Vignette: Snow Amongst the Olives
A winter wonderland is a rare but a beautiful sight on the French Riviera.
It rarely snows along the French Riviera and never, in my experience, at Christmas time. In all the 35 years I have lived on our olive farm I have only seen snow twice, on both occasions in February, our coldest and possibly bleakest month. Oh, but when it falls, snow on the olive trees is a stunning sight to behold.
Christmas for us is about sunshine, being out of doors until dusk falls when we slip inside to a roaring log fire. We enjoy lunches on one of our terraces or the joyous buzz of al fresco restaurants down at the beach. The beach restaurants do a roaring trade during the Christmas period. Italians from across the border dress themselves up in their elegant mink coats and snazzy leather boots and flock to spend days here in France.
They exchange their festive Prosecco for Champagne and toast the old year out and new year in. There are street markets everywhere, both the regular food markets but also brocante and antiques markets. Italians love these opportunities to snap up exquisite French jewellery and glassware which abounds on the stalls. The Palais in Cannes, where in May the red carpet welcomes the illustrious world of cinema to its film festival, at Christmas hosts a sumptuous antiques fair. If we are feeling flush, Michel and I will pay a visit, and I am invariably tempted by Art Deco glasses or tableware. Wine glasses frequently get broken if you use them on a daily basis, as we do, so I always have the excuse the following year to go back for another set!
A Season of Traditions
The religious aspects of Christmas in Provence remain packed with tradition, and I love the seasonal music in the churches. Hugely popular both with locals and tourists are the services held in Le Suquet, the oldest part of Cannes, at the Notre-Dame de Bonne-Espérance church. If you are in the neighbourhood, on Christmas Eve at 9pm you can watch an enactment of the shepherd’s story. A real shepherd wearing traditional costume and carrying a lamb brings offerings to the baby Jesus. This is followed by Christmas carols sung in Provençal. Always makes me weep!
The Provençal Christmas officially starts on December 4 and continues until Candlemas on February 2. We have two churches in our local village of Le Cannet. Sainte-Philomène sits at the foot of Le Cannet’s oldest quarter, with its fabulous hilly street of Saint-Sauveur full of artisan boutiques and excellent restaurants.
Midnight mass is celebrated in this église. There is another church, a chapel, tucked away, and a must-see for tourists, Sainte-Catherine. In this hidden 16th century sanctuary, you will find a traditional crêche, nativity crib, adorned with dozens of Santons. These are the Provençal figurines placed in the cribs to pay homage to baby Christ. Santons were originally created in Marseille during the French Revolution when churches were forcibly closed and nativity scenes were outlawed. Artisan Jean-Louis Lagnel crafted the clay figurines and people built cribs illegally in their homes.
But, if Christmas without snow is not Christmas for you, there are daily buses from Nice, which deliver you to the resorts, one hour inland, where you can ski in the fresh powder and work off the 13 Provençal Christmas dishes traditionally served after midnight mass.
From France Today magazine
Lead photo credit : Carol in the snow
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