France with its medieval cities, alpine villages, and Mediterranean beaches is a country of vast climatic diversity. Places like Montpellier and Marseille can receive upwards of 2,500 hours of sunshine a year with average highs of 75 degrees in the summer months, but head to the Alps and it is a different story.
The north of the country and its mountainous peaks, ski resorts, and remote villages can get very chilly in the winter. Even cities like Paris can dip as low as -13 degrees Celsius and receive up to 15 days of snow, but the capital isn’t one of the coldest places in France, so where are they?
Our guide looks at nine French destinations with the lowest recorded temperatures of all time so that you can find your next winter wonderland in the land of croissants and stinky cheese. Let’s get into it.
Best known for its namesake cheese, a semi-soft cows’ milk variety with an ivory color and elastic texture, Morbier is a small village in Franche-Comté in Eastern France. This region straddles the border with Switzerland and is characterized by its gentle mountains, fertile valleys, and alpine forests, but it’s also known for its brisk weather.
Morbier was crowned the coldest place in France in 1968 when temperatures dipped to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit). Although the town experiences mild year-round weather today with average temperatures of 19 degrees Celsius (66 degrees Fahrenheit) in the peak of summer, it still gets very chilly in winter with February lows hovering around -3 degrees Celsius (26 degrees Fahrenheit).
Aside from Morbier cheese, which is best distinguished by the thin black layer that separates it across the middle, this small town was also once the center for Comtoise clock manufacturing. The production of these classical and intricate longcase grandfather clocks dates back to 1680 on the French-Swiss border where it thrived for more than 200 years.
Although summer is comfortable in Morbier, winter is freezing with regular snowfall.
You wouldn’t think a bustling riverfront city known for its art nouveau landmarks and 18th-century square would be one of the coldest places in France, but Nancy in the northeastern region of Grand Est recorded crippling lows in the winter of 1879. The whole country suffered from the deep freeze this year, but Nancy was one of the chilliest cities dipping down to -30 degrees Celsius (-22 degrees Fahrenheit).
Today, Nancy is better known for its architecture and metropolitan appeal. The Place Stanislas is the city’s focal point and it is decorated with gilded wrought-iron gates and rococo fountains. You’ll also find late baroque buildings dating back to Nancy’s days as the capital of the Duchy of Lorraine, but all this is made even more picture-perfect beneath the blanket of snow that envelops the city at winter time.
Snowfall is common from November through to April, with January receiving around 7 days on average. It can be as cold as 3 degrees (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit) in April, and subzero temperatures are the norm throughout the festive period. Still, it can also get comfortably warm in Nancy and high temperatures of 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) are to be expected in July and August.
With its full town name including the highest mountain not only in the French Alps but all of Europe, it won’t come as much of a surprise that Chamonix is known for its snow-capped peaks. This resort area sits at the base of Mont Blanc near the junction of France, Switzerland, and Italy, at an elevation of 1,035 meters. In 1905, Chamonix recorded its coldest temperature at -31 degrees celsius (-23.8 degrees Fahrenheit), but the region still receives around 32 days of snowfall every year equating to over 400 inches.
For this reason, the town has become a hotspot for winter sports and those seeking the thrill of the slopes can expect the perfect conditions. Cable cars take visitors to nearby peaks with panoramic views year-round, including Aiguille du Midi, just above town, and Pointe Helbronner located across vast glacial fields on the Italian border. But come winter, Chamonix transforms into an energetic ski resort and one of the global centers for skiing in the Alps.
With chalets, restaurants, and off-piste terrain, the Chamonix Valley is a pilgrimage for all lovers of winter activities. The ski season runs all the way from November to May here with pistes all the way up to 3,300 meters. It can even snow in summer when temperatures have been known to dip to just 2 degrees celsius (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit). However, the average at this time of year hovers comfortably between 9 and 22 degrees celsius (48.2 and 71.6 degrees Fahrenheit).
If you’re visiting during the ski season, be sure to pack accordingly because you can pretty much guarantee freezing weather and snowy conditions. The average temperature in January is around -2 degrees celsius (28.4 degrees Fahrenheit) with a minimum of -7 degrees celsius (19.4 degrees Fahrenheit) and a maximum of just 3 degrees Celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit). On the coldest winter nights in Chamonix, you can expect lows of -15.5 degrees Celsius (4.5 degrees Fahrenheit).
Not to be confused with Lempdes-Sur-Allagnon in south-central France, Lempdes (Puy de Dôme) is a small commune in the region of Auvergne, not far from the university city of Clermont-Ferrand. Like Clermont, Lempdes is bordered by the Chaîne des Puys mountains and Puy de Dôme is one of the town’s biggest attractions.
The peak is the most famous and accessible of Auvergne’s volcanoes, as well as the youngest. Still, despite its once fiery nature, the 1,465-meter dormant volcano and its surrounding area are now known for its cold winter temperatures.
In February of 1929, Lempdes reported record lows of -31 degrees celsius (-24 degrees Fahrenheit), which is just as cold as the chilliest temperatures ever taken in the ski haven of Chamonix. As the second-most westerly location on this list, this might come as a surprise. However, with the volcanic chain surrounding Clermont-Ferrand and nearby communes like Lempdes, the region is blocked from most of the oceanic influence of the Atlantic.
The Atlantic would usually regulate such extreme temperatures, but with the protection of the Chaîne des Puys, Lempdes experiences very cold winters and sometimes scorching hot summers, albeit short ones.
The third destination on our list to hit -31 degrees celsius, Granges-Sainte-Maire in the Doubs department of eastern France reported these record lows as recently as 1971. Nestled on the Swiss border, Granges-Sainte-Marie is far inland with an elevation of around 870 meters giving it a continental climate with icy winters.
Granges is less than an hour’s drive from Lausanne, the Swiss city on the shores of Lac Léman. The commune is also just one hour and a half by car from Geneva, a global banking hub, also in Switzerland, located at the southern tip of Lac Léman.
Granges itself is a small commune dominated by the Bois de Ban with its long hiking trails as well as the Fuvelle and Grande Côte forests. Year-round highs rarely exceed 20 degrees Celsius while January is very cold with a gentle breeze. Expect average highs of 3 degrees Celsius (37 degrees Fahrenheit) in winter and lows of -3 (26 degrees Fahrenheit).
Located further north in Haunte-Marne, Langres is another town known for its smelly cow’s milk cheese of the same name. Langres typically comes cylindrical in shape with a soft, creamy central pâte and a salty but buttery taste. It’s no secret that low temperatures are best for cheese production with many global favorites hailing from Alpine regions, so Langres’ blustery weather shouldn’t come as a surprise.
During the deathly winter of 1879, a cold front of Polar air turned French cities Baltic. Langres saw the second-lowest temperatures in France this year dropping to -33 degrees celsius. Perched on a rocky promontory overlooking the surrounding countryside, the altitude hasn’t helped protect Langres from harsh winds, but this does mean you’ll find amazing panoramic views from the old town over Liez Lake, the Marne Valley and the Vosges to the east, and the Langres Plateau to the west.
Summers can be warm but Langres is best known for the strength of its winter and things get especially cold up the Langres mountain whose summit is 500 meters above sea level. Expect average lows of -1.3 degrees Celsius (29.7 degrees Fahrenheit) in January and highs of just 3.4 degrees Celsius (38.1 degrees Fahrenheit).
Another commune in Auvergne’s Puy de Dôme department flanked by volcanoes, Gelles is the westernmost destination on this list. The town is some 200 miles south of Paris and 20 miles west of Clermont-Ferrand but despite its central location it’s responsible for some of the coldest temperatures ever recorded in the country.
During the frosty February of 1929, temperatures dipped to -35 degrees celsius (-31 degrees Fahrenheit), the coldest in France that year. Gelles actually means “freezes” in English, a rather appropriate name for this icy village.
It still gets very cold throughout Puy-de-Dôme including Gelles due to the shelter from oceanic influence provided by the volcanoes. It regularly dips to -3 degrees celsius (26.6 degrees Fahrenheit) in December, January, February, and March and temperatures often stay sub-zero until as late as April in Gelles. Still, summer is surprisingly warm with average highs of 23 degrees Celsius (73.4 degrees Fahrenheit).
Saint Dié, Vosges
Located in the northeastern region of Grand Est, Saint Dié is known for its spectacular cathedral complex, railway museum, Goeparc racing track, and unique architectural heritage, but in 1879 the whole of northern France was under a blanket of snow and Saint Dié recorded the lowest temperatures on the map.
Dipping to -37 degrees celsius (-35 degrees Fahrenheit), few other places in the country have ever experienced such lows as Saint Dié and winter is still characteristically cold in the town. Daytime maximums average a chilly 3 degrees celsius (37.4 degrees Fahrenheit) from December to March and lows of -5 degrees celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit) are commonplace.
That said, it can reach a balmy 24 degrees celsius (75.2 degrees Fahrenheit) in July and August which can be perfect for exploring the fertile countryside and pine forests of the surrounding region. Saint Dié is also known for the Camp Celtique de la Bure, an archaeological site housing the ruins of a former Celtic fort, as well as the Musée Pierre Noël, which explores the turbulent past of Saint-Dié-des-Vosges across a vast collection of permanent exhibitions.
Officially the coldest place in France ever, many of the top contenders for this spot are located in Doubs, but Mouthe takes the crown with the lowest temperature ever recorded in the country at less than -40 degrees celsius. Nearby Chappelle-des-Bois, also in Doubs, earns second place with its -37 degrees Celsius (-35 degrees Fahrenheit) from the same winter.
On January 17, 1985 (also the most recent date for such a cold temperature to be taken) Mouthe demonstrated record lows of -41 degrees celsius (-42 degrees Fahrenheit), which is just 10 degrees warmer than some of the coldest places in Russia. It should come as no surprise then that this town has been dubbed “La Petite Sibérie” or “Little Siberia” in English.
Mouthe is a stone’s throw from the Swiss border, nestled between two mountain ranges where cold air gathers and stagnates without wind to push it away. You’ll often see people whizzing around on skis and ice skates in winter as the village lake and roads freeze over but the residents are more than used to the subzero temperatures here.
Mouthe can experience freezing days as early as October, although with global temperatures rising, subzero weather is less of a guarantee before wintertime today. Temperatures in July and August can reach 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit), with average lows hovering at -1 degrees celsius (30.2 degrees Fahrenheit) from December to March.
Where are the coldest places in France?
France isn’t always cold but winters are their coldest in the eastern regions of Alsace-Lorraine and the mountainous areas of the Alps, the Pyrénées, and the Massif Central. The lowest recorded temperatures have all been taken in Doubs in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté, with Mouthe claiming the top spot at -41 degrees celsius.
Where does it snow the most in France?
Snowfall is most frequent in France’s easternmost regions along the border with Switzerland and throughout the French Alps. Lorraine, France-Comté, Alsace, and the Ardennes receive some of the highest snowfall with around 25 to 30 days a year, and as many as 35 in exposed areas like the Vôge plateau which covers around 700 square kilometers of Lorraine and Franche-Comté.
Does it get hot in France?
France’s cold winters have made it a global skiing destination but residents enjoy mild summers across the country with warm Mediterranean weather in the south. The warm season lasts for around three months and you can expect average daily highs above 21.1 degrees Celsius (70 degrees Fahrenheit) in Paris and 24 degrees Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit) in Marseille from June to September.
When is the best time to visit France?
Depending on what you’re after, the best time to visit France for sunshine and blue skies is June to August, but it can be the busiest and most expensive at this time of year. The ski season runs from December to March in most mountainous resorts in the northeast, with popular Chamonix serving as a winter sports destination from as early as November until May. For the best of both worlds, visit in the spring for fewer crowds and pleasant temperatures between 13 and 20 degrees Celsius across the country.