SO, WHAT’S SO GOOD ABOUT PARIS IN THE WINTER?
The thing we especially look forward to at this time of year is heading to the northern hemisphere for a couple of weeks. It’s a welcome break from heat, humidity, and right now the heartbreaking drought conditions that’s affecting so much of our wide, brown (read: burnt) land. We love the whole, over-the-top festive razzamatazz that takes over our favourite cities such as London and of course Paris.
London has its Regent Street lights, great department store decorations, wonderful Christmas concerts and the magnificent traditional church services at Westminster Abbey, St Pauls Cathedral as well as neighbourhood churches who often have very fine choirs that enhance their special seasonal services.
In Paris, the launch of the Christmas festivities starts—this year on 20 November—with the celebration on the Champs Elysees, when a celebrity has the honour of flicking the switch (or is it pushing a button?), that turns on the Christmas lights along the city’s main thoroughfare, which features a different colour scheme each year. There are said to be over 150 Parisian streets and 70 neighbourhoods across the city that are enlivened by twinkling lights and decorations strung across the streets, garlands of lights, shimmering trees and multi-coloured Christmas tree bulbs.
We love the different Christmas markets that set up in various locations, although the city’s biggest is in the Tuileries. For many years this market was located at the bottom of the Champs Elysees around the Rond Point. Two years ago, the decision was made to relocate it as every year, the market got bigger and bigger to the point that traffic congestion became a nightmare, and the vast crowds ambling and strolling became too much. We love the stands of kitschy gifts, handmade toys, delicious gingerbreads, copious cups of hot, spicy vin chaud, or gluhwein, and trying the many special seasonal breads, cakes, cheeses and other gastronomic treats.
There are lots of seasonally-specific outdoor activities in Paris from December until March. Probably the most famous is the enormous outdoor skating rink that is set up outside the magnificent Hotel de Ville for the annual Patinoires de Noël (Christmas Ice-skating). There’s another rink at the Trocadero, one at the Grand Palais under the glass cupola, and this year there’s one on the rooftop of Galeries Lafayette in the Boulevard Haussmann. There’s even an elevated rink on top of the giant arch at La Defence, but the most exclusive would have to be the very glamorous skating rink, 60 metres above ground at the Eiffel Tower.
A less energetic pursuit is a leisurely saunter along the Bvd. Haussmann to admire the Christmas window displays of Galeries Lafayette and Printemps department stores and BHV on rue de Rivoli, which has recreated the famous Christmas market of Strasbourg. Don’t forget the beautiful Bon Marché Rive Gauche on the edge of St Germain des Pres, or the five Monoprix stores in the city.
It’s always worth a stroll down the very smart Faubourg Saint-Honoré and Avenue Montaigne, which both offer a shimmering journey of festive lights sure to enchant. This year, the Comité Montaigne revealed their special program called Christmas Montaigne featuring magical shop and street décor, animations, tastings, with stores open on Sundays, and their Sapins de Noel des Créateurs (Designers’ Christmas Trees), where 20 artists and designers have put their creative talents to decorate trees which are displayed in front of the theatre and inside the mega-deluxe Plaza Athénée hotel, where they will be auctioned as a fundraiser for cancer research.
If you’re a sweet-tooth, Paris is gastronomic heaven at this time of year! Pastry chefs at Ladurée, Lenôtre, La Maison du Chocolat, Pierre Hermé are just some of the countless chefs in the nation’s patisseries working themselves to a standstill to create the best, most exceptional Yule logs (Bûches de Noel): the most original, the most beautiful and the most exquisite.
Paris always has wonderful shows and spectacles during the festive season. These are just a few of the offerings around now:
North of the city at the magnificent Chateau de Chantilly, is a special Christmas family show featuring the famous horses, called ‘Alice et le Manège Enchante’ (Alice and the Enchanted Merry-go-round), featuring horses, equestriennes, acrobats, comedians, and Alice’s friends, Snow White, Cinderella and the Little Mermaid, all under a 13m high dome.
As well, the chateau’s grounds are illuminated with magical lighting and festive decorations, there are wooden chalets with delicious treats, and the chateau’s chapel has special Nativity Scenes on display.
For all ages who love first-rate circus, head to the Hippodrome Paris at Longchamp for ‘Le Monde de Jaleya’ by Cirque de Paname (Circus of Panama), somewhat reminiscent of the Cirque du Soleil form of circus with amazing acrobatics, incredible costumes and stunning visual effects.
For the adults who enjoy a bit of retro pop, the Casino de Paris cabaret has a new show, a homage to Johnny Hallyday, called “L’Idole des Jeunes” (Youth Idol). The oldest cabaret in Paris, the Paradis Latin in the Latin Quarter of the 5th arrondissement, has just started its seasonal show, ‘L’Oiseau Paradis’, and the Christmas show at the Lido de Paris, on the Champs Elysees is called ‘Paris Merveilles’.
The much-loved Théâtre du Châtelet has finally re-opened after a massive renovation, with their special winter show, George Gershwin’s ‘Un Américain a Paris’. A welcome return to the city’s theatre scene is a hilarious show called ‘How to Become Parisian in One Hour’ at the Théâtre des Nouveautés in Bvd Poissonniere in the 9th arr. This show has become a classic of Parisian humour interpreted in English, with hysterically funny results.
The winter months, especially during the Christmas/New Year period always has the best of the year’s exhibitions. This year the most highly anticipated is the blockbuster Leonardo da Vinci exhibition at the Louvre, marking the 500th anniversary of his death. A first in Paris, entry is only by pre-booked ticket.
Aside from the da Vinci exhibition, the largest show in Paris is at the Grand Palais, which has a huge Toulouse Lautrec retrospective, titled ‘Resolutely Modern’. More than 200 works are on show along with some of his correspondence with his friends Manet, Degas, Forain and Ingres. This incredible show is in collaboration with the Quai d’Orsay, the Musée de l’Orangerie and the city of Albi’s Musée Toulouse-Lautrec
The Centre Pompidou has a special exhibition for the winter season dedicated to the British artist Francis Bacon. For something completely different, the Espace Lafayette-Drouot in rue du Faubourg Montmartre in the 9th arr., has ‘The World of Banksy: The Immersive Experience’ featuring sensational photographs of over 100 of the much-loved street artist’s work.
The Conciergerie has a very interesting special exhibition dedicated to perhaps their most famous prisoner, Marie-Antoinette, with objets d’art and archival material relating to her life in this once forbidding prison.
For fans of JRR Tolkien, the place to go is down the river to the Bibliothèque Nationale de France at the Site Francois Mitterrand on Quai Francois Mauriac in the 13th arr. The BNF has a huge retrospective, in collaboration with the Bodleian Library, Oxford University, called ‘Tolkien, Voyage en Terre du Milieu’ (Journey to Middle Earth) in honour of the works of the celebrated author of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit stories. The exhibition also has engravings, paintings, objects and historic manuscripts as well as correspondence and Tolkien family memorabilia.
For music lovers, there is a special series of concerts at the Philharmonie de Paris by the visiting Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra from Amsterdam as well as Christmas concerts by the Orchestre de Paris. There’s also a program of jazz at the Philharmonie and a lovely exhibition of 40 years of opera costumes from the Opera de Paris, the Opéra-Comique and various other French companies, at the Musée de la Musique.
There’s a full ballet program at the Palais Garnier this winter with such works as ‘Afternoon of a Faun’, ‘Raymonda’ and ‘Giselle’, while Opera Bastille has ‘Prince Igor’, ‘The Barber of Seville’ and ‘The Tales of Hoffmann’.
Speaking of opera, the Musée d’Orsay’s special winter show is ‘Degas at the Opera’. This is the first exhibition to consider the world of opera as a whole, examining not only Degas’ passionate relationship with the art form, but how he found it an infinite resource and inspiration. This is a joint exhibition by the Musée d’Orsay and the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
This is just a very small sample of what’s on in the City of Light during the festive season—a huge feast of delights to satisfy every taste and interest, to keep you on the go all winter!