France — that six-sided, wine-soaked hexagon of a million summer passersthrough — may not be top of mind for your winter holidays.
But whether you’re bound for Paris or sunnier overseas territories, visiting France this time of year has its benefits, like lighter crowds and no diminution of the native joie de vivre. Below, find a super-tight edit to help you — aspiring flâneur — decide which is the French destination for you.
For the True Believers
The City of Light was left dimmed but not diminished by November’s terrorist attacks; thugs with guns can’t defeat a city that survived four years of Nazi occupation. Join Parisians’ #enterrace — a post-attack hashtag/act of defiance — and take advantage of January’s thin crowds and reasonable temperatures (which often clock in in the 50s). Stay at the Hotel Saint-Louis en Ile, on the smaller, more storybook of the two Seine islands, with evening drinks at the Cafe St. Regis. Or splash the cash at the Ritz Paris, reopening in March after a three-year, $200+ million reno: rooms’ll run you €,1000 a night and up.
For Endless Summer-Types Who Really Like Wine
It’s too cold to get in the water in Biarritz in January, but the Venice Beach-vibe persists all year — it’s deservedly seen as France’s best surfing town. Off-season, explore the surrounding Basque country, get a look at the Pyrenées, and, at the end of the day, settle in for spa/dinner/drinks at the Hotel du Palais, a five-star, seaside expanse built on the site of a Napoleonic villa.
For Skiers on a Splurge
Skiers looking for glimmers of glamour will find it in Courchevel, the highest of four connected resorts once named and shamed for their respective elevations. The royal Windsors, Posh + Becks and various oil billionaires/Russian oligarchs are fans of this resort, formerly known as Courchevel 1,850. Seek shelter at the five-star L’Apogée Courchevel, with views across valley. It’s no bargain at around €1,000 per night, but hey: free WiFi.
For the Truly Sun-Deprived
Fact: St. Bart’s is part of France, which is why you’ll see the tricolor flying atop flagpoles all over this Caribbean island. Check in at l’Orient and the Reefer’s Surf Club for the best waves, windsurfing and post-surfing camaraderie. Those looking for a different sort of afternoon can settle in for drinks at Do Brasil on Shell Beach. All St. Barts beaches allow topless sunbathing, BTW.
For Cold-Weather Gourmands
Lyon is more than Paris’s less cosmopolitan kid brother. A better analogy: New York’s San Francisco — a haven of gourmands in a stunning natural environment, attracting overworked Parisiens with the promise of lower costs and better living. In winter, its proximity to the Alps makes it a worthy layover for ski-to-city vacations. Skip hotels in favor of a private rental in one of Old Lyon’s lofts and spend your savings on a bucket list of top restaurants that includes Le Canut et Les Gones, Café Brasserie Chantecler and Popotte & Co.