My childhood memories of Christmas are as foolishly sentimental as any Hallmark holiday classic. I loved everything about this time of year, from the school concerts, homemade baking and holiday crafts to the predictable Canadian Tire commercials and fabulous Woodward’s window displays. Christmas Eve seemed never-ending to me, as I would awaken each hour until 5:30 am when I felt it was reasonable to wake the rest of my family.
While my excitement for the season has faded over the years, I still yearn for the togetherness and childlike spirit that emerges during the holidays. With my family spread out across the country, I decided that a trip to Paris might be just what I needed to rekindle the joy I have always felt the night before Christmas.
City of Light
With its ornate window displays, bustling Christmas markets, outdoor skating rinks and delicious holiday fare the City of Light shines even brighter during the Christmas season. There is something very special about visiting a city during a time when love and merriment emanates from its core.
When I first set my eyes on Paris covered in a dusting of snow and all aglow from the twinkling holiday lights, the nostalgic feelings I had from Christmases past came flooding back. Fuelled with piping hot Café au lait and buttery croissants, I took Paris by storm to tour its famed holiday attractions.
Marché de Noel
Adopted from 14th century Germany, Parisian Christmas Markets have become a beloved holiday tradition for locals and visitors alike. Each year around the third week of November hundreds of quaint wooden chalets synonymous with Marché de Noel appear to commence the Christmas season. From handcrafted wooden toys and glass ornaments to leather goods and textiles, the markets are the perfect place to select special gifts and mementos for friends and family back home.
My greatest pleasure however came from the yummy French delicacies on offer. The Vin Chaud chalet was always my first stop for a cup of spicy mulled wine to keep the winter’s chill at bay. Sipping my piping hot elixir I would peruse the fine holiday fare.
Dry cured sausages, soft-rind cheeses, quiches, pastries, baguettes, Nutella crepes, confectionaries, chocolate, loose-leaf tea and roasted chestnuts all artfully displayed to seduce the senses.
Foodie fanatics will favour the market at the Montparnasse Tower for regional gastronomic specialties; however the Champs-Elysées market on the world’s most beautiful avenue is a visual masterpiece with storybook chalets, thousands of glittering lights and an illuminated Ferris wheel.
Open Air Skating
Although I resemble a trembling, knock-kneed fawn whenever I don a pair of skates, and a rink without boards to provide balance is completely out of the question, there is something terribly romantic about the notion of open-air skating. Paris amplifies the romance. Imagine, if you will, the swishing sound of skates gliding along the ice, couples skating mitt-in- mitt, fragrant cups of Vin Chaud and the City of Light as your backdrop. This is all possible from the Eiffel Tower ice rink, situated on the 1st floor 52 metres above the French capital. For those with an aversion to heights – or long line-ups – Paris also offers ground-floor festive skating experiences. Steps from the Eiffel Tower, the open-air rink at Place de la Trocadero Christmas Market is free of charge and provides outstanding views of the city’s greatest landmark.
One of the larger rinks is in front of the architecturally spectacular Hotel de Ville, Paris’s city administration building located in the historic Marais district. Home to must-see historic attractions and galleries such as the Picasso Museum and a burgeoning fashion and foodie scene, the Marais neighbourhood blends 14th century opulence with trendsetting style.
Lights, Bows and Wreaths
Many of Paris’s treasured attractions dress for the holidays with extravagant displays of light and décor. For more than half a century the city’s two most glamorous department stores, Printemps and Galeries Lafayette on Boulevard Haussmann, have competed to outshine one another with glamour and glitz.
Elaborate light and window displays draw shoppers inside to a fantasyland of lavish ornaments, shimmering lights and, in Galeries Lafayette, a 20-metre tall Christmas tree displayed under the exquisite Belle Époque stained-glass dome.
Another beautifully decorated towering tree is found in the courtyard outside of Notre-Dame. While the cathedral’s gothic architecture and stained glass windows are an amazing sight in any season, a visit in the month of December offers special touches including a nativity scene and Christmas concerts. A Seine River Cruise is an excellent way to experience much of the city’s holiday finery. Yachts de Paris offers an intimate six-course dinner cruise prepared by the 2 Star Michelin Chef Guy Krenzer. The Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame and Hotel de Ville are just a few of the iconic monuments the boutique luxury yacht passes on its cruise through the heart of Paris.
There are countless museums and world-famous attractions in Paris, which can pack quite a punch on the pocket book in terms of cost. Purchasing a two, four or six day Paris Pass prior to your trip is a great way of planning your itinerary in advance while enjoying significant savings. An adult pass ranges from 105 to 186 Euros and includes an extensive 120-page guidebook, 2-day hop-on hop-off bus tour, a Metro card good for unlimited travel throughout Paris, Seine River Cruise, French wine tasting as well as access to upwards of 75 museums and attractions including Notre-Dame Cathedral, Palace of Versailles, Montparnasse Tower, Paris Opera House, Pantheon, Arc de Triomphe and the Louvre.
Booking a hotel in Paris may also be quite daunting, especially if it’s your first visit to the city. I chose the contemporary 46-room Color Design Hotel in the Bastille district for its central location and reasonably priced accommodations. Color Design is only 650 metres from a metro stop, a 15-minute walk from the Gare de Lyon, one of Paris’s largest train stations, and borders the ultra-cool Marais neighbourhood. The modern, minimalist rooms have extremely comfortable beds, include free Wi-Fi and start from just 104 Euros a night, which is an absolute steal in Paris.
My final recommendation for visiting Paris in the winter is be sure to dress for the weather. The city’s beauty is equalled by its chilly temperature, especially when the winds pick up over the Seine. Hats, gloves, scarves, warm socks and weatherproof shoes are a must to sustain long hours touring Paris. Of course if the weather proves to be too much, frequent stops at cozy patisseries, cafes and bars are a lovely way to temper the cold and sample some of Paris’s holiday cuisine.
Bonne Chance, Joyeux Noel & Bon Voyage!