Whether celebrating street theater or strawberries, vintage bicycles or movie cars, mime or flamenco, joyful and unique festivals take place throughout France throughout the year. The selection below shows the diversity of such annual festivals.
Travelers passionate about a given festival theme may want to plan their stay in advance, but one of the delights of taking to the regional routes of France is lucking upon a festival. Even if you aren’t initially passionate about a given subject, there’s an infective pleasure to taking part in such festivals, heightened by the sense that you’ve ventured off the beaten track to attend a unique event of local pride.
Alsace: Carrefour Européen du Patchwork. On the strength of its reputation as “birthplace of the Amish movement,” Sainte Marie-aux-Mines’ European Patchwork Meeting in mid-September draws patchwork, textile art and visitors from throughout Europe as well as from the United States.
Aquitaine: Mimos. Why let foreign words get in the way of appreciating a theater festival? Périgueux holds one of Europe’s top mime festivals over six days, late July to early August. Also wordlessly beautiful, flamenco takes to the stage in the Landes in the town of Mont-de-Marsan the first week in July during Arte Flamenco.
Auvergne: Festival de Cerf Volant, a weekend kite festival and accompanying air show on the Gergovie Plateau in October. From the grace of kites to the pageantry of costumes as Vichy fete’s Napoleon III over the last weekend of April.
Centre-Val de Loire: The International Garden Festival in the park of the château of Chaumont-sur-Loire is simply a very nice place to enjoy strolling through creative gardens during a Loire Valley castle tour anytime from April to October.
Champagne-Ardennes: World Festival of Puppet Theater, the world’s largest gathering of puppeteers, is held late September in Charlesville-Mezières. There are lots of film festivals in France, most notably the Cannes Film Festival, but for a close-up view of stars of cinema and television, the town of Saint Dizier hosts the European Meeting of the the Car Stars of Cinema and Television the third weekend of July, the opportunity to get up close and personal with the likes of Starsky & Hutch’s Ford Gran Torino, Columbo’s Peugeot 403, the Scooby Doo van, an AMC Pacer from Wayne’s World and maybe even a batmobile.
Limousin: La Route du Cirque. Nexon may sound like a high-tech company circa 1986 but it’s a small town near Limoges and one of the training grounds for French circus performers, hence this mid-August circus festival. The region is probably better known for its strawberries, hence the mid-May strawberry festival, Fête de la Fraise, at Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, featuring a giant tart with 1700 pounds of strawberries and much else, no artificial flavor added.
Nord-Pas de Calais (North): Les Turbulents de Vieux Condé. Of many street festivals around France, this is one of the most surprising, weather permitting, when creativity and creations of all kinds take over the public spaces of Vieux Condé, a small town along the Belgian border a few miles from Valenciennes during the first weekend in May.
Pays de la Loire (Western Loire): Europ’Amazones features the riding prowess and elegance of side-saddling horsewomen over a weekend in early May in Lion d’Angers, as described here. Trade horses and old riding costumes for vintage bicycles and cyclewear at Anjou Vélo Vintage, late June in and around Saumur and Angers.
Rhone-Alpes: Equiblues, Europe’s largest rodeo, naturally accompanies by country music concerts, over five days in August in Saint Agrève (Ardèche). (See this article on France Revisited.) Across the Rhone in Drome Provençale Les Fêtes Nocturnes de Grignan invites a different director and troupe each summer to use the courtyard of the Château de Grignan as the setting for a unique production presented late June through late August. Other theater festivals (e.g. Avignon) have been left off this list because of the probably language barrier of attending French theater, but I note Grignan since in 2013, Tennessee Williams’ Chatte sur un toit brûlant (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) takes to this beautiful makeshift stage.