduction to dog mushing and igloo building for kids. Special vacation packages during the event are available at these participating ski stations: Megève, Morillon, Mont Cenis (Polar Base), Les Gets, Sixt Fer à Cheval and Haute Maurienne Vanoise in Termignon.
Ice & Snow Sculpture Competition
In a magical atmosphere straight out of a fairy tale, the tiny French Alps ski town of Valloire (roughly two and a half hours from Lyon) hosts artists from around the world to create ethereal sculptures of ice and snow. While the ice sculpture competition took place from January 12 to the 15, the snow sculpture competition lasts from January 19 until the 22, culminating in a torchlight descent down the Sétaz slopes by professional skiers. The event is free to the public, with stands selling hot chocolate, mulled wine and crêpes.
Carnaval de Nice
The French Riviera heats up in February with one of the largest carnivals in the world, La Carnaval de Nice (February 13 to 28). Colorful processions with paper maché floats and over 1,000 musicians and dancers from around the world parade through the city day and evening, concluding with a giant musical celebration backed with lights on the Place Masséna. One of the public’s favorite traditions is the famous “Flower Battles,” a floral-themed parade along the seaside Promenade des Anglais, where mimosas, lilies and daisies are thrown to the cheering crowd. Anyone in fancy costume gets free entry to the Place Masséna’s evening celebrations.
Fete du Citron
The 83rd annual Lemon Festival (February 13 to March 2) celebrates Menton’s annual citrus harvest of lemons, oranges and grapefruit by decorating elaborate parade floats and setting up garden sculptures throughout the French Riviera seaside resort town. There is also an orchid festival and a local artisan market at Palais de L’Europe featuring the best products from the region. While you’re there, don’t forget to try Menton’s legendary tarte au citron!
On Achève les Anges Equestrian Show
The winter’s most talked-about event in Paris is the latest Zingaro equestrian show On Achève Bien les Anges (They Shoot Angels, Don’t They), a magical performance combining theater, dance, music, acrobatics and poetry under the direction of the troupe’s enigmatic maestro, Bartabas. It’s a dreamlike cabaret of fallen angels, Fellinian clowns, blindfolded cavaliers and ghostly silhouettes performing in a haunting yet beautiful landscape — that said, this isn’t the best show for young ones — to the tunes of Tom Waits, Bach, Olivier Messiaen and others. All of the magic takes place at Zingaro’s whimsical wooden theater located just outside Paris at the Fort d’Aubervilliers. Due to demand, extra dates through February 28 were added.