Throughout the year, France hosts many iconic, world-class events that attract visitors from around the globe. While the pandemic may have temporarily curbed some of them, they remain much-loved and appreciated fixtures. Here are some of the best.
Menton Lemon Festival – February
Held over two weeks every February, the Fête du Citron, or Lemon Festival, is a celebration of all things citrussy in the French Riviera town of Menton, next to the border with Italy. Over 200,000 visitors each year admire the visual feast of colourful sculptures, made using some 145 tons of oranges and lemons.
Nice Carnival – February
Said to be one of the largest carnivals in the world, each year over a million spectators come to the Alpes-Maritimes city to marvel at the flamboyant floats and stunning parades, with performances from over a thousand dancers and musicians. During the vibrant flower parade, or Bataille de Fleurs, some 100,000 flowers are thrown into the crowds along the famed Promenade des Anglais.
Paris Fashion Week – February/March and September/October
One of the global Big 4 fashion weeks, Paris Fashion Week celebrates France’s acclaimed haute couture industry, with presentations by its major fashion houses, such as Louis Vuitton and Dior, attracting super-models and celebrities alike. The spring/summer event takes place in September/October, while autumn/winter collections are revealed in February/March.
Cannes Film Festival – May
Founded in 1946, the Cannes Film Festival remains one of the world’s most prestigious film festivals, attracting A-list stars onto its red carpets. Over 30,000 film professionals from around the world attend, hoping to compete for the prestigious Palme d’Or, or Golden Palm award. When not spotting celebrities on their way to gala screenings, fans can watch movies at the open-air Cinéma de la Plage on the beach.
Monaco Grand Prix – May
While not strictly in France, the Monaco Grand Prix, which started in 1929, is one of the world’s most exciting Formula One races, which takes place on the city streets of Monaco. With tight corners and tunnels, it is considered one of the most demanding of the Formula One tracks.
French Open Roland Garros – May/June
The French Open, also known as Roland-Garros, is one of the four major tennis tournaments that make up the Grand Slam each year. Held in Paris’s Stade Roland-Garros, named after a French aviator and WWI fighter pilot, it is the only Grand Slam played on clay courts. This is Rafael Nadal’s favourite surface, and he will doubtless be looking to win his 14th title this year.
24 Hours of Le Mans – June
Launched in 1923, the annual 24 Heures du Mans is the world’s oldest endurance race, held on the second weekend in June near the town of Le Mans, in Sarthe, Pays de la Loire. It is won by the car that covers the greatest distance in 24 hours, which means that teams have to balance speed with reliability and fuel-efficiency, and avoid spending time in the pits.
Fête de la Musique – June 21st
This celebration of music is held in every town, village and city of France on the summer solstice and is entirely free. It sees amateurs and professionals representing all music genres for the love of music, not for money, and takes place in professional venues as well as parks and open spaces, stations, museums and sometimes even hospitals.
Tour de France – July
The world’s most famous cycling competition is more than a bike race, but a celebration of the French landscape, showcasing mountain ranges, river valleys, glorious chateaux and hidden villages. First held in 1903, it lasts a gruelling three weeks, with the course changing every year. It’s also one of the world’s largest free spectator events, attracting between 10 – 12 million spectators to its 21 stages.
Festival d’Avignon – July
This annual festival of theatre is held in the courtyard of the Palais des Papes in Avignon, Vaucluse, with a spectacular open-air celebration of theatre, dance, visual arts and live music. Founded in 1947, it is the oldest festival in France and one of the world’s greatest, with some 950 performances taking place over three weeks.
Bastille Day – July 14th
La Fête de la Bastille, France’s national day, marks the anniversary of the 1789 storming of the Bastille Prison, and sees celebrations taking place across the country. In Paris, the highlight is a vast military parade, with free concerts and a firework celebration over the Eiffel Tower.
Deauville American Film Festival – September
Not quite up there with its Cannes rival, this festival held on the Normandy coast celebrates American cinema, and is now in its 48th year. It premieres over 100 films, showcasing both emerging and established talent, and every American movie star who visits gets their name on one of the many Art Deco changing cabins that line Deauville’s famous boardwalk.
Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe – October
Europe’s most prestigious all-aged horse race takes place on the first Sunday in October at the Paris Longchamp Hippodrome, and covers a distance of 2,400 metres. Popularly referred to as the ‘Arc’, it features many highly acclaimed horses, and is currently the world’s second richest turf race, behind Australia’s The Everest.
Vendée Globe – November to February
This gruelling non-stop solo sailing race, nicknamed the Everest of the Seas, starts and ends in Les Sables-d’Olonne, in the Vendée department. The course takes competitors down the Atlantic Ocean to the Cape of Good Hope, then clockwise around Antarctica and back to Les Sables d’Olonne, covering some 24,000 nautical miles, or 44,000 km. Founded in 1989 by French yachtsman Philippe Jeantot, it offers the ultimate challenge for single-handed sailors, and takes place every four years, with the 10th edition starting in 2024.