Taking place on the main drag in Champagne in Epernay (the Avenue of Champagne where the main Champagne houses have their public outlets), the Habits de Lumière is a glorious celebration of the world's best bubbly. They choose a different theme each year; in 2013 it's The Unexpected so I won't spoil if for you.
Taking place over the weekend of December 13th to 15th, 2013, there are street shows with weird and wonderful creatures parading as darkness falls each night. There's plenty during the day as well like the vintage car parade on Sunday starting at 8.30am when those splendid roadsters gather, followed by the 'elegance contest' from 9.30am to 10.30am so expect a lot of well-dressed drivers. The main car parade takes place at 11am and wine tasting at 11.30am (but only offered to the participants!)
But never fear, there are many chances to taste Champagne as the main houses open specially and offer visits to their cellars along with films and of course, the chance to buy at their shops. Go along to the Halle Saint-Thibault on Saturday from 9am to 1pm for a series of special culinary tastings from Champagne's top chefs.
More about Champagne and the Region
Image: Epernay Habits de Lumiere, 2012 © Michel Jolyot/OT Epernay
The famous Nantes Merry-go-Round has just won the Best Original Attraction Award for 2014 in Los Angeles from the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA). The organizers will receive the award on April 5th 2014. These are the 'Oscars' of this particular kind of attraction, so they are delighted as it's a great boost to tourism.
The Carrousel des Mondes Marins (Carousel of the World of the Sea) is an extraordinary structure. Inhabited by underwater creatures, the machine is made up of 35 moving parts on three levels. Visitors watch the amazing choreography of the sea animals, flying fish and the like.
It's not the only fantastic creature in this city; the Grand Elephant also lives in the Machines de l'Ile district.
The Palais des Papes in Avignon is pretty impressive at any time, but in November it becomes even more spectacular. In November, every seven minutes from 7 to 11pm the façade lights up with the story of the history of Avignon and the Pope's Palace. Just make your way there for the free performance. The history of Avignon is dramatic; Avignon, not Rome, was the heart and soul of the Catholic church in the 14th century.
From November 21st to December 1st 2013
Nightly 7pm to 11pm
More about Avignon and the Popes
The budget airline Ryanair is opening 12 new routes next April 2014 and adding to their current schedule on many of their destinations from London Stansted. The new routes in France will go to Bordeaux and Brive la Gaillard.
Bordeaux is already a popular destination for vacations, and Brive la Gaillard is a hub for different routes. It's near places like Corrèze, the Dordogne and the Lot Valley.
It's welcome news particularly if you want a short weekend break from the U.K. and can just manage with cabin baggage. Just take care when you book as there are many hidden costs which you can incur.
Information and booking on Ryanair
More about Bordeaux
The famous Festival of Light (Fête des Lumières) in Lyon is one of France's most glorious spectacles. From December 6th to 9th 2013, the city becomes a stage set as extraordinary light shows play across the facades of famous buildings, in the squares and the streets of Lyon.
The festival originated in 1852 on December 8th. The citizens of Lyon put candles in their windows and lit up their balconies to mark the moment when a new golden statue of the Virgin Mary was finally installed on the Fourvière hill that looks over the city. It had taken so long that the good burgers had ceased to believe it would happen. Hence, a miracle to be celebrated then and forever more.
Now more than three million visitors flock to Lyon to see the ambitious art installations that transform the city. The creators are international, bringing strange sounds and marvelous music to streets that might be familiar during the day but which magically change as darkness falls. And it's a real darkness as many of the streets turn off their traditional lights.
It's an amazing time to be in Lyon, with different themes each night and street parades through the various quartiers in and around the center.
You need to plan in advance as the city fills up for this international event. The Lyon Tourist Office website is helpful with various activities you can book, such as the bus restaurant, segway tours and more.
There is also a special package offered which might be the best way to go if you are not familiar with Lyon.
When: December 6th to 9th
December 6th & 7th 6pm-1am
December 8th 6pm-midnight
December 9th 6pm to 11pm
Images: Top Les Chysalides de Saint-Jean © Fabrice Dimier ; Bottom Procession in 2012 © OT LYon
Travel and Leisure recently came up with a list of Europe's most beautiful villages. France was rewarded with Colmar in Alsace, where France and Germany have contributed equally to this pretty Alsatian village. I'd call it a town or city (it does have a cathedral) rather than a village, but never mind, it's on the list.
Odd leaning half-timbered and painted houses fill Colmar's narrow streets; there are small canals and cafés and good museums include the Musée d'Unterlinden which has the stunning Issenheim altarpiece, probably made between 1512 and 1516.
Town, city or village, call it what you will, Colmar is one of France's less well known destinations, with a great Christmas market. It's always worth seeking out the unknown. Like many people, I love diving off the main autoroutes and exploring the smaller roads with their unexpectedly pretty villages, their castles, churches and ruins.
See more of Colmar in pictures.
Check out the following list of destinations which will reward the adventurous.
Images Top: Colmar Christmas Market; Bottom: Le Puy-en-Velay in teh Auvergne
Yesterday, November 10th, the Sunday Times in the U.K. published an article called Awfully Big Adventures. It was about epic journeys of all different kinds around the world, and three involved France.
First of all came a barge trip as they put it 'pootling' across the south of France through Languedoc and Aquitaine from Sète to Castets-en-Dorthe. This journey takes you three weeks to pootle the 240 miles, using France Afloat to hire a boat.
The second great journey involved the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela. It starts at St. Jean Pied-de-Port in French Aquitaine which is right on the border of France and Spain, so little of that recommended journey takes place in France. This one doesn't take a year or so which it would have done for our medieval ancestors, but a mere three weeks. But it does mean a 480-mile trek. If you want to do a longer pilgrimage in France, then I suggest starting at Le Puy-en-Velay in the Auvergne, one of my top 10 most underrated places in France. Le Puy-en-Velay was one of the most important starting points for medieval pilgrims.
The third one (which is most relevant at this time of year) is to ski through the Jura in East France. It takes you across the 3,000 ft Jura plateau from Morteau to Giron. Called the Grande Traversée du Jura, this is the classic Alpine cross-country trek. It runs along France's border with Switzerland and is well marked, taking in remote mountain villages where you can stay as well as refuges where you camp. The recommended company is ski specialist Tracks &Trails which organizes tailor-made walking and Nordic skiing holidays.
I wish you good luck!
More about the Jura
- The Jura Region of France
- Wine Tourism in the Jura
- The Undiscovered Town of Dole in the Jura
- Paris to Dole by Train, Flight and Car
Nordic Skiing in the Jura © Michel Loup/CDT Jura
Lyon is famous for its silk production, the industry that created great wealth for its merchants. Any visit to the city should include a trip to the Maison des Canuts in the silk workers area, La Croix Rousses. Here you see the huge, old looms that click-clacked all day producing the beautiful silks that went to dress for the kings and queens and aristocrats of Europe.
Today, silk still plays a major part in the city and each year at the end of November, Lyon celebrates its colorful heritage with a Silk Festival. This year it runs from November 28th to December 1st and gives visitors the chance to browse and buy from dozens of makers who set up their stalls in the Palais du Commerce in the central place de la Bourse.
You can also buy tickets for visits to different silk workshops where you can learn various arts associated with the silk industry. You must book these in advance and they are in French.
Open November 28th 2-7pm
November 29th and 30th 10am-7pm
December 1st 10am-6pm
Entrance 3 euros, free for under 18s.
More on Lyon
At the eleventh hour on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the fighting stopped. It was the end of World War I. Next year, 2014, it will be the commemoration of the outbreak of the war that destroyed a generation and changed the world forever. Both Belgium and particularly northern France are gearing up for a huge number of visitors to see the battlefields, now peaceful fields of corn, poppies and blue corn flowers. The World War I cemeteries: British, French and German are incredibly moving and there are numerous trails and maps you can pick up in local tourist offices to help you plan a route.
November 11th is particularly commemorated in France. It's known as Veterans Day in the U.S.A.; Remembrance Day in the U.K; jour du souvenir or jour de l'armistice in France. At 11am in their own country, people fall silent for two minutes to remember those killed in the 'war to end all wars'.
It's a major public holiday in France, so museums and galleries are shut. But the streets are full of processions and ceremonies, usually involving the mayor and local dignitaries. A brass band will lead the procession to the town's war memorial where they stop at 11am.
If you have the chance, go to see the Great War Museum in Meaux, just east of Paris. It was inaugurated at 11am on November 11th, 2011.
Different countries add all the other, more recent wars to this universal commemoration. It was not the 'war to end all wars'.
If you're interested in World War I, there's plenty to see in France, from war cemeteries and memorials to the Wilfred Owen Memorial. If you get the chance, don't miss the evocative, low-key Armistice Museum in Northern France. A replica railway carriage now seems a strange setting for one of the world's most momentous events - the signing of the Armistice that ended World War I.
Paris sees a big event with military bands and soldiers marching towards the Arc de Triomphe.
More on World War I
Image: Cobbers, the statue at Fromelles
I was introduced to short films by my son (Ralph Laurila) when he starred in a 13-minute film called Ralph. We went to quite a few short film festivals and saw the widest range of films from remarkably talented young film makers. They covered the gamut and it was a great experience.
So I'm always delighted when short film festivals become important to the industry and to film goers and always wonder why they are not shown in more commercial cinemas. The Brest Short Film Festival is one such. Film makers come from all over Europe to this naval town on the edge of Brittany, protected from Atlantic storms by the Crozon peninsula. The festival is divided into different sections. 42 films from 24 countries are in the European competition; there's a cartoon festival and one on films made in Brittany. It's a predominately young and professional audience, buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm. It's remarkably good value with tickets from 5 euros and a festival pass at 45 euros. So if you're a fan of short films or in the area, make plans to see some of the films on offer.
And Ralph? The film was nominated for a BAFTA (one of only five), didn't win but then went the rounds of the film festivals. Ralph was snapped up by an agent and began an uncertain career in film and television.