One date, three locations: Bastille Day across France
- Credit: Archant
France is in a celebratory mood this month as it commemorates the storming of the Bastille in Paris, but the festivities go much further than the French capital, as Ben Palfreyman discovers
Bastille Day. La Fête Nationale. Le quatorze juillet. Three names, one day: the biggest, loudest, oldest party in Europe. Commemorating the storming of the Bastille in 1789, this annual celebration on 14 July remembers the pivotal event in the anti-monarchy revolution when a rebel mob forced its way into the ancient prison to take hold of the arms and ammunition stored there, as well as release seven political prisoners.
One year later, the French held a celebration they called the Fête de la Fédération and it is from this event that many of the modern-day festivities originate, including the military parade and evening balls.
With celebrations taking place throughout the world – including London’s famous street party at Borough Market – the centre for the French national holiday is, of course, in Paris, which kicks off with the military parade along the Champs-Elysées. The day continues with ‘fireman’s balls’ in the city’s fire stations, and fireworks are launched off the roof of the Trocadéro. To enter into the spirit of things, the Louvre opens its doors for free on 14 July, while the Palais Garnier stages a free concert known as the Opéra Bastille.
While many millions of revellers make their way into the French capital for Bastille Day, we have scoured the country for three of the best alternatives.
For the residents of Carcassonne in Languedoc-Roussillon, festivities aren’t merely confined to 14 July. Instead, the entire month is given over to the Festival de la Cité, a non-stop riot of dance, theatre, circus and music.
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The high point, however, is the hugely impressive fireworks show on Bastille Day, which sees around 700,000 visitors and locals descending on the city for the €100,000 spectacle above the magnificent ramparts of the medieval fortress.
The most popular places to view the incredible display are along the banks of the river, with the Pont Vieux and Pont Neuf bridges considered the best spots to set up a base. To ensure a good spot, you have to arrive at least six hours before the sun sets and the first firework is launched above the UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the 25-minute display, the medieval fortifications are made to look like the entire city is on fire, in part commemorating the original burning of the city in 1898. It culminates in 1,200 charges detonated over the 600 metres of the city’s façade in just six seconds.
If drama, history and a fête-fuelled community is what you’re looking for, then Carcassonne could be an ideal place for you to start living your French dream. Situated in the southern department of Aude, the city is surrounded by pretty villages and sunny vineyards, and boasts many interesting historic sites for you to explore.
Surprisingly, property prices in the Carcassonne sector are very attractive, with the average resale property price coming in at €120,000 according to Notaires de France figures, compared to the national average of €160,000. While the average price in the Aude department is higher at €135,000, due to the higher prices demanded in the towns on the Mediterranean coastline to the east of the department, this is still significantly below the national average.
One particularly special example of a property for sale is a character home at the foot of the medieval Carcassonne ramparts, on the market for €237,000 with My French House (www.my-french-house.com). With two en-suite bedrooms, an office, garage and courtyard, you can see the ancient city from the kitchen windows – perfect for watching that pyrotechnic display without having to tackle the crowded streets.
If the crowds of Paris and Carcassonne aren’t your cup of tea, then you might want to spend your Bastille weekend in the elegantly exquisite lakeside town of Annecy. A great place for families there are plenty of fun-filled activities for children throughout the day, with a grand finale of fireworks at around 10pm.
Once the last thunderous cascade of colour has faded, it’s time for the party to really get started. Here in Annecy, that means a refined public ball, in period dress of course. With the backdrop of Lake Annecy and the mountains of Haute-Savoie, this is a truly romantic way to celebrate the best of France.
“With its medieval buildings, canals, quaint streets lined with restaurants and cafés, arcades, boutiques and of course its beautiful setting on the banks of the magnificent lake surrounded by Alpine pastures and mountain, the historic town of Annecy has always been a popular destination,” says Anne Mizrachi of estate agency Latitudes. “The region is ideal for outdoor activities such as water sports, hiking, cycling, and skiing to name but a few.”
If you’d like to buy your own piece of France in the Annecy area, the average resale property comes in at €339,700. The best spots – especially if you want to see those fireworks from your garden – are along the banks of the lake. On the market for €416,000 with Latitudes (www.latitudes.co.uk/fpn) is an apartment with two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a huge open-plan living space. This bolthole also enjoys private access to the lake – a real find.
To celebrate la Fête Nationale in glamour and style, make your way down to the Provençal town of Nice and its famous Promenade des Anglais, where each year you will find more cultural events taking place than you can shake a musket at. The traditional military parade makes its way along the waterfront promenade in the morning, and the rest of the day is then taken over by a number of musical events on open-air stages, attracting the best of France’s pop stars, jazz bands and ballroom artistes.
For the best views of the fireworks display in the evening, you can take a cruise boat into the bay where you can sip champagne, nibble on delicate canapés, and enjoy Bastille Day in a way only the Côte d’Azur could offer.
With its world-famous glitz and glamour, it’s no surprise that property prices are significantly here. The department of Alpes-Maritimes is the most expensive in Provence and has an average property price of €415,500, and although the average price in Nice itself is a much more palatable €340,000, this is still double the national average.
Despite the high prices, the property market is booming and there is plenty on offer at a range of budgets. “We’re seeing an increase in international demand, both for prime locations in Nice city and for the outlying towns and villages,” says Tim Clark, an agent with Leggett Immobilier. “This is a city that welcomes four million tourists a year, and we’re confident that there are many more sunny times ahead for the Nice property market.”
If you want to be at the centre of the action – and be able to watch the fireworks from your own balcony – why not check out a beautiful Art Deco apartment on the market with Leggett Immobilier (www.leggettfrance.com), right on the Promenade des Anglais? With views of the ocean, the price tag of €635,000 is surely justified by the huge French windows, marble floors and unbeatable location.