What’s on in France: Eleven great things to do in July

What's on in France: Eleven great things to do in July
Check out Provence's Lavender festivals in July. Photo: Ming-Yen Hsu/Flickr
Here are 11 reasons to take in a bit of French culture in July.

After France’s wettest spring in 150 years, the time has come to shed the umbrellas and anoraks and venture outdoors for the holiday season.

And as the skies brighten and summer finally beckons, it’s a good time to enjoy the raft of vibrant festivals and events taking place across France this July. We’ve rounded up a list of some of the best on offer.

Paris Plages, 20th July-21st August

Every summer, the Seine doubles up as a seaside resort complete with palm trees, deckchairs, ice-cream vans and 5,000 tonnes of sand. The brainchild of Bertrand Delanoë, a former Socialist Mayor of Paris, Paris Plages began as an initiative to give some summery respite to weary Parisians unable to escape the sweltering city in July.

(People soak up the sun at Paris Plage last year. Photo: AFP)

Since its inauguration fifteen years ago it has gone from strength to strength. The project’s centrepiece is a beach stretching through the beating heart of historic Paris from the Louvre to Pont du Sully; there is also another, calmer beach area at Bassin de la Villette with a water-sports complex and a library. For more information, click here.

La Villette Open-Air Cinema Festival, Paris, 13th July-21st August

Every year the grassy Parc de La Villette in the 19th arrondisement opens its gates for Paris’ largest open-air cinema festival. It’s the perfect way to enjoy a balmy summer evening in Paris, and, best of all, is totally free (unless you to opt to pay for a deckchair).

(Pack a picnic and arrive early to get a good spot. Photo: AFP)

This years line up offers an eclectic mix of cult classics (Ida, Miami Vice, Zefferelli’s Romeo and Juliet), modern blockbusters (Casino Royale, Interstellar, Gravity) and short films by up-and-coming directors (projected every Saturday evening).

Fêtes de Bayonne, 27th-31st July

The Fêtes de Bayonne in the Northern Basque Country always draws huge crowds, and this year promises to be no exception – as long as the weather holds. For five weeks at the end of July, the streets of Bayonne brim and bustle with exuberant parades, Basque food and music, tamborradas drum displays, bull running and fighting and participants dressed in red and white.

The festivities begin when King Léon, the festival’s mascot, stands on the balcony of the town hall and flings the city keys into the crowd thronging below. This kickstarts five days of non-stop celebrations, which end on Sunday evening with a grand fireworks show and the departure of King Léon for another year. 

Lavender Festivals, Provence, various

For lovers of lavender, July is a good time to visit Provence. The fields are carpeted purple and you can take in some of the fragrant lavender festivals dotted around the region.

(July and August are the best times to see the lavender that the region is famous for. Photo: Decar66/ Flickr)


The Lavender Museum in Coustellet also offers free lavender distillation demonstrations from 1st July to 25th August.

International Festival of Baroque Opera, Beaune, 8th-31st July

Every year Baroque music enthusiasts descend upon the walled city of Beaune, the wine capital of Burgundy, for its International Festival of Baroque Opera. It opens this year on the 8th July with a recital of Handel’s Cantates Italiennes by acclaimed countertenor Andreas Scholl; other notable performers include the Accentus Choir singing Mozart’s The Coronation Mass and Solemn Vespers, and the mezzo-soprano Vivica Genaux, who’ll interpret the role of Dido in Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. Concerts take place in the Basilique Notre-Dame and the Hospices de Beaune, a magical fifteenth-century almshouse.

Festival de Carcassonne, 4th July-1st August

This year there’s a whole host of things on offer at the Festival de Carcassonne, which returns for its eleventh anniversary with an enticing month-long programme of circus, comedy, classical music, dance, film and comedy.

(Festival de Carcassonne from previous year. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Bellet/ Flickr)

80 out of the 120 shows are free of charge. From Jul 15th to 18th, Pharrell Williams, Les Insus and Lefa + Nekfeu + Maître Gims will grace the Grande Scène La Fajeolle, a new venue which boasts a capacity of more than 10,000. French rocker Johnny Hallyday inaugurated the stage last year for the festival’s tenth birthday.

Le Festival de la Vézère, Correze, 12th July-24th August

Le Festival de la Vézère welcomes visitors this July and August to a series of eighteen concerts in 14 different venues (including the Chateau de Saillant, the abbatiale d'aubazine and the cathédrale Notre-Dame de Tulle) in the Correze department.

This year the festival – now in its thirty-sixth year – will shine the spotlight on talented young performers. Programme highlights include soprano Pumeza Matshikiza singing with the Republican Guard Orchestra on the 19th July and Diva Opera’s performances of Cossi Fan Tutte and Don Pasquale on the 12th and 13th August. For more information, click here.

The Avignon Festival, 6th-24th July

Founded in 1947, the Avignon theatre and performing arts festival has established itself over the past seventy years as a key fixture in France’s cultural calendar. This year the festival will have a political tilt under the directorship of actor, author and director Olivier Py, who wants it to be animated by a spirit of ‘révolte’ and ‘amour des possibles’.

(Performer outside Avignon's Palais des Papes at previous year. Photo: AFP)


In a packed programme of more than forty shows, the highlight will probably be the Comédie Française’s performance of Les Damnés (based on Luchino Visconti’s film) which opens the festival on the 6th July. More info here

Firemen's Ball, Paris, 14th July

On the 13th and 14th, Paris’s fire stations open their doors to revellers for the ‘Bals des Pompiers’, and on the 14th a military parade marches down the Champs Elysée in the presence of President François Hollande and a huge flag-brandishing crowd. Later on, a kaleidoscopic fireworks display launched from the Eiffel Tower and the Trocadéro gardens will light up the skies of Paris. For more info click here.

Louis XIV, the Fire King: Fireworks show, Château de Versailles, 7th, 8th, 14th and 15th July 2016 – 10pm

This summer Louis XIV returns to haunt his grand domaine for a spectacle of lights, fire, video art and pyrotechnics in the Chateau’s Orangerie gardens. The show will evoke the life and times of Louis XIV, culminating in a grand fireworks display worthy of a King who chose the Sun as his personal emblem. Book tickets here.

Main Square Festival, Arras, 1st-3rd July

Main square festival returns again to Arras, Pas-de-Calais for the first weekend of July. This year’s headliners include Iggy Pop, Disclosure, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Offspring and Les Insus, with Ellie Goulding, Jake Bugg and the Cayman Kings also on the line-up. No muddy fields at Main Square: the acts take to the stage in the Vauden Citadel, a UNESCO world heritage site, promising a unique festival experience. Follow the link for more information. 

(Performer at festival  last year. Photo: Alexandre Fumeron/ Flickr)

This website offers helpful information on the different festivals across July. 

by Imogen Wallace


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