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Vocabulary: winter in France

Winter started a few weeks ago in the northern hemisphere, and a cold snap is currently hitting France 🥶 The perfect opportunity to check on vocabulary! If you live in France or are spending a few days there, this will be very useful because... yes! The French love to talk about the weather! It's a topic that's part of everyday conversation, with family, colleagues or even people you don't know (for example, in a store, at the boulangerie...). In this article, I'll give you some useful vocabulary and phrases to keep you up to date on winter in France.

Hiver en France - paysage enneigé

The seasons

In all countries of the northern hemisphere, the year is divided into 4 seasons of 3 months each:

  • L'hiver (pronounce the "r" at the end) - winter

  • Le printemps (don't pronounce the ending "-ps" : /pʁɛ̃tɑ̃/) - spring

  • L'été - summer

  • L'automne (don't pronounce the "m") - autumn

Winter in France in 25 words

  1. la neige - snow

  2. un flocon de neige - a snowflake

  3. un bonhomme de neige - a snowman

  4. le brouillard - fog

  5. le gel - frost

  6. le verglas - freezing rain

  7. un pull en laine - a wool sweater

  8. un bonnet - a cap

  9. une cagoule - a balaclava

  10. une écharpe - a scarf

  11. des gants - gloves

  12. des moufles - mitts

  13. un manteau - a coat

  14. des chaussettes - socks

  15. un feu de cheminée - a fireplace

  16. un plaid - a blanket

  17. la patinoire - ice rink

  18. le patin à glace - ice skating

  19. le ski - ski

  20. la luge - sled

  21. le télésiège - chairlift

  22. la température - temperature

  23. attraper froid - to catch a col

  24. être malade - to be sick

  25. un rhume (être enrhumé.e) - a cold (to have a cold)

3 dishes the French love in winter

There's nothing like a warm, rich dish to warm you up and comfort you on a cold day! The French are particularly fond of 3 cheese-based dishes, all from Savoie in the Alps.

  • La raclette: THE star of winter in France! This is a type of cheese that is cooked in an appliance specially designed for this dish. Slices of cheese are placed in a small frying pan and melted in the device. When the cheese has melted, it is poured over potatoes. Raclette is traditionally eaten with charcuterie, but also with small vegetables, gherkins or green salad to lighten the dish and ease the conscience 🤭.

  • La tartiflette: This dish is made with another cheese called "reblochon". Potatoes, lardons and onions are placed in a dish, slices of reblochon are added on top and baked in the oven to gratinate the cheese.

  • La fondue savoyarde: This time, we melt several cheeses like Comté, Beaufort, Abondance or Gruyère with wine and liqueur (yes, yes!). Then dip small pieces of bread in it!

Fondue savoyarde
Fondue savoyarde

Don't confuse fondue savoyarde with fondue bourguignonne (from Burgundy). The principle is similar, but they are 2 totally different dishes. Fondue bourguignonne involves cooking pieces of meat (normally beef) in an oil bath. 🙄

Fondue bourguignonne
Fondue bourguignonne

As you can imagine, we're looking for comfort in warm, rich and convivial dishes! But soup is also one of winter's stars, as is pot-au-feu (a meat and vegetable broth).

Winter in France: useful phrases about the weather

Il neige. - It's snowing.

Il y a du brouillard. - It's foggy.

Il fait combien aujourd'hui ? Il fait 3 degrés. - What's the temperature today? It's 3 degrees.

Il fait froid. - It's cold.

Il caille. / Ça caille. (informal) - It's cold.

Il y a du vent. - It's windy.

Ça glisse. - It's slippery.

5 manières de dire qu'il fait froid (5 ways to say it's cold)

What to do in France in winter

Winter varies according to the region of France you live in. For example, in the south-east, on the shores of the Mediterranean, winter is mild (average 13-14ºC). But in the north, winter is colder and wetter (average 6ºC). In the mornings, temperatures are often very cold (below 0ºC), so it's freezing, there's black ice on the roads, and sometimes it snows.

In the mountains, the climate is obviously harsher: it snows a lot and you can ski there. In fact, the Alps are the number one vacation destination for winter sports (skiing, tobogganing, snowboarding, hiking...). Why not take a trip there? I recommend the following towns:

Annecy, nicknamed the "Venice of the Alps" for its canals

Chamonix and Mont-Blanc: you can climb to the top of the Aiguille du Midi (3842 meters above sea level!) thanks to France's highest cable car.

the chic resort of Courchevel

Thonon-les-Bains, Aix-les-Bains or Évian-les-bains for their spa treatments, the ideal place to warm up and relax

Whatever the region, the nights start early and the days are short: the sun sets around 5 p.m. at the end of December. The days begin to lengthen from December 21 (the shortest day of the year). At the end of March, when spring arrives, the sun sets at around 7pm.

So light is not winter's strong point. But the good thing is that there are far fewer tourists than in summer! So it's perhaps the ideal time to visit some of the usually crowded sites, such as :

  • Mont Saint-Michel

  • Château de Versailles

  • Châteaux of the Loire Valley

  • The Normandy landing beaches

  • The Côte d'Azur: don't miss the Lemon Festival in Menton! (late February to early March)

France is beautiful in every season and well worth a visit all year round. The light and mildness of summer is pleasant, but winter has its charm too. Either way, you'll always find something to visit (and eat!), whatever the season! What's your favorite season?

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