It’s that time of year again when France erupts into festival mode. While great fêtes and festivals in France are held throughout the year, spring and summer are the seasons of bounty.
• Roland Garros, in the Bois de Bologne, on the outskirts of Paris, is home to the French Open, held every year at the end of May/beginning of June. Opening day this year is Sunday, May 27.
• The Festival de Saint-Denis, held just outside Paris, is a celebration of classical music, beginning this year on May 31.
• The Paris Jazz Festival at the Parc Floral, in the Bois de Vincennes on the outskirts of the city, begins on June 11. A lovelier place to picnic and listen to tunes cannot be found!
• The Fête de la Musique is held on June 21 throughout the country, and nearly every village has some kind of music you can experience. Often these events go far into the night on the evening of the summer solstice. And it’s free!
• Mid-July in Paris marks the opening of Paris Plages, with the banks of the Seine turned into a typical French beach resort. Picnics, food, wine and activities such as beach volleyball are just some of the splendors to be enjoyed.
• Beginning on July 14, and running for about a month in each arrondissement of Paris, is the arts festival Quartier d’Eté, where you can experience ballet, art, music and theatre. Most events are free.
The Quartier d'Eté arts festival.
• July 14 is also Bastille Day (la fête nationale), which marks the storming of the Bastille and the beginning of the French Revolution. Fireworks and a variety of events can be experienced throughout the country.
• The Open-Air Cinema festival celebrates the art of film. Enjoy films en plein air for free beginning July 25 in the Parc de la Villette in Paris. It’s another fantastic opportunity to have a picnic.
• The Théâtre de Verdure du Jardin Shakespeare, in Paris’s beautiful Bois de Boulogne, is the setting for a series of plays in the park, beginning in May and running through the summer. Most performances are in French.
• For the first three days of June in Arras, in the north of France, you can enjoy Terres en Fête, one of the county’s richest agricultural festivals. Think: cows, tractors and the like.
• From the end of June to early July, the Bordeaux Wine Festival comes to town, at the Unesco World Heritage site of Bordeaux. As you stroll along the river, sample wines from around the region as well as delicious local gourmet specialties, such as oysters and cheese. There’s also music and even fireworks!
Bordeaux Wine Festival.
• A lesser-known event is held on an island in the middle of the Seine at Samois, beside the Fontainebleau forest, only about 60 kilometers southeast of the capital. Django Reinhardt lived his final years here, and the Festival Django Reinhardt, held at the end of June, celebrates the art of gypsy jazz, which has recently experienced a revival. Watch a performance from last year’s festival:
• From June 22 to 25 in the town of Tarascon, in southern France, you’ll be treated to four days of revelry during the Fêtes de la Tarasque, celebrating the defeat of a dragon that supposedly preyed on and killed young children. Fantastic horseback riders and bullfighters are the highlights.
• Jazz à Vienne Lyon Session, a jazz festival in Vienne, about 30 kilometers south of Lyon, on the Rhône River, is held in a Roman theatre from the end of June to mid-July. Erykah Badu headlines this year, so the music isn’t strictly jazz.
• The town of Cognac plays host to the Blues Passions festival, held this year from July 3 to 8, with Sting, Tom Jones and the Cranberries headlining.
The Blues Passions festival in Cognac.
• July marks the Festival d’Avignon, which is one of the country’s oldest and best-known arts festivals, featuring cinema, music, dance and theatrical events. Performances are held in over 20 venues across the city, including the Palais des Papes.
• Held annually in August in the town of Aigues-Mortes, not far from Montpellier, Fêtes de la Saint-Louis is a treat for the history buff, as it celebrates the Middle Ages. There’s a reenactment of the arrival of Saint Louis IX (who reigned from 1226 to 1270), with a tavern erected in the middle of town. The free event takes place this year from August 25 to 26 and includes a fireworks display!
• Proving that there must be a festival for anything and everything in France, Moncrabeau, in the southwestern region of the country, invites voyagers in August to witness the largest yarn-pulling event of the entire year: the Liars’ Festival. International competitors come together to fib, lie, pull legs and slap thighs in this festival of fibbery. In the end, the king of the liars is crowned. For only 5 euros you, too, can compete.
More festival info can be found at the Girls’ Guide’s fêtes and festivals page, France Festivals and FrenchEntrée.com.
Festival de Saint-Denis
Paris Jazz Festival
Fête de la Musique
Théâtre de Verdure du Jardin Shakespeare
Terres en Fête
Bordeaux Wine Festival
Festival Django Reinhardt
Fêtes de la Tarasque
Jazz à Vienne Lyon Session
Cognac Blues Passions
Fêtes de la Saint-Louis
Editor’s note: What’s the smartest thing to buy before your trip to Paris? Why, the Girls’ Guide to Paris membership card, of course!