Christmas in Europe would not be complete without a visit to at least one of its charming Christmas markets. If you happen to be in Provence in December, do not miss the Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market. Aix, a gorgeous town originally founded by the Romans more than two millennia ago, becomes even more attractive during the holiday season.
In this practical guide, we will tell you about the:
- Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market
- International Market of Sister Cities
- Nativity Scene Fair
- Christmas Carousels for Kids
- 13 Desserts Market
- Largest Christmas tree in Aix
- Santa’s Mail Box
- Best holiday drinks in Aix
- Christmas carols in Aix
- The Three Wise Men Parade
Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market
The Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market (Marché de Noël d’Aix-en-Provence) used to normally end by Christmas Day but for the first time in 2018, the market is scheduled to run from Nov 21 to Dec 31, every day, including Christmas Day. This is great news for those who wish to spend time in Aix during the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s. A few years ago, the one time we actually stayed in town for Christmas and New Year’s, the usually bustling town on Aix turned into a ghost town. So having the market still on during that time is a welcome change.
The market’s wooden huts line the main drag of Aix – the Cours Mirabeau. Here, you will find anything from local Provencal products to hand crafted toys and delicious mulled wine. There is even a magician teaching his craft to an ever present group of youngsters.
International Market of Sister Cities
Aix-en-Provence has several sister cities throughout the world. A few of them participate in the International Market of Sister Cities (Marché International des Villes Jumelles) but only for a few days. This year, it ran from Nov 30 to Dec 5, 2018. The cities that participated were Perugia (Italy), Askhelon (Israel), Tübingen (Germany), Pecs (Hungary) and Carthage (Tunisia).
Although this is a separate market from the Christmas one, I include it here because it runs alongside the Christmas Market, although for only six days, as mentioned before. Here you can buy delicious delicacies from each of these cities. I, myself, try not to miss the sauerkraut from the German stall and the falafel from the Israeli one.
Nativity Scene Fair
In 2018, you can catch The Nativity Scene Fair (Foire aux Santons) between November 23 and January 4 (except Christmas Day). Here, local artisans present their meticulous craft. At this fair, you will be able to buy everything you might possibly need for your Provencal-style Nativity scene: from little human figurines to an entire village complete with buildings. It’s worth a visit to learn about the local Christmas traditions.
Christmas Carousels for Kids
The little ones are not forgotten at this market. There are plenty of rides for ages from little tykes to pre-teens. Our 10-year old especially enjoys the bumper cars. And don’t forget to grab some roasted chestnuts or cotton candy from the local sellers after the fun rides.
13 Desserts Market
This dessert market (Le marché des 13 Desserts) runs from December 14 to 24. This market is worth a visit if you want to learn more about Provencal Christmas traditions and the significance of 13 desserts.
Giant Christmas Tree
This largest Christmas tree (sapin géant) in Aix can be found at Place des Prêcheurs in front of the Church of Mary Magdalene (Église de la Madeleine). In 2018, it stands 13 metres tall surrounded by giant presents.
Santa’s Mail Box
Looking for a place to mail a letter to Santa? No problem. The city of Aix has thought of everything. Right next to the giant Christmas tree, you will find Santa’s Mail Box (boîte aux lettres du Père Noël).
Warm up with a hot drink
All that walking around town can leave you chilled especially if Mistral is blowing on the day of your visit, so you might want to warm up with a hot drink.
We have several favourites. At the Christmas Market on Cours Mirabeau, you will find both mulled wine (vin chaud) and mulled beer (bière chaude). Both are good, but our favourite mulled wine can be found at a little “hole-in-the-wall” place called Aux Petits Oignons (2 rue Peyresc). We love it because it is made according to a Scandinavian recipe and it has that extra oomph. However, it is only being served till the weekend before Christmas.
If you are not a wine or beer drinker, you might want to try a grog (rum drink) at L’Unic Bar (40 rue Vauvenargues).
For the younger generation and those who prefer non-alcoholic drinks, you will be able to get a hot chocolate or tea at most establishments.
Christmas Carols in Aix
No holiday is complete without music and when you are in Aix you should search out traditional Provencal Christmas carols (chants de Noël). In 2018 alone, there are 63 free concerts throughout the region, several of which take place in Aix. You can find the the entire 2018 program here.
However, if you happen to be walking around Aix during Christmas time, you might just stumble upon Christmas carolers on the street, which is always a treat.
The Three Wise Men Parade
What’s great about France (and other Mediterranean countries) is that the holiday season doesn’t just end with New Year’s. There is always Epiphany on January 6 that celebrates the Three Wise Men (or the Three Kings). This holiday, is, in fact, our son’s favourite. And I bet most kids probably feel the same. Why? Because this is the holiday when camels and other animals make their appearance on Cours Mirabeau, the main street in the Old Town of Aix. The Three Wise Men are also there in their full regalia. As well, locals in traditional clothing dance on the street and sing traditional Provencal Christmas carols. It’s great fun for the whole family.
Well, I hope I have convinced you to visit the Aix-en-Provence Christmas Market. Aix is a small city with a big heart and it does all holidays with great pomp. You will not be disappointed.
Where in the world is your favourite Christmas market? Let us know in comments below. And if you haven’t subscribed yet to our blog, please do so. And if you liked this article, please share it with your friends.
P.S. Looking for other things to do in the south of France during winter? Then check out our post about Christmas in the French Alps.