Lucéram is a small village in our department (Alpes-Maritimes) about 27 kilometers northeast of Nice. It’s a wonderful little village, built on a rocky outcrop nestled into a small valley on one of the roads that goes up to the Col de Turini. I’ve ridden through Lucéram many times on my bike and visited it by car a few times as well. With a population of only 1,200 it’s usually a peaceful, quiet little village, great for walking around and exploring. A small river, The Paillon, runs right through the town and it features a famous 15th century church that is known for it’s collection of relics. There’s also the ruins of a small castle, the Château de Lucéram, but very little of it is left and it is not open to the public. Overall the village is quite picturesque and very photogenic. However, everything changes in December when the entire town participates in what is known as “Le Circuit de Crèches de Lucéram” (The Circuit of Mangers at Lucéram).
[more info after photo gallery]
During the Christmas season Lucéram is famous for its “crèches,” which technically translates as “cribs” or “nursery” but in this case refers to nativity scenes. There are hundreds of crèches set up throughout the little village. Some are big, some are small. Some are elaborate, some are really simple. Some are traditional, some are really out there. Tourists come from all over the area to view the crèches the local residents design and build.
The best place to begin the “circuit” is at the Office de Tourisme which is in the very center of town, right on the main road. If you ask they will give you a map. Follow the small street up past the Office de Tourisme and you will pass under a stone arch and enter the village. It’s a typical little southern French mountain village with steep, narrow, winding stone streets, arches and covered passages. There’s no rhyme or reason to the way the streets are laid out, so don’t even try to keep track of where you are. Just let yourself wander. Everywhere you look you will see the crèches. On the walls, on the fences, on the window sills, on the street, in the fountains. Everywhere. Take your time and have a good look around you as you stroll through the village. This year it was estimated that there were over 450 crèches in the village. That’s an amazing number, considering the amount of people who live there. The villagers seem to take great pride in this event and almost all of the individual crèches are created with a lot of time, thought and care.
Sometimes a crèche will consist solely of what you might think of when you picture a Christmas manger scene: Joseph, Mary, the baby Jesus, maybe some cattle. But, more often than not, these “mangers” include a lot more. It’s traditional in this part of France to add other figures to the scenes. Figures from the village, like postmen, farmers, bakers, etc. Santa has even been known to make an appearance here and there. The individual figures are called “santons.” These are usually made from terracotta and then hand painted. They are so popular in Provence that there is a big market in Marseille each December where “santonniers,” the people who make them, gather to display and sell their wares. There is also a big two day festival called “Biennale de l’Art Santonnier” and a museum, both also in Marseille.
One of the things that makes the crèches in Lucéram so wonderful and amazing is that most of them are not made from terracotta figures at all. The villagers use anything and everything they can find to create the most delightful scenes. And I mean anything. We’ve seen crèches created with everything from Legos to cotton balls, from nuts and bolts to yarn. We’ve seen them situated in small metal trucks, inside tree trunks, in baskets, in tin and wooden boxes, in boats and so much more. The village firemen make one in a fire truck! It really is incredible and so much fun to see. Lucéram is split almost in half by the main road, the D2566. After visiting the side of the village with the Office de Tourisme make sure you also spend some time on the other side. There are a lot more crèches to be seen over there and a chapel with a huge, village sized crèche.
I first went to see the crèches back in 2015. I spent an entire afternoon roaming around the village and photographing as many of them as I could. I took Carole in 2017. This year I organized a little “field trip” with some of our friends here in Vence and about ten or twelve us carpooled up there together to see everything. We went during the weekend of the Marché Noël, the Christmas Market, so the village was very, very busy. We had fantastic weather, sunny and almost what you could call warm. We took the A8 from Vence, got off at exit 55 and headed up to Lucéram via L’Escarène. After spending the afternoon looking through the village we headed up the mountain to Peïra-Cava, then on to the summit of the Col de Turini. From there we headed down into La Bollène-Vésubie and Lantosque. After Lantosque you follow the Vésubie river through the valley and gorges and then back to Vence. It’s a great loop to make.
There are several little restaurants in town, a very nice bakery, some shops and even a small Crèche Museum. If you have the chance to go I would highly recommend it. You’ll find the village less busy during the week, but even if you go on the weekend you’re bound to have a great time.
If you make it up to Lucéram consider going a bit further up the mountain to Peïra-Cava, the first winter sports resort in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region. It’s beautiful and has lots of activities all year round. You’ll find zip lining, tree climbing, pony riding, paintball, hiking and biking.