France offers such a wealth of history, culture and cuisines, it’s hardly surprising to find there are all kinds of fascinating festivals held throughout the country all year. While some invoke historic periods, from Roman times to Medieval, many focus on food, and are a celebration of local produce and livestock.
Let’s take a look at some of the most unusual and interesting festivals held throughout the year in France.
Fête de la Truffe: Sarlat-la-Canéda, Dordogne – January
This mid-January truffle festival takes place in the pretty town of Sarlat, and includes culinary workshops and demonstrations, truffle-hunting demonstrations and the chance to buy truffles or any truffle-based products.
Foire au Boudin: Mortagne au Perche, Orne – March
The boudin noir, or black pudding, is celebrated at this annual festival, where over 100 exhibitors sell their own varieties, which have been known to incorporate flavours such as chilli, cognac and even chocolate. A festival highlight is the Cri de Cochon competition, where contestants vie to make the most impressive pig squealing noises.
Carnaval Vénitien: Annecy, Haute-Savoie – March
You could be forgiven for thinking you’re in Venice with this festival of costumes and canals, which takes place during the weekend following Shrove Tuesday. For three days, mask-wearing participants from all over Europe wear colourful and eye-catching costumes in a visual feast that attracts both spectators and photographers alike.
Rencontres Internationales de Cerfs-Volants: Berck-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais – March/April
Enjoyed by over half a million spectators, this international kite festival sees giant dragons, whales, octopuses and cartoon characters floating in the skies above the sandy beach. Every two years the festival hosts the International Kite Championships, during which contestants compete against each other and the wind.
Fête de l’Escargot: Osenbach, Alsace – April
The two-day annual snail festival offers traditional music and dance, local beer tastings and, of course, snail tastings, with a traditional snail race held over a custom-built course.
Les Grands Jeux Romains: Nimes, Gard – April
The Great Roman Games sees legionaries, an imperial court and battle chariots taking part in one of the biggest re-enactments of ancient history, held in Nimes’ stunning 2000 year old amphitheatre. There is a new theme each year and free entertainment is offered throughout the city, including fancy dress parades, guided tours and lively workshops for children.
Fête Médiévale: Sedan, Ardennes – May
For an unforgettable experience of Medieval France, head to the Château de Sedan, Europe’s largest medieval castle, and enjoy the spirit of the Middle Ages, with jousting tournaments, banquets and parades around the castle grounds.
Fête Médiévale: Provins, Seine-et-Marne – June
One of the biggest medieval festivals in Europe, Provins Medieval Festival attracts musicians, acrobats, stilt-walkers and entertainers from all over Europe, and includes full-scale historical re-enactments. There is also fun for children, with medieval games such as quoits, skittles and wooden swords.
Fête Médiévale du Grand Fauconnier: Cordes-sur-Ciel, Tarn – July
Said to be one of the oldest and most beautiful medieval festivals in France, here you will find falconry demonstrations, fire-eaters, troubadours, jugglers, musicians, knights, fair ladies and peasants, with torch-lit processions, concerts, fire shows and plenty of children’s games and activities.
Fête de la Mirabelle: Metz, Moselle – August
The sweet mirabelle plum is celebrated by thousands of visitors, with a large market, a giant picnic, concerts, parades, fireworks and the crowning of the Mirabelle Queen.
Fête du Lait: Le Quesnoy, Nord – September
This one-day milk festival allows visitors to admire different species of cattle and to sample some of the area’s finest dairy products. At its beauty queen competition, local ladies compete for the honour of being crowned Miss Protein.
Fête du Piment: Espelette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques – October
A spicy festival that celebrates the deep-red chilli during a weekend of dancing, music and food stalls, with streets decked out in red and white bunting and strings of sun-dried red peppers. Highlights include a blessing of the pepper harvest and a service given by the Confrérie du Piment d’Espelette.
Foire aux Harengs: Lieurey, Eure – November
The herring festival traces its roots back to the 15th century, when a violent snowstorm meant a load of fish being transported was forced to stop at Lieurey, and was sold on site to prevent waste. A highlight is the herring eating competition, where competitors can win their weight in herrings.
Fête de la Dinde: Licques, Pas-de-Calais – December
The small town of Licques is known for its Christmas turkeys, and this annual festival features turkey parades through the streets and a competition for the ‘best in show’ title, with a market, a celebratory meal and dancing.
Fête des Lumières: Lyon, Rhone – December
Over four days, Lyon’s famous Festival of Lights sees buildings, streets, squares and facades lit up with a dazzling array of illuminations, with some 80 different installations across the city, allowing the millions of visitors to experience Lyon and its architecture in dramatic and exciting new ways.