France offers an eclectic mix of festivals, ranging from world-famous arts and gastronomic extravaganzas to quirky village gatherings. To help get you in the party mood, Zoë McIntyre gives a month-by-month guide to what’s on offer
Festival International de la Bande Dessinée
31 January to 3 February
The cartoons and comics convention in the capital of Charente is one of the largest in the world and makes a family-friendly festival. This year marks the 40th anniversary, so visitors can look forward to an even greater variety of exhibitions, workshops and shows featuring the most popular comics and cartoonists. The five-day event culminates in a grand awards ceremony.
Tel: (Fr) 8 92 70 70 57
Fête de la Saint-Vincent Tournante
Saint Vincent, patron saint of winegrowers, gives his name to one of France’s most renowned wine festivals, organised by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Tastevin, and dating from the medieval era. This year it is based in Châtillon-sur-Seine and includes processions through the vines, religious ceremonies and wine tastings.
Tel: (Fr) 3 80 91 13 19
La Folle Journée de Nantes
30 January to 3 February
This western port’s annual festival aims to rid classical music of its stuffy image with a series of 45-minute concerts at low prices in a variety of venues. This year’s theme is French and Spanish music from the 1860s to the present day, including works by Hector Berlioz, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Manuel de Falla. The festival also spotlights earlier composers who inspired them.
Tel: (Fr) 8 92 70 52 05, www.follejournee.fr
Carnaval de Nice
15 February to 6 March
With more than one million visitors, Nice’s flamboyant carnival is undoubtedly the biggest winter event on the French Riviera. During the three-week extravaganza, the resort’s Promenade des Anglais is ablaze with flower-strewn floats, and more than 1,000 musicians and dancers parade through the streets. The 2013 theme is Roi des Cinq Continents, so expect plenty of grandiose celebrations that are fit for a king.
Tel: (Fr) 8 92 70 74 07
Fête du Citron
16 February to 6 March
The 80th Fête du Citron promises an extra-special celebration of the area’s most famous export. In the pretty Riviera town nicknamed La Perle de la France, visitors can go on a virtual world tour in citrus fruit, with enormous lemon and orange constructions dotted around the town, depicting anything from the Taj Mahal to the Moulin Rouge. Daytime exhibitions and parades are followed by evening illuminations and moonlight processions.
Tel: (Fr) 4 92 41 76 95 www.fete-du-citron.com
Fête du Mimosa
Twelve tons of locally grown yellow flowers will be at the heart of this folkloric festival in the Alpes-Maritimes town known as the capital of mimosa. The harvest is celebrated as floats decorated with the flowers are shown off in daytime processions and then illuminated for night-time parades. There are also craft exhibitions, perfumery tours and guided walks in the hills surrounding the town.
Tel: (Fr) 4 93 93 64 64
Le Printemps des Poètes
Lovers of poetry have 12,000 events to choose from at this annual festival that includes celebrity readings, workshops and discussions, all connected with this year’s theme of Les Voix du Poème.
Tel: (Fr) 1 53 80 08 00
Le Printemps du Cinéma
To celebrate le septième art, this annual festival allows filmgoers to take in as many cinema screenings as they wish over three days for just €3.50 a showing.
Foire au Boudin
16-18 March Led by the Confrérie des Chevaliers du Goûte Boudin, the annual festival in the Orne département of Normandy gathers more than 100 traders, artisans and butchers to celebrate the art of making black pudding and to sell more than five kilometres of the dried blood sausage. Attractions include stalls, demonstrations and a prize for the best pig squeal impression.
Féria de Pâques
29 March to 1 April
The Easter festival marks the start of the bullfighting season in southern France and is a great excuse for a party as revellers in Arles drink wine in the bodegas and enjoy music in the streets.
Tel: (Fr) 8 91 70 03 70 www.arenes-arles.com
Rencontres Internationales de Cerfs-Volants
Along the sandy beaches of Berck-sur-Mer in the Pas-de-Calais département, thousands of weird and wonderful creations will be taking to the skies in the 27th annual kite-flying festival.
Festival Normandie Impressioniste
27 April to 29 September
The birthplace of Impressionism prepares for its second festival dedicated to the 19th-century art movement that included Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir. Exhibitions, shows, films and concerts are being held in venues across Normandy, focusing this year on the theme of water in Impressionist painting.
Tel: (Fr) 6 88 45 44 59
The Palais des Papes is the impressive setting for the Provençal city’s ninth rose festival, featuring more than 2,000 exhibits, including many new varieties, that will appeal to professionals and enthusiasts. Attractions include exhibitions and workshops on such topics as learning how to create a perfect bouquet. Visitors will also get the chance to vote for their favourite rosebud in the Prix du Public Alterarosa competition.
Tel: (Fr) 4 32 74 32 74, www.alterarosa.com
Held within the walls of the fortified Château Fort de Sedan, the festival whisks visitors back in time for jousting sessions, falconry displays, sword fights and banqueting, performed by history enthusiasts in period costume.
Tel: (Fr) 3 24 29 98 80
Festival de Cannes CANNES
Glamorous Cannes rolls out the red carpet once again to welcome the biggest names in showbusiness who congregate on the Riviera for the world’s most prestigious international film festival. Not only a top spot for celebrity sightings, the festival previews a wide range of new films both in and out of competition.
Tel: (Fr) 1 53 59 61 00
Fête de la Fraise
12 May Almost 400 tons of strawberries are picked in the area around this small town in the Corrèze département, five tons of which are used in the festival. The highlight is the creation of the tarte géante measuring eight metres wide and containing 800 kilograms of strawberries.
Tel: (Fr) 5 55 91 09 94
Jazz à Vienne
28 June- 13 July Mid-summer brings the cool sounds of jazz back to Vienne, just south of Lyon, in arguably l’Hexagone’s most important summer festival devoted to the genre. At sunset on the opening night musicians from various disciplines will perform together in the town’s Roman amphitheatre to herald a week of jazz, blues, funk and soul being staged at large concerts and free fringe events.
Tel: (Fr) 8 92 70 20 07 www.jazzavienne.com
Fête de la Musique
The summer solstice marks one of France’s most cherished nationwide events, as the public take to the streets to enjoy a feast of lively free music from amateurs and professionals. From the big cities to the most secluded villages, recitals en plein air show off the best in local talent, promising a lively atmosphere and plenty of opportunities for visitors to try out their dance moves.
Tel: (Fr) 1 40 03 94 70
L’Armada de la Liberté
Tens of thousands of visitors are expected at the quayside of Haute-Normandie’s capital to witness the gathering of about 50 ships and to go aboard for a free tour. After journeying 120 kilometres down the River Seine, the sailing ships, modern battleships and other distinctive vessels will muster at the port to be greeted with concerts, fireworks and entertainment.
Tel: (Fr) 2 35 89 20 03
Fête du Costume
Put on your glad rags and head to the Provençal town for this traditional festival. On the first Sunday of July, women in Arles dress up in the local attire of white capuche (hood), pleated skirts and lace shawl. More than 500 Arlésiennes then parade through the streets to the Roman Théâtre Antique to celebrate with the Reine d’Arles and her demoiselles d’honneur.
Tel: (Fr) 4 90 96 47 00 www.fetes-arles.com
Le Lorraine Mondial Air Ballons
26 July to 4 August
Look to the skies of Lorraine for an aerial spectacular when hundreds of montgolfières gather from around the world for the annual air balloon festival near Metz. The hundreds of multi-coloured balloons make a spectacular display and often set world records when they lift off in unison from the Chambley-Bussières aerodrome of Planet’Air.
Tel: (Fr) 3 82 33 77 77
Les Fêtes de Gayant
7 -9 July
For a larger-than-life celebration, head to the town of Douai in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais region for its annual giants festival. The Gayant family is made up of the 20ft tall Monsieur and Madame Gayant, and their three huge children, all of whom are made of wicker. The figures are paraded around the town, followed by other oversized effigies. The spectacle dates from the 16th century and has been recognised by Unesco as a special heritage event.
Tel: (Fr) 3 27 88 26 79
On France’s national day the whole country celebrates what in English-speaking countries is referred to as Bastille Day. In Paris, celebrations begin with the sound of trumpets and bugles heralding the arrival of the President for the military parade down the Champs-Élysées, and ends with fireworks over the Champ de Mars. The atmosphere of celebration reverberates throughout France with parades and concerts, music and dance, feasting and fireworks.
5 -7 July Nicknamed the French Glastonbury, this internationally acclaimed music festival features a star-studded line-up of rock, pop and other contemporary musicians that in 2012 included The Cure and The Kooks. Held during the first week of July, the rock fest boasts a picturesque waterside setting (pictured above) on a peninsula on Lac de Malsaucy, ten kilometres outside of Belfort in Franche-Comté.
Fêtes de Bayonne
Famous for its ham and chocolate, Bayonne on the Atlantic coast is also considered the capital of the French Basque country. Its five days of festivities are full of music, street performances, fireworks and parades of floats. The town is whipped into a frenzy of red and white as thousands dress from head-to-toe in the town’s two traditional colours to enjoy cow racing, bullfighting and plenty of bar hopping.
Fête du Jasmin
2-4 August France’s famous perfume centre of Grasse in Provence marks the start of the jasmine harvest with a festival that includes parades of flower-decked floats, a flower battle and opportunities for visitors to snap up jasmine-scented produce. The town’s fire service joins in the fun by cascading jasmine water over the crowds from old-fashioned fire trucks.
Tel: (Fr) 4 93 36 66 66, www.grasse.fr
Les Chorégies d’Orange
Claiming to be France’s oldest festival of its kind, Orange’s summer opera season welcomes around 10,000 spectators to the Provençal town’s well-preserved Roman amphitheatre (pictured above) which provides exceptional acoustics and a spectacular backdrop to listen to the crème de la crème of classical music.
Tel: (Fr) 4 90 34 24 24
During Brittany’s celebration of Celtic culture, the air will be filled with the distinctive sounds of Breton bands called bagads as around 5,000 performers take part in 200 concerts in Lorient on the region’s southern coast. The festival promises lively entertainment and a convivial atmosphere for anyone interested in Celtic customs and music. Tel: (Fr) 2 97 21 24 29
La Saint-Louis Fête des Jouteurs
21-27 August After tournaments held throughout the summer, the water jousting season comes to a climax in mid-August on the Canal de Sète during a five-day spectacular in the small Mediterranean port. To find the champion, competitors in traditional white costume come face to face across the waters as they attempt to tip each other into the canal, with throngs of bystanders cheering on from the waterside.
Tel: (Fr) 4 99 04 71 71, www.ot-sete.fr
Festival International de Théâtre de Rue
For four days a year in this Auvergne town, every street, square and public garden is full of creative energy as amateur and professional groups stage performances of theatre, dance, acrobatics and song.
Tel: (Fr) 4 71 43 43 70, www.aurillac.net
Fêtes Renaissance du Roi de l’Oiseau
In the 16th century, an archery contest was held in this Auvergne town to crown the Bird King; the archer who shot down the most birds. In the modern era, on every third weekend in September, the Renaissance revelries are revived, as the cobbled streets come alive with 6,000 costumed performers. This living history lesson includes mock battles, stalls and, of course, archery competitions.
Tel: (Fr) 4 71 09 38 41
Journées Européennes du Patrimoine
NATIONWIDE 14-15 September
Go behind closed doors and explore some of l’Hexagone’s most important institutions as government buildings, châteaux, theatres and churches that are normally inaccessible to the public open for one weekend in the 30th edition of a Europe-wide initiative.
Festival Mondial des
Théâtres de Marionnettes
Puppeteers from all over the world will gather in the capital of the Ardennes département for the biennial festival. Sports halls, streets and courtyards are transformed into theatres staging shows including glove, string and shadow puppets. The festival, founded in 1961, also features musicians, jugglers, storytellers, clowns and mime artists.
Tel: (Fr) 3 24 59 94 94
Toulouse Les Orgues International Festival
9-20 October For classical sounds with a difference head to the capital of Midi-Pyrénées for the 18th celebration of pipe organ music featuring works from the Baroque, Romantic and modern eras. Complementary events include choral concerts and poetry readings, and younger organists will be competing for a €6,000 top prize in the International Xavier Darasse competition.
Tel: (Fr) 5 61 33 76 80
5-6 October Prepare for a late night if you want to make the most of Paris’s multi-cultural nocturnal festival held each October. During just one night, galleries, museums, libraries, cinemas and even swimming pools stay open for free into the early hours.
Tel: (Fr) 1 44 59 58 58, www.paris.fr
La Fête de la Crevette
This small medieval town on the Normandy coast has a proud maritime heritage and this festival honours a local specialty – the grey shrimp (la petite grise). Expect seafood stands, plenty of sea shanty singing, a gathering of old sea vessels and a shrimp-peeling competition.
Tel: (Fr) 2 31 89 23 30, www.ot-honfleur.fr
La Fête du Beaujolais Nouveau
The release of the new Beaujolais on the third Thursday of November is cause for nationwide celebration. Once the first barrel of the Burgundy vin de primeur vintage has been opened soon after the harvest, festivities spill out across France, with wine merchants, bars and restaurants holding tasting sessions and special events.
Tel: (Fr) 3 80 25 04 80 www.burgundy-wines.fr
Fête du Cidre à l’Ancienne
November (dates to be confirmed)
This village in the apple-growing country of the Orne département in Normandy celebrates the art of cider-making using techniques dating from the 18th century. Sample heady brews from cider stalls while enjoying apple soup with thick crusty bread and warm apple crêpes. Other apple-based produce on sale include jams, jellies, cider vinegar and the region’s Calvados brandy.
Tel: (Fr) 2 33 35 25 89 www.normandie-tourisme.fr
Les Glorieuses de Bresse
Mid-December (dates to be confirmed)
France’s only appellation d’origine contrôlée poultry, the poulet de Bresse, has an international reputation and this market in the capital of the Ain département in Burgundy is the perfect showcase. Visitors can attend tasting and cookery sessions, and perhaps spot a few famous chefs.
Tel: (Fr) 4 74 22 49 40
Fête de la Dinde
14-15 December The town of Licques to the south of the northern port of Calais is famous throughout l’Hexagone for producing Christmas turkeys. Locals celebrate the tradition with a festival that includes parading the ill-fated birds through the streets.
Tel: (Fr) 3 21 35 00 19, www.licques.fr