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CULTURE

What’s on: Ten must-do events in France this August

Bored in August? Don't be. The Local is here to cast an eye over 10 unmissable events.

What's on: Ten must-do events in France this August
Photo: AFP

August is the month when many French people ditch work entirely, so the events and festivals are coming thick and fast. Here's our pick of ten must-do events across the country this August. 

Rock en Seine, Paris: August 23rd-25th

It's the big one! The giant of all Paris music festivals, the infamous Rock en Seine is back with a bang once again in 2019. Over 100,000 music lovers will flock to Paris' Saint-Cloud area to catch the biggest names across a mix of genres. 

This year, timeless rock titans The Cure will headline, whilst Caribbean dancehall-influenced Major Lazer will bring their club-fillers to the stage and the face of new-wave R&B, Jorja Smith, will return to her mammoth French fan-base. The likes of Royal Blood, Foals, Jungle, King Princess and Bring Me The Horizon are all on the bill too for what looks to be an unmissable weekend. 

Festival du Chant de Marin, Brittany: August 2nd-4th

Marco Polo, Vasco de Gama, Magellan and more will be celebrated at this year's 'Sea Shanty Festival'. A weekend of maritime history, the three-day festival offers up cultural exchanges, exhibitions, local product tasting, activities for children and live bands every evening in what is a festival for all the family. Taking place on France's north-west coast in Paimpol, tickets cost €50 per person for the three-day event. 

USA's Sam Kendricks at last year's Paris Diamond League. Photo: AFP

Diamond League Athletics, Paris: August 24th

International athletes don't just come out for the Olympics every four years, you know. The international series of Diamond League events give track and field competitors the chance to flex their muscles and gain valuable race practice. Last year names including Yohan Blake and Caster Semenya were amongst competitors, whilst Justin Gatlin, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Elaine Thompson have all competed in other Diamond League events this season. 

Paris' competition will take place at the Stade Charlety in south Paris, with tickets still available from €15.

Saint Louis Festival, Sète: August 22nd-27th 

Towards the end of August, Sète in south-west France goes jousting crazy. You heard right, the six-day festival is dedicated to all things water jousting, the event's website promoting “a delirious atmosphere taking over the city“. Real world championship competitions take place as competitors aim to poke their rivals off their boat's platform and into the water, leading to wild celebrations. 

Jousters lock lances at the Saint Louis Festival. Photo: AFP

International Fireworks Festival, Cannes: August 7th, 15th, 24th

Cannes is well-known for its New Year's Eve fireworks display from the middle of the ocean, however the city has also been hosting the International Fireworks Festival ever since 1967. 200,000 people are said to attend over the range of dates, with a different show on each night. Teams from Sweden and USA will set the sky alight on the first two dates, with a French show closing the event.

Festival Darc, Chateauroux: August 11th-23rd

Some of the most exciting dance acts from across the globe gather at the Festival Darc to showcase their talent. Both Tuesdays and the first Friday are free for spectators to attend and catch acts such as Le Trottoir d'en Face, Moja and Marcel et son Orchestre. Other days range from €15- €36 for tickets.

Nuit des Étoiles, Nationwide: August 2nd, 3rd and 4th

You can gaze at the stars and take part in interactive astronomy exhibitions in towns and cities across France this August. Organised by the French Astronomy Association, the events stretch further than just France, as countries all over the world take the chance to cast their eyes upwards.

In Paris, the Tour Montparnasse, Jardins des Grands Explorateurs, the Musée des Arts et Métiers and the Parc André Citroen, amongst others, will all be involved. 

The Voyage à Nantes Trail, Nantes: Throughout August

If you haven't already taken a trip around Nantes on its urban trail to catch the bigger-than-life pieces of art, fear not, you've still got the whole of August to do so. Most of the sites are free entry as you follow a trail around the city's biggest landmarks, where you'll be kept guessing at what lies around every corner on the 44-stop walk.

Paris Saint Germain look to kick off a title-winning campaign. Photo: AFP

Liberation Day, Paris: August 25th

Marking the 74th anniversary since the end of Nazi occupation, this August head down to the Hotel de Ville on the 25th. With remembrance projections being cast on the building from 5pm, be sure to stick around for the free music and dancing which kicks off at 9pm. Entry is free for all attendees. 

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CULTURE

Skulls, beer and a ‘cathedral’: Discover the secrets of underground Paris

You've certainly heard of the Metro, maybe the catacombs and perhaps even the Phantom of the Opera's underground lake - but there are some things lurking beneath Paris that might surprise you.

Skulls, beer and a 'cathedral': Discover the secrets of underground Paris

One of Europe’s most densely populated cities, Paris has over two million people living within its boundaries. As those inhabitants walk along the Champs-Elysées or Rue de Rivoli, they might be entirely unaware of the extensive underground world that exists below their feet. 

These are some of the hidden gems beneath the famous monuments in the City of Light:

Skulls, beer and police

The final resting place for over six million Parisians – the catacombs are the most well-known part of underground Paris, but did you know that the 1,700 metres of catacombs that are open to the public represent less than one percent of the whole of the catacombs in Paris? In fact, the underground network is thought to be around 300 km in size.

The catacombs are also known as the Ossuaire Municipal, and they are located at the site of former limestone quarries. The Ossuaire as we know it was created during the 18th century, because the city’s cemeteries could not withstand its population growth and public health concerns began to be raised. Gradually the remains of millions of Parisians were moved underground.

The bones of Parisians only comprise a small section of Paris’ ‘carrières‘ (or quarries), which can be seen in the above map.

These subterranean passages have fascinated cataphiles for many years – with stories of secret parties, illicit tunnel exploration and much more. During the Covid lockdowns, the catacombs infamously served as a location for clandestine parties. At one point, over 35 people were ticketed for participating in underground raves

The network even has its own police service, the Intervention and Protection Group, known colloquially as the cataflics, who are a specialised police brigade in charge of monitoring the old quarries in Paris.

Though these quarries might be a location to secretly throw back a few pints, they are also connected to beer for another reason, as they are the ideal environment to both store and make beer – with consistently cool temperatures and nearby access to underground water sources.

In 1880, the Dumesnil brewery, located in the 14th arrondissement, invested in the quarries underneath its premises, using them to store the thousands of barrels of beer that it produced each year. Over the years, the brewery simply turned its basement into a real underground factory. 

If you really want to visit the ancient underground quarries specifically, you don’t have to just go to the catacombs. You can also do so by visiting the “Carrières des Capucins.” Found just below the Cochin hospital, located in the 14th arrondissement, access to these tunnels is allowed to the public (with reservation) in small groups.

As for entering the rest of the old quarry system, that has been illegal to enter the old quarries since 1955, which has not stopped several curious visitors and explorers from trying to discover what secrets might be underground. 

Sewer Museum

Recently renovated, this museum might not be at the top of a tourist’s list in the same way the Louvre or Musée d’Orsay might, but the museum of sewers actually has a lot of fascinating history to share. It took almost a century to build Paris’ sewage system, and it is largely to thank for the city’s growth, protecting the public health of inhabitants by helping prevent disease outbreaks. 

Visiting the sewers is not a new activity either – according to the museum’s website, “as early as 1867, the year of the World’s Fair, visits were met with immense public success, the reason being that this underground space had always been hidden from the curious eyes of all those who dwell on the surface of Paris.”

Ghost stations

A total of 16 Metro stations go unused underground in Paris – some were built and never put into use, others were decommissioned after World War II.

The most famous is Porte des Lilas – a working Metro station that has an unused ‘ghost’ section which these days is used for filming scenes in movies and TV.

If you’ve ever watched a scene set in the Metro, chances are it was filmed at Porte des Lilas, which has a section of track that Metro cars can move along if needed for action sequences. 

The extra section was taken out of commission in 1939 due to under-use, and in the 1950s it served as a place to test new metro cars.

Beware if you find yourself in Haxo station – it does not have its own entrance or exit and is only accessible by following the Metro tunnels. It is one of the six that never opened, similar to Porte Molitor, Orly-Sud, La Défense-Michelet, or Élysée-La Défense.

Other stations were closed for being too close to other stations, such as the Saint-Martin station, which was closed after World War II as it was too close to Strasbourg-Saint Denis. 

These phantom stations are usually off-limits to the public, but sometimes access is allowed for special guided tours or events.

Reminders of World War II 

Paris’ underground played an important role during the Second World War.

First, there is the French resistance command bunker, which is now part of the Musée de la Libération at Place Denfert Rochereau.

It was from here that Resistance leaders co-ordinated the battle for the liberation of Paris in 1944.

There is also the anti-bombardment bunker near Gare de l’Est. Normally this is closed during the year, but it is opened on Heritage Day in September. (Journées de patrimoine). 

The bunker was originally commissioned in 1939 to keep trains running, even in the event of a gas attack, and it was completed by the Germans in November 1941. It is located between Metro tracks 3 and 4. The bunker itself – which can fit up to 50 people – has basically been frozen in time, featuring a control room and telephone. 

Another river

You’ve heard of the Seine, but what about the underground river that flows through the city of Paris? Prior to the 20th century, the Bièvre river flowed through the city as well, running through Paris’ 13th and 5th arrondisements. Once upon a time, tanners and dyers set up shop next to the Bievre, shown in the image below. 

The river eventually became quite polluted and concerns arose that it might be a health hazard, so in 1875, as part of his transformation of the city, Georges-Eugène Haussmann decided that the Bièvre had to go. It was mostly covered up, and now what remains of the river flows beneath the city, with some parts of it joining Paris’ sewage system.

The Phantom’s lake

If you are a fan of Phantom of the Opera, you would know that the Phantom’s lair is below the Palais Garnier (the Opera house), and that Christine and the Phantom must cross a subterranean lake to get there.

This body of water is not a figment the imagination of Gaston Leroux – though not an actual lake, a large water tank can be found below the grounds. It is even used to train firefighters to swim in the dark.

The Phantom’s not real, though (probably).

‘Cathedral’

The Montsouris reservoir is one of Paris’ primary drinking water sources, along with L’Haÿ-les-Roses, Saint-Cloud, Ménilmontant and Les Lilas.

But while it’s undoubtedly very useful, it’s most famous for its looks.

The structure resembles a kind of underground water cathedral and is home to over 1,800 pillars, which support its numerous vaults and arches. It’s closed to the public, but its rare beauty means that it’s often photographed by urban explorers.

Mushroom farms

And last but not least – the ‘mushroom houses.’ Les champignons de Paris have been grown below the capital’s soil for centuries.

READ MORE: Inside Paris’ underground mushroom farms

“Paris mushrooms” have been grown since the 17th century. The rosé des près (meadow pink) mushrooms were a favourite of Louis XIV and were originally grown overground – their colour comes from the limestone that Paris is build on.

By the 19th century they went underground, which provided more space and allowed the fungi to be cultivated year-round, but eventually the construction of the Paris Metro pushed many growers out of the capital.

Today, there are just five traditional producers in operation – Shoua-moua Vang runs the largest underground mushroom cave in the Paris region, spread across one and a half hectares of tunnels in a hill overlooking the Seine river. 

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