The Christmas season is officially over. Kings Day was this past weekend and I was lucky enough to see the most beautiful parade in Sanary sur Mer, The Var. The costumes were amazing and I thought it was such a great way to close the holiday season.
I have enjoyed a glorious six weeks traveling to many of the different towns along the coast in the Var. I think I saw just about every Christmas market in the area and with that said, here are a few of my favorites.
Sanary Sur Mer
By far, my favorite was Sanary sur Mer. There didn’t seem to be an inch of the town that wasn’t shining in bright lights. There was a beautiful nativity scene set up in the center of town and the boats lit up in the port is one of the most beautiful scenes I have ever seen.
There was a carnival for the kids and of course, Le Père Noël (Santa) can be visited on most days. I am lucky enough to now be living in Sanary and even though I was in town often, I never tired of the festivities. In fact, I found it jaw-dropping every time.
Bandol is always so nice to walk through. There are many shops and cafes along the port and there is never a lack of animation. I was there when they had a big ceremony to turn on the Christmas lights. It was really fun and it was so fun to see the locals gathered around in
excitement. Kids got up and read poems and once it was officially sundown, the Mayor declared it was time to turn on the lights and with a click of a finger, the whole town lit up. It was beautiful and there was no lack of excitement in the air. To celebrate, there was a parade of
gigantic polar bears along with some interesting dancers and acrobats. It was really cool.
During the month, I was able to witness the parade of Santas who were in hundreds on motorcycles. All of these Santas were very into it and they waved and beeped their horns while some of them couldn’t help but rev their engines. They were having a ball and it rubbed off on anyone that was witnessing the scene.
Toulon was adorned with colorful lights throughout the town. They had a nice market with food stalls selling mulled wine, crepes, oysters,,, and anything you’d want relating to the season.
A skating rink was buzzing and the Christmas tunes were on keeping every dancing and singing on the ice. It was a lovely display.
In the middle of the town, they’d set up a giant maze of Christmas decorations and winter scenes. I loved watching all the kids as their eyes opened wide while they passed the many themes that were created along the walk. Each scene was as wonderful as the next. I would say that Toulon did a really good job of creating a magical scene for their townspeople.
When the holiday season started I kept hearing about La Garde. I have been there many times as I have family living there. The old part of town is really magical and I have great memories of spending a couple of weeks there in a tiny apartment when my children were
Now, 30+ years later I am re-discovering La Garde at Christmas. The Christmas market was not in the old town (Vielle Garde) but was in the center of the main town. I was absolutely blown away by this market. It is set up as a big square and is lined with
one Christmas stall after another. The lights were amazing and there were a couple of areas that were set up as an open-air restaurant. Like a food court. There are lots of tables in the middle which are surrounded by the many different food stalls that were selling everything from crepes to mulled wine. There was music and the mood was very festive. I got a kick out of the fact that most of the music that was blaring was classic American Christmas songs. Apart from that, the scene was very French.
Along with some mulled wine, I enjoyed a traditional bite known as Cade (also known as Socca). This is a local dish that is made from chickpeas. It is often compared to a pancake but it is thicker than a pancake. It is cooked in a cast iron pan in an open brick oven. Similar to a pizza. The moment it comes out, it is scraped out of the pan into large pieces and piled onto a paper dish. Then, it is sprinkled with salt and lots of pepper. I love it and it is just the right thing for a cold winter night.
La Garde was special. The lights were amazing and there was enough to keep everyone busy. It’s not the biggest market but it feels very very Christmasy. I highly recommend it.
Le Castellet is already so charming because it is so ancient and so tiny so you can only imagine the magical feel here during the Christmas season. Many cute and authentic shops are decorated for the holidays. The Christmas lights are subtle but just enough to make this little village feel like a scene out of a children’s book. The shop windows are lit up with some goodies tempting you to peek inside. I find the shopkeepers very friendly here and it is a pleasure to browse around. I love this village all year round but during this season I went there a few times. It was very pretty and inviting. The views from Le Castellet are amazing as it sits high on top of a hill. I
would have a little wander through if you’re in the area.
For years now, I have been celebrating the epiphany with the yummy Galette des Rois that I discovered in Paris many moons ago. What I’ve discovered here in Provence is that many traditions are unique to this area.
Did you know that Provence has its very own King’s cake?
It is made with confit des fruits and is more like a brioche. It is very pretty and many of the locals will tell you that this is the best one. I like it but I must say that I am partial to the Parisian version that is made with almond paste. I decided to keep testing them both, to be sure. LOL. It is a fun tradition and it gives a little kick to the post-holiday calm.
I also discovered that in Provence on Christmas Eve the table is adorned with 13 desserts. It represents Jesus Christ and the 12 apostles. I had never heard of this. Everyone does it and this tradition is as important for them as hanging a stocking is for us. What are the 13 desserts?
Each home has its own traditions but the main items are dried fruit, nuts, and La Pompe a L’huile. La Pompe a l’huile is a brioche style cake that is made with fleur d’oranger. I loved it. It is very light and is more like bread than cake. I really enjoyed discovering all of these different desserts. France is just loaded with tradition and this season was no exception.
Probably my favorite discovery of this season is that I learned that “Jesus was born in Provence”. This was a song I heard someone singing at one of the events in Sanary sur Mer. There was a little stage set up and people were getting up and singing their favorite Christmas songs. Well, when this one started, the whole crowd started singing along. I laughed and cried at the same time. Everyone was so into it that I got caught up in the emotion while at the same time I was laughing thinking to myself… Was he born in Provence? If you haven’t heard it, here it is on Spotify with the words.
Last but not least, on the day of the epiphany which is on the 6th of January, I witnessed a beautiful parade that walked through Sanary sur Mer. The costumes were fantastic and I thought it was such a nice way to close the season. Once again, the townspeople were all lined up on either side of the street (that sits just in front of the harbor) with anticipation of seeing the Three Kings and their entourage walk by. It was a beautiful parade and I just loved that so many people participated in this event.
That’s my small take on the Christmas season in Provence, particularly in the Var (this year). I do encourage anyone who is visiting to check out these towns. I will say that there wasn’t one village or city that I visited that wasn’t animated. You cannot go too wrong if you’re looking for a Christmas vibe. I found it everywhere I went.
If you could only choose one? I would go to Sanary sur Mer. In my opinion, this was the most beautiful. The lights alone were the prettiest I’ve ever seen and constant activities are going on throughout the entire month. They even had fireworks at least four times! Truly
amazing and almost over the top.
Here’s to a New Year and a great 2024. Bonne Année!
Have you ever visited the Var at Christmas? Please share your experience with us below.
SUBSCRIBE TO OUR NEWSLETTER