Mulled Wine à la Française

Today, I’m taking you all to France.

Doesn’t matter if you’re willing or not. We’re goin’ there. Sorry ’bout it.

Ever since I spent a year studying (and eating) in Lyon, the month of December and the holiday season bring back very specific memories.

Twinkling stars and dazzling colors…


Hustle and bustle, the sound of haggling voices, shiny gifts…

And wine. Sweet, hot, spiced wine.

One of the most special memories I have of my year living in Lyon is of the Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights. I often heard native Lyonnais residents remark of their snobby adversaries — the Parisians — that they never leave Paris…except to go to the South for vacation during the summer, and to Lyon for the Fête des Lumières.

Centre-ville (downtown) Lyon is guarded by a river on each side – the Saône on the left and the Rhône on the right — as well as a large hill on the left. On the top of the hill, you will find Notre Dame de Fourvière, a beautiful old cathedral that overlooks the entire city. Atop one of its towers sits a huge bronze statue of the Vièrge Marie (Virgin Mary), to whom the cathedral is dedicated.

Now, don’t get me wrong, a lot of cities in Europe have giant churches and statues dedicated to everyone’s favorite virgin. But homegirl is especially special to the Lyonnais. Legend has it (OK, its recorded in history…but doesn’t legend sound cooler?) that though the cathedral wasn’t built until the 1800s, the hill has always had important religious significance to the Lyonnais.  Throughout the years, small churches and chapels have been constructed on the hill. In the 1600’s when the city was fighting a plague (or was it in the 1800’s during a cholera epidemic? I’ve heard different stories…), many people would make an annual trek up the hill to thank the Vièrge Marie for keeping them alive one more year. This tradition grew and grew, until a larger cathedral had to be built.

Each year, on December 8th (the commonly attributed date of the Immaculate Conception), residents began to light candles in their windows honoring Mary for protecting the city. Hundreds still make the trek up to the Colline qui Prie (the hill that prays) to pay their respects. But now instead of just candles being lit in window sills, the entire city lights up.

{click photos to enlarge}


on the Colline qui Prie, overlooking the city


Notre Dame de Fourviere, with la Vièrge Marie hidden on the right

And this is the view from the city.

The rest of the city:


Place des Jacobins

cathedralestjean2 cathedralestjean
Cathedrale Saint Jean, which usually looks like this


Musee des Beaux Arts – these lights changed to tell a 10 minute story


Only several times per year, Hôtel de Ville (city hall) is opened up to the public…Fête des Lumières is one of those times.

The pictures don’t do it justice…It’s an amazing few days. These photos are from 2008, which means there are 4 more years of amazing photos you can likely find online.

Another lovely thing about December in France (or any European country, for that matter) is Christmas markets.

This is where you go to buy super French hand crafted gifts to send home to your family and friends for Christmas when you’re studying abroad. Tins full of cookies, soaps, artisan foods… you name it, they’ve got it.


Left- my German colocataire (roommate) and I, neat cuillères & fourchettes (spoons & forks), and beautiful lamps. Right- escargot DUH, and fruit-shaped candles.

Have you spotted the highlight of all of these holiday Frenchie things?

Hint: it’s in my hand in front of Cathedrale St Jean, and in my roomie’s hand at the market…

Vin Chaud. AKA Mulled wine.

Around every corner and at every market during the cold winter months, you will find tables with Frenchies standing behind signs advertising “VIN CHAUD – 1€”

or this guy, charging 2 euro for his ORGANIC vin chaud

Every year since I returned from France, I have craved the stuff.

If you like spiced cider, you will love mulled wine.

If you like wine, you will love mulled wine.

If you like being happy and warm inside, you will love mulled wine.

Have I sold you yet?


Mulled Wine
serves a small crowd

This is a very make-it-how-you-like-it kind of recipe…I rarely make mulled wine the same way twice. Adjust ingredients to your liking! My only real suggestion is to use a wine that is not too sweet, because you’ll be adding a lot of sweetness to it.

2 bottles red wine (or make it simple and just get a jug of Carlo Rossi)
1-2 oranges or 1/2 can orange juice concentrate
1/3 cup sugar
1-2 cinnamon sticks (ground cinnamon can work in a pinch)
1 tsp whole cloves
1/4 cup brandy (optional)

Place the sugar and spices into a pot and squeeze in juice from the oranges (save half of one of the oranges to slice as garnish). Heat on low until the sugar is dissolved. Add in wine and warm to a simmer, stirring occasionally. I like to add the juiced orange halves to the pot. Taste and adjust according to your preferences. Add more sugar, orange juice, or wine as you see fit! Don’t let the mixture boil, keep it at a simmer. Keep in mind that the longer you simmer, the less alcohol will remain in the wine. Add brandy just before serving…To serve, ladle into cups and enjoy!