New Year in France: traditional celebrations or something special? 

New Year in France: traditional celebrations or something special? 

Every culture and every country around the world has its own way of celebrating New Year’s Eve.
Why do the French call it Saint-Sylvestre?
What are their traditions?
Do they do New Year’s Eve differently in French-speaking countries?
There are two things to remember when it comes to celebrating and soaking up French customs: get your glad rags on and ring in the New Year!

The history of New Year’s Eve

Celebrating New Year’s Eve: it all began in World War I

1915: French soldiers were stuck in the trenches during WWI so the general staff decided to boost their morale. They gave out a bottle of fizz to every four soldiers on the Meuse front with one instruction: to open it at midnight! Alongside the bottle, every soldier was given a hamper with 100g of ham, 75g of jam, an orange, two apples and a cigar. It became an annual event covering the entire western front after that. 

1918: The soldiers took the tradition of celebrating the New Year home with them at the end of the war.

January 1st: a date fit for an emperor!

Why do we celebrate the New Year on January 1st? Because Julius Caesar said so! 

The Roman emperor established the date as the start of the New Year because of its association with Janus, the god of transitions, in Roman culture. 

Ancient Romans celebrated the Saturnalia in the lead-up to New Year’s Day. The celebrations took place during the winter solstice (around December 24th) and people gave each other money and wished each other well! 

The French had to wait until King Charles IX came to the throne for January 1st to become New Year’s Day, after hundreds of years of the Celtic New Year being in April in Europe.

Who is “Saint Sylvestre”?

The French call December 31st “Saint Sylvestre”. Saint Sylvester was the 33rd pope. Catholics believe that the Roman citizen made his name by protecting Timothy, a Christian from Antioch who died a martyr’s death for his faith. Sylvester was made pope in 314 and Christianity was recognised as a religion by the Roman Empire during his reign when Emperor Constantine I converted to it.

New Year’s Eve traditions

“Se mettre sur son 31”

This French idiom goes hand in hand with December 31st: “Se mettre sur son 31” means get your glad rags on, get dressed up. Where the 31 comes from isn’t quite as clear-cut. It may be a deformation of the medieval word “trentain”, a lavish cloth made of three lots of one hundred threads and used to make the finest clothes. Since only wealthy people wore trentain, the rest of the population didn’t know much about the fabric and may have understood it as trente-et-un. “Se mettre sur son 31” or “put on your glad rags” became a common saying to mean you were getting ready for a special occasion.

Mistletoe, kissing and Celts.

Mistletoe is a New Year symbol. It’s a must-have decoration for the holiday season hanging over doors and tables. You kiss beneath the branches for good luck in the New Year. Celebrating New Year under the mistletoe is a Celtic tradition: druids believed the sacred plant had magical powers because it’s evergreen (so it never ages or fades?). It became a lucky charm that is supposed to make women fertile, protect people from evil, bring wealth and prosperity… We’re going to get some mistletoe!

What’s on the New Year’s Eve menu in France? 

For a long time, the blow-out feast over the holiday season was just at Christmas. The NYE banquet began as a light supper with company before midnight mass. People would have a heavier meat-based meal after midnight, making it a “jour gras” or “fat day”.

There may not be a traditional meal for December 31st nowadays but some dishes have become New Year’s Eve signatures. Champagne tends to be served before dinner or to ring in the New Year at midnight. Small pastries, foie gras, oysters, snails, scallops and smoked salmon are among France’s favourite dishes at NYE with the Yule log making a comeback for dessert. 

Institut des Frères Lumière à Lyon<br />

Don’t miss the deadline to wish people a Happy New Year by January 31st!

It’s customary in France to wish friends and family a Happy New Year from January 1st onwards to give them good luck. People used to go and visit their loved ones, workmates, the needy, homeless and sick in the first fortnight of the New Year. Some replaced the somewhat onerous custom with cards to send their best wishes rather than having to go around the houses. They got out of it without looking rude by leaving a card to say Happy New Year at the front desk. The invention of the stamp and spread of printing in Europe meant “carte de voeux” were sent by post.

Top 3 unique New Year’s Eve events in France

Celebrate like royalty at Vaux le Vicomte

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte puts on a fairytale event for December 31st. An architectural sound and light projection lights up the castle walls in tribute to the château’s inauguration on August 17th 1661 which Nicolas Fouquet organised for the Sun King. Attendees of all ages play games in the French grounds, watch the animal ball in the Musée des Équipages and visit the beautifully decorated rooms. 

Swim in the Côte d’Azur

A dip in the sea is a tradition in Antibes! Locals have flocked to Plage de la Salis beach at 11am for over 20 years to wake them up from the last night’s shenanigans and start the New Year fresh-faced. The Day One d’Antibes association promotes the event and visitors to the region love it. After swimming in water that rarely gets above 15 degrees, the brave souls can warm up at the jazz concert and fireworks in the evening. 

Evening grape harvest in Gers

Now here’s a unique tradition in the Occitan region: a (very) late harvest that sees winemakers, locals and villagers pick the last of the sugary Pacherenc du Vic Bilh grapes in Viella village. The tradition dates back to 1991 when the spring frost meant winemakers had to wait a long time for the fruit to ripen on the vine… until New Year’s Eve! The unique harvest is followed by a communal meal at Château de Crouseilles. Guests pick twelve grapes off the last bunch when the clock strikes midnight!

Celebrating the New Year in France is an opportunity to discover the country in a relatively festive atmosphere, under the lights of Christmas. French New Year’s Eve is more a friendly or family celebration “at home”, but people are going out more and more, especially in cities, to celebrate the passage to the New Year in bars or in public squares… Champagne is always a must!

The Lyon Festival of Lights: the visitor guide

The Lyon Festival of Lights: the visitor guide

Millions of people flock to Lyon every year for the city’s popular Festival of Lights. The Capital of the Three Gauls lights up with thousands of candles to put on a magical show for visitors and locals alike on December 8th. It’s a golden opportunity to soak up the fairytale atmosphere as you explore the city at night. Here are some facts and top tips to help you squeeze every last drop out of the Lyon Festival of Lights, the 4th most popular festival in the world!

The Festival of Lights in figures

  • 20 kilometres:

That’s the distance between the first installation (usually Lyon Cathedral) and the last (often Hôpital Saint-Joseph Saint-Luc). You can feast your eyes on all the illuminations along the way but be warned, you certainly won’t be alone so keep a cool head! 

  • 2 million people

That’s how many people usually descend on the city for the 4-day event. The Council puts the figure at between 1.8 and 2 million with half from the Rhône region and 100,000 overseas visitors. That makes an average of 500,000 people exploring the streets of Lyon per day. 

  • Millions of tealights

The Festival of Lights is a record-breaker every year: 8 million tealights were sold in the Grand Lyon area in 2014, 12 million were used for a single installation in 2022 called Les Lumignons du Coeur! 

  • The world’s 4th most popular festival

The Festival of Lights is currently the 4th most loved event among its visitors and won the Best Public Event award in 2007!

The history behind the Festival of Lights

A 19th century tradition.

It all began in the 17th century when the plague reached the South of France. On September 8th 1643, Lyon Council began to pray to the Virgin Mary statue at Fourvière Church to spare Lyon from the epidemic. Their prayers were answered and there’s still a pilgrimage on September 8th to remember the event.

The Council was meant to unveil a statue by the sculptor Joseph Fabisch at the top of Fourvière during the pilgrimage on September 8th 1852. But the Saône flooded and delayed the inauguration until… December 8th. The weather had a mind of its own again on that day and put a damper on events. But things brightened up and the locals put candles in their windows to celebrate. The Church did the same and kept Fourvière lit up all night as the locals gazed in wonder. Flares, fireworks and candles: that’s the story behind the Festival of Lights.

A tradition rooted in Lyon’s cultural heritage

The Festival of Lights became Lyon’s official festival in a sign of faith. The custom of putting candles on your windowsill on the night of December 8th spread among families and religions from 1852 onwards.

The city’s mayor, Michel Noir, sparked (pun intended!) the tradition of illuminating Lyon’s landmarks and bringing the city to life with art installations in 1989. The festival has lasted 4 days since 1999 and is devoted entirely to the festivities and hosting millions of visitors.

Lyon and light: they go way back!

This event was meant to happen in Lyon! It ties in perfectly to the city’s history. Lights, sounds, colours… Does cinema come to mind? What about Auguste and Louis Lumière? The brothers who invented cinematography in 1896 in Lyon? Actually, Auguste also invented autochrome, the first colour film development process. 

Let’s not forget André-Marie Ampère, another bright spark from Lyon who became famous for his experiments with the electrical telegraph. A unit of electric current is even named after him: ampere.

Institut des Frères Lumière à Lyon<br />

An international festival

There are lots of reasons to describe the Festival of Lights as an international festival. 

Firstly, it celebrates artists from Lyon and overseas (11 foreign artists out of 37 in 2022) who hail mainly from Europe. 

It’s world famous and millions of visitors from all over the globe flock here to gaze at the interactive installations. 

Last but not least, the artistic sound and light creations go around the planet. The Festival of Light is a real laboratory and fantastic showcase for all the avant-garde, innovative and creative artists involved in illuminations and performance. Other cities have followed in Lyon’s footsteps and established their own Festival of Lights, including Dubai, Turin, Montreal and Rio de Janeiro.

Foreign visitors: here’s your Festival of Lights guide

Local lingo: what’s a lumignon?

They make the magic happen. They’re tealights in holders that the locals call lumignons or lampions. As soon as November comes around, the shops stockpile bags of these iconic ribbed tealights and glass holders. Locals and visitors light the candles and place them on their windowsills or on public squares on the night of December 8th

Wrap up warm

It’s cold in Lyon in winter, plus the Saône and Rhône riverbanks make it feel damp. So it’s best to wear the right clothing. Remember that Lyon is near the mountain so you can wear a ski suit… or a chunky jumper… or a flashy puffer to stay warm and toasty as you wander around the city all night!

Enjoy a mulled wine

It’s the festival’s go-to drink to warm your cockles (please drink responsibly). Hot and sweet red wine infused with oranges, ginger, cinnamon, vanilla and star anise. The sweet scent of spices is irresistible! Pick up a bretzel or praline brioche bun to go with it to boost your energy and keep you cosy!

Festival of Lights key sites

The Capital of the Three Gauls (find out more about Lyon’s history) plays host to 4 days jam-packed with installations and sights. Feast your eyes on the artwork and soak up the fairytale atmosphere with streets illuminated by millions of tealights on a 20km route through the city between the Saône and Rhône (with shortcuts in and out of the Pentes de la Croix-Rousse neighbourhood). 

The landmarks and squares set the scene for performances or video mapping, including Place Bellecour, Place des Terreaux, Place des Jacobins, Place de la République and Place des Célestins, Lyon Cathedral, Saint-Paul train station and Parc de la Tête d’or. From the Renaissance district to La Confluence, the entire city puts the spotlight on shows and installations that range from the traditional to the game-changing and unexpected. What’s the highlight of the Festival of Lights? Head up Fourvière hill to drink in views of Lyon from the church…

The work that the council, national and international artists and designers put into creating unique sights to showcase the city’s architecture is what makes the festival what it is. The views of the city at night are a sight for sore eyes for children and adults alike! The Festival of Lights is a unique event when visitors from all over the world can get together and literally invade the Capital of the Three Gauls! It may not be the quietest time to visit the city, but it is an international hotspot that provides a unique showcase for Lyon’s neighbourhoods and heritage! 

The Bouquinistes in Paris

The Bouquinistes in Paris

We love the Bouquinistes in Paris because these book stalls are a key part of the Seine banks’ landscape whether you’re on your way somewhere, relaxing on a stroll or visiting the city. The row of book stalls runs for hundreds of metres and people flock here to read, bargain hunt and chat to the managers of these coach green stands. Passersby stop here to find a specific tome or because a cover, vintage poster or unusual title has caught their eye. The Bouquinistes are Parisian landmarks in themselves, treasure chests and time capsules bursting with hidden gems if you take the time to look. 

Our visitors love them and they have had Intangible Cultural Heritage status in France since 2019, so let’s delve into the history of Bouquinistes.  

A few figures: 

  • 3km of book stalls 
  • +/- 230 booksellers in 2022 
  • 900-odd boxes
  • 300,000 antique or contemporary publications
  • 2019: Listed as Intangible Cultural Heritage in France 

Let’s speak “bouquiniste”

Root: “le boucquain”

Bouquiniste comes from the word bouquin, meaning book. It has been spelt this way since the 16th century. Its roots come from Flemish with the medieval Dutch word “boek” and its derivative “boeckin” meaning little book.

It first appeared in the Trévoux dictionary in 1752 which defined it as “sellers of old books, bouquins.”

The boîte: smart design and out of the box

Booksellers store all their merchandise in boîtes (the official technical term) rather than a bookshop or bookcase. The Town Hall allocates booksellers a box that is essentially like a safe. The boxes are specifically designed to melt into the Parisian landscape and match their surroundings. That means the boxes must be coach green to match the Wallace fountains and Morris columns, just like the very first métro. When open, the lid must not exceed 2.1m above ground level so as not to restrict the view for passersby. Most are in zinc-plated wood, patinated and even a little rusty from the fog and rain, but the boxes have withstood the elements. Some of them have been here for over 120 years!

Then it’s up to every bookseller to have their own signature, design and display style. A little red heart for must-read books, a cute gold peg to hang a new release on a string… It’s all about the boxes being in their element, whimsical and part of the Seine’s riverbanks. 

What does being a Bouquiniste involve?

If you want to be a Bouquiniste in Paris and have one or more boxes, you need to apply to the Town Hall for a 5-year tenancy contract. The outdoor booksellers don’t have to pay anything during the contract term: no rent or taxes but they must open their stall at least 4 days a week except in the event of bad weather. 

There are strict criteria regarding the items that a Bouquiniste can sell as a book stall “is and must fundamentally remain a book shop.” In other words, the stand is not the place for knick-knacks or souvenirs, despite the temptation to give into demand from tourists. That means a Bouquiniste can sell new or second-hand books, vintage newspapers and posters, etchings, postcards, vintage stamps, coins, medals, antiques and Paris souvenirs (the must-have Eiffel Tower keyring). 

Bouquiniste riverbank visitor trail

This open-air bookshop runs nearly 3km along the railings on both banks of the Seine. Here’s where to find them: 

  •  Right bank: between Pont Marie and Pont des Arts, Quai de l’Hôtel de Ville and Quai du Louvre
  •  Left bank: between Pont Sully and Pont Royal, Quai de la Tournelle and Quai Voltaire. 

The route is ideal for a stroll, browsing the green boxes and soaking up the architectural wonders along this part of the river: the Louvre, Institut de France, Hôtel de la Monnaie, île de la Cité, Notre-Dame, Conciergerie and more.

History of the Bouquinistes: the ad-lib book trade

The dawn of the printing press in 1450 and boom in the book trade saw small booksellers appear on the banks of the Seine: colporteurs who carried a basket around their neck or shoulders and estaleurs with trestles and canvases selling second-hand books on the riverbanks. Their meeting point and favourite place to sell was Pont-Neuf, built in 1606. 

But not everyone liked this ad-lib and unregulated trade, especially bookshops, so they campaigned for booksellers on the Pont-Neuf to be banned in 1649! It helped reduce unfair competition and restrict the spread of certain satirical gazettes and political or religious pamphlets which were on open display at these little Pandora’s boxes.

The Bouquiniste didn’t become a recognised profession until the First Empire when the administration listed it on the Paris Trade Register. 

They almost disappeared during the reign of Napoleon III when Baron Haussmann tried to rid the riverbanks of them for his urban landscape projects. But the Bouquinistes stood firm: they got the right to sell and leave their goods overnight at the retail point as well as the council officially recognising their boîtes

Bouquinistes, cultural references and heritage

Bouquinistes and their book stalls appear in countless films and TV programmes, old and new, French and foreign. Just take the 1959 film The Magnificent Tramp starring Jean Gabin, Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant walking along the riverbank, the daydreaming American Gil played by Owen Wilson in Midnight in Paris, Amélie and the cult series Emily in Paris.

The coach green boxes even inspired a Chanel catwalk show: Karl Lagerfeld brought the rows of book stalls to life, lining the catwalk for his 2018/2019 autumn-winter collection under the Grand Palais’ glass dome.

Watch the catwalk show

Paris, the only city in the world where a river
flows between two rows of books

Blaise Cendrars.

The Bouquinistes are part of Paris’ cultural and literary heritage: whether you’re a local, walker or visitor, it’s always worth stopping to chat to one of these passionate booksellers or dig around one of the boxes to unearth a souvenir, a unique copy of your favourite book, something to join your stamp or coin collection or a pretty souvenir from Paris. 

In recent developments, the 2024 Olympics and the Olympic torch parade through the streets of Paris have put the existence of Bouquinistes under threat. Their presence poses a safety risk and the rosy image this open-air bookshop has may well disappear. But remember, time after time, no matter the event or government, the booksellers have stood firm and managed to protect their stalls! 

So make the Bouquinistes a must-see sight as you explore the capital on your next language stay in Paris. 

Visiting the Braderie de Lille

Visiting the Braderie de Lille

Want to visit France while taking advantage of the country’s major popular events?

The Braderie de Lille is an opportunity not to be missed!

Go to Lille for a trip to the North of France, to the largest flea market in Europe. For a weekend, Lille becomes a vast bazaar of flea markets and mussels and chips!

A unique festive event that gives travellers the opportunity to learn the basics of flea markets and negotiation, and to discover the cultural and culinary traditions shared by thousands of visitors from France and around the world.

The Braderie de Lille in a few figures:

  • 10000 slots, totally free!
  • 100 km of stalls
  • 2.5 million visitors, bargain hunters, strollers, street vendors in 2019
  • 33 hours of non-stop clearance sale
  • Every 1st weekend of September

What is the origin of the Braderie de Lille?

The history of the Braderie de Lille goes back to the Middle Ages (first mentioned in 1127), we then spoke of “frank fair” when the town council of Lille authorised merchants from outside to come and sell without paying tax.

In the 16th century, the braderie became a large garage sale when servants were authorised to sell the objects accumulated in their master’s attics, once a year between sunset and sunrise.

This popular event in Lille has been represented several times by various artists, including the romantic painter Watteau, who devoted a now cult work to it: La Braderie de Lille in 1800.

How to prepare for the Braderie de Lille?

The Braderie de Lille can be summed up in 3 components: antiquing, popular festival and mussels and chips. Travel advice: a well-prepared bargain hunter is armed with patience, good shoes, an umbrella, and a shopping cart! Because the Lille weather in September can be capricious and disrupt the party.

At the clearance sale, you can find absolutely everything, from small everyday objects at 1 euro, to rare pearls, furniture and works of art not necessarily recognized, which are the delight of professional antique dealers and collectors. So much so that the event attracts curious people and experts from all over the world.

Lille, a city where the art of negotiation reigns

Negotiating the price of objects is part of the game at the Lille sale. The price is “indicative”! So you have to arm yourself with audacity and a gift of the gab, and engage in haggling in order to conclude the best transaction. As the people of Lille say: We speak the language of the banknote here!

The culture of commerce is anchored in the history of Lille, which has developed thanks to its function as a market place and trade since the Middle Ages.

Find the right way to buy well at the Braderie de Lille

The Braderie takes up the whole city, the linear stands cover kilometres of streets in the centre of Lille. So you have to be a strategist when you are a buyer and know the geography of the clearance sale well. You should know that each neighbourhood has its own “style” of objects and sellers. For example, for furniture lovers, it is better to go to the boulevards Louis XIV and de la Liberté; for toys, the appointment is mainly at Saint Sauveur station; in the realm of second-hand clothing, the Lebas park and the Foch and Dutilleul squares are transformed into a vast empty dressing room!

You inevitably find your favourite neighbourhood at the Braderie de Lille, and you always find something to bring back! Better to anticipate the space in the suitcase!

Traditions and attractions of the Braderie de Lille

One-upmanship on mussels and chips.

This is the essential dish for any participant in the Braderie de Lille. Traditional and fast, the favourite dish of bargain hunters and vendors is prepared by all the restaurants in the city, and is served on banquet tables. Sharing, feasting together at the same table: this is the soul of this popular festival.

The marinière mussels are number 1 in sales, but the Maroilles sauce holds its own, and delights the most seasoned palates. On average, 500 tons of mussels are cooked during the sale.

So what to do with the leftovers?

The people of Lille definitely like to outbid everyone else! Instead of being thrown away, the shells are carefully piled up to form the highest mound possible, setting new records every year. Head to Place Rihour to see the most spectacular piles of mussels.

And after ?

The mussel shells are finally collected and processed to be transformed into slabs of tiling… Nothing is thrown away, everything is recycled!

An extraordinary banquet at the Natural History Museum

La Braderie is synonymous with convivial banquets for bargain hunters and vendors… as well as for animals! Visitors can come for free to visit the toucan, bear cub, emu and other gorillas, positioned around a table in the main room of the Natural History Museum, an original way to discover animals in an unusual environment, seated to honour the tradition of the Braderie de Lille banquet.

Meet at La Vieille Bourse, for the book sale

Welcome to booksellers’ paradise! What an impression of grandeur on entering the Vieille Bourse de Lille, a remarkable building made up of 24 merchant houses. Its majestic and colourful facades, its lion heads and garlands, its Flemish mannerist architecture, combining Renaissance and Baroque, reveal all the wealth of 17th century merchants.

During this weekend of clearance sale, bulk paperbacks and beautiful books of all kinds cover the stalls arranged in this prestigious place. Our travellers and learners of French will be able to make great finds and slip a souvenir book into their luggage, perfect for continuing to work on the language of Molière…

Ready to take a trip to the country of the flea market?

The Vacances Actives agency offers the best welcome (and the best tables to devour local mussels and chips!) to travellers learning French. In Lille, we speak French, ch’ti, and the language of the nego! But travellers will not be the only ones to decipher the dialogues of Lille, as the Braderie attracts visitors from all over the world!

Write to contact@vacancesactiveslinguistiques  to prepare a colourful stay in Hauts de France!

A French stay in November: traditions and key destinations

A French stay in November: traditions and key destinations

All Saints’ holidays are the first two weeks of break given to French schoolchildren after the start of the school year. Still nostalgic of summer, but already immersed in the atmosphere of autumn, the shimmering colours of which brighten up the parks and gardens, families traditionally get together to experience a moment of remembrance at the time of the Feast of the Dead. On this occasion, the traditions are not so numerous and yet, All Saints’ Day is an essential step in the year for French families. Let’s see what are the customs and the gastronomic, cultural and tourist curiosities to discover during a language stay in France on All Saints’ Day.

A French stay on All Saints’ Day holidays: the traditions

From the Feast of the Saints to the Feast of the Dead

All Saints’ Day is a Catholic feast celebrated on November 1 in France in honour of God and all the saints. The French associate it – out of confusion and convenience of usage – with the Feast of the Dead which takes place the next day. However, only All Saints’ Day is a public holiday: it is this day that families choose to meditate and flower the graves. In a way, we are witnessing “chiaroscuro” celebrations: we go from light to shade, from the Feast of All Saints to the Feast of All the Dead!

chrysanthemes sur les tombes à la Toussaint
famille dans un cimetière à la Toussaint

All Saints’ Day: a cultural celebration more than a religious one

chrysanthemes de la Toussaint

We must warn foreign visitors, the cult of the dead in France is much prosaic and more reserved than in some countries, such as Mexico for example, where spectacular celebrations are traditionally held. 

The tradition of All Saints’ Day in France is that people go to the cemetery to pay homage to deceased loved ones and place flowers and candles on the graves, symbols of a happy life in the hereafter.

Chrysanthemums, even Marigolds, have the advantage over all other flowers, because they are the ones that resist the cold and humidity of autumn the best…

Who knows, perhaps global warming will modify these uses… During a stay in France for All Saints’ Day, you will be able to see to what extent the French are faithful to this ritual, not missing the appointment with their loved ones, beyond any religious conviction.

The “potato holidays”

vacances patates au champ

Historical anecdote: All Saints’ Day formerly coincided with the potato harvest. At that time, the whole family worked in the fields, and the children had to miss school! This is how the “potato holidays” were introduced. Nowadays, the expression still persists in certain French-speaking regions of Switzerland, for example, but it has been generally renamed “All Saints holidays”. So, dear students, ready for a “potato vacation” in France?

A French stay in November: gastronomy

Culinary rituals for All Saints’ Day are rare

patates et cepes

In France, as in other (Catholic) countries around the world, All Saints’ Day constitutes a moment of remembrance and gathering with family and ancestors, without fatal or nostalgic aspects. Gastronomy has its place at the heart of “celebrations”.

Against all expectations, France – despite being a gourmet – does not maintain proper culinary traditions for this occasion. While in other countries, the “meal of the dead” is a family feast to symbolically share the meal with their dead, there are very few All Saints recipes.

A few rare regional traditions persist in a very localized manner. For example, the pâté de poires de Fisée is a puff pastry cake with autumn scents (pears, sugar, cloves, wine and vanilla bean) which is eaten on All Saints’ Day in the Pays de Bray in the north-west of France. 

Or niflettes, a pastry originating from the town of Provins, in Seine-et-Marne, a traditional All Saints’ Day tart close to Portuguese Pasteis de Nata.

pâté de poires de Fisée

Good products of Autumn

So if our students and foreign travellers come to stay in France on All Saints ‘Day, what should they expect at their hosts’ tables? As the air cools and winter draws closer, the All Saints’ Day holidays are an opportunity to start a cure of restorative good things to prepare for hibernation!

Comforting recipes based on forest products and the first winter vegetables arrive on the plates: mushrooms, chestnuts are roasted while the pumpkin, Halloween star, is transformed into soup and as an accompaniment to roasted chickens! We prepare quince paste, we taste the pear in all its forms and we finish with a Périgord walnut cake for dessert!

noix du Perigord
potirons et citrouilles
chataignes grillées

Which destination to choose to travel in France in November ?

It’s hard to choose where to stay in France for All Saints’ Day, there are so many choices! Granted, cemeteries are not necessarily the first sites to visit that come to mind. However, France holds immense and particularly surprising famous cemeteries, as famous as the personalities they shelter. So let’s go for a brief overview of the curious cemeteries of France, which may, who knows, make you lean towards an Autumn holiday destination…

Visit Paris and Père Lachaise

paris cimetiere pere lachaise

Direction Paris 20th district and Père Lachaise, where the visitors enter a maze of 70,000 concessions, “to meet” Molière, Balzac, La Fontaine, Apollinaire, Oscar Wilde for literary artists, Chopin, Maria Callas, Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison… for musicians… It is an opportunity to dive into both the history and culture of France by retracing the biographies and successes of each of these French and international personalities. A true open-air museum not to be missed during your language stay in Paris!

More about our language stay in Paris

Visit Paris, and the Van Gogh cemetery

auvers sur oise cimetiere van gogh

About thirty kilometres from Paris, we reach Auvers-sur-Oise. In this green hamlet, we follow a pilgrimage in homage to Van Gogh, where the Dutch painter produced 70 paintings, inspired by local architecture in particular, and spent the last days of his life there close to his brother. The cemetery of Auvers-Sur-Oise is one that can be visited just for one name. Here, we find the two symmetrical, moving stelae of Theodore and Vincent Van Gogh.

Visit Normandy and the American cemetery

 The VAL agency offers cultural stays in Normandy : on All Saints’ Day, there is the opportunity to walk along the landing beaches and to visit the American cemetery of Colleville-sur-Mer (“Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial”), overlooking Omaha Beach. It brings together the graves of American soldiers fallen in combat, most of them on D-day on Omaha Beach, June 6, 1944. Moving, impressive (70 ha in area), it commands respect and recognition by its immensity and sobriety. It is another crucial step to discuss a phase of world history with students and foreign visitors.


cimetiere americain normandie
cimetiere americain normandie

Visit Provence and the cemeteries of Sète

The southern destinations are appropriate to stay in France on All Saints’ Day for those who fear the humidity of October! The Côte d’Azur warms up and Provence is just as welcoming and conceals mortuary curiosities that are just as surprising! If you opt for a language travel to Nice, why not take a detour to Sète, where two poets rest, two virtuosos of the French language in different styles: Paul Valéry and George Brassens. In a peaceful setting of pines, cypresses and a sea horizon, the Saint-Charles de Sète cemetery has been renamed “Marine cemetery” in reference to the poem by Paul Valéry, whose tomb is the star of this place. In the more popular Py cemetery, the songwriter George Brassens rests under a cypress.

Sète tombe de Paul Valéry
port de Sète

Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,

Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes ;

Midi le juste y compose de feux

La mer, la mer, toujours recommencée !

Ô récompense après une pensée

Qu’un long regard sur le calme des dieux !


Paul Valéry, le cimetière marin, 1920.

The stay in France on All Saints’ Day ends with this poem by Paul Valéry, and many inspirations for an upcoming fall trip to France!

A language stay in France at Christmas time

A language stay in France at Christmas time

Are you planning a language and cultural stay in France for Christmas? Prepare for a marathon of traditions, culinary and festive experiences to share with family or groups of travelling friends! Although France is a secular country, Christmas remains a public and widely celebrated holiday, topped off with a hearty meal and an exchange of gifts.

Choosing the end of year celebrations to visit France and perfect your learning of the French language is a divine opportunity to soak up the magic of Christmas and enjoy moments of fervour and sharing.

Good reasons to organize a language stay in France at Christmas

1. Experience the magic of Christmas in France

Taking a trip to France during the end of year celebrations give a touch of magic and enchantment to your linguistic and cultural stay. Students and travellers learning the French language, if they choose to set sail at this time of year, can enjoy French culture in its most traditional, hieratic aspects, discovering both religious and lay people, even within local families. They can soak up the marvellous spirit of decorations, animations, in the streets as in the houses, and of the imagination around Santa Claus or his regional variants, whether they are believers or not.

2. Prepare the start of January in the best conditions

It is also a pivotal period in the year of French as a Foreign Language students, after 3 months of theoretical courses. This is a key moment for learners to put into practice all the teachings of the first trimester. A language stay is therefore welcome to test the knowledge, ideally by being hosted by the locals, in immersion with a French host family. It is an opportunity to start again in January with a good linguistic basis and prepare the rest of the year in the best conditions.

Paris à Noel - Metro illuminé
famille et arbre de Noel

Studying and visiting France in the magic of Christmas

The magical atmosphere of illuminated cities

Countries across the Atlantic and Western Europe have this in common: in December, public spaces and homes are adorned with their most beautiful attire to celebrate this special month of Christmas and the New Year. Cities and neighbourhoods compete in beauty with the decorations, light garlands and majestic trees that sit in the main places or in front of town halls. However, the trend in French municipalities is now towards energy saving and ecological decorations… The number of illuminated streets is reduced, LEDs have replaced light bulbs, and the green firs of the forests are transformed into cardboard trees or luminous tubes.


The tradition of tree and red balls


Decorating the Christmas tree at home is an essential moment of sharing within French families, long awaited by the little ones who will have the honour of positioning the star on the tip of the tree. Originally, families hung fruit, especially apples. In the Vosges region, in the middle of the 19th century, a major drought hit the production of apples. To compensate for the absence of this elementary fruit in the Christmas decoration, a glassblower recreated the apples in red glass. In absence of the edible ones, these ornamental apples quickly became a decorative tradition throughout France and beyond. 

The tradition of santons: a Provence destination

fabrication des santons

To celebrate Christmas, some families set the nativity scene, placed near the Christmas tree and made of santons. The tradition appeared in Provence, inspired by an Italian custom. The term comes from the Provencal “santoun” (translated as “little saints”), representing small figurines in local clay, painted and assembled to form the nativity scene. 

If you decide to organize your language study trip in the South of France, you will see how much this tradition of santons is still very present in Provence, so that santon fairs are organized throughout the region, the largest being the one from Marseille.

Christmas markets: destination Strasbourg


Spending a cultural stay in the Alsatian region for Christmas is a chance!  Strasbourg was designated Capital of Christmas in 1992, a well-deserved title which can be explained by a very old Germanic tradition. The first Christmas market in Strasbourg was held in 1570! Students, learners, and FLE teachers will stroll through the Marché des Délices, the Carré d’Or market or the Irréductibles market, in front of the marvellous stands of the craftsmen, and under the sparkling lights of the Baccarat crystal chandeliers. 

An ideal enchanting break to find the small souvenir and handcrafted gift (no tourist trap here!) that will hit the mark once back home. 

Finally, the Strasbourg Christmas market is the time to warm up with gastronomic specialties to enjoy on the go. The pretzel kugelhopf, moricettes or mannala abound on the tantalizing stalls. The essential and traditional drink that can be found in all the Christmas markets in France is mulled wine, a suave beverage made from red wine infused with cinnamon, orange and other spices that warm hearts and minds.

vin chaud noel
marche-de-noel alsace

The Christmas decoration of stores: destination Paris

Paris offers a unique magical spectacle thanks to the decorations on the windows of the capital’s department stores. Galeries Lafayettes, Samaritaine, BHV and other major brands play the escalation of lights and entertainment to dazzle passers-by. The windows are transformed into a puppet theatre, a cabaret, a fashion show, a magical festival of ingenuity and creativity for the pleasure of all. 

Paris vitrine-grands-magasins Noel
Paris vitrine-grands-magasins Noel
Paris vitrine-grands-magasins Noel

For a gastronomic trip to Christmas: very gourmet France

The hearty Christmas Eve meal

Traditionally, the French like to get together during the Christmas holidays around hearty meals, where quality products are honoured. Beware of indigestion for foreign travellers! At the table of French hosts, there will be essentials: foie gras, oysters, smoked salmon and turkey with chestnuts, the winning quartet of the dinners on December 24 (and the days that follow for that matter). If the stomachs are still hungry, we must do justice to the Yule log (lined with vanilla butter cream, surrounded by a chocolate ganache) which ends the Christmas Eve meal, among other chocolates, clementines and candied chestnuts.

Your stay then turns into an exceptional culinary marathon! And the restaurants don’t break with tradition, restyling “in their own way” these great gastronomic end of year classics, enjoying the pleasure of presenting them to visitors from other countries.

Perhaps this focus on regional Christmas gastronomic rituals will help travellers choose the destination for their next stay in France…


Christmas in Provence

repas de noel-nougat-provence

If you are spending your end-of-year holidays in Provence, your stay will be punctuated by tasting the 13 Christmas desserts! They personify the 13 members of the Last Supper. The Mediterranean diet satisfies the sweet tooth this time! We find the traditional bread in olive oil flavored with citrus zest called “oil pump”, nuts, dried figs, raisins, dates, quince paste, various candied fruits , white nougat, black nougat (with toasted almonds and caramelized honey), red nougat (with pistachios and rose), oranges, clementines, watermelon and the famous Calissons d’Aix-en -Provence. 

Christmas in Alsace


Baking with the family a month in advance is part of the art of living and the unconditional traditions of Alsatian Christmas. We make all kinds of Christolles, Mannele and Bredele, a multitude of cookies, brioches and other sweets illustrating the themes and characters of Christmas and Saint Nicolas. The gingerbread flavoured with cinnamon, cardamom, almonds and honey, also accompanies the snacks in December since the sixteenth century!

Each region and each family has its own specialty and customs. The end of the year celebrations bring joy and fervour, unique and culturally rich experiences for travellers. Language immersion in France at Christmas will be bright and delicious!

However, beyond the borders, it seems that a common tradition of Christmas continues, whatever the cultures and the ages…the ugly sweater! With it, travellers will not feel out of place! Think about it, you will succeed in your integration for sure!