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CULTURE

How to make the most of France’s ‘night of museums’ this weekend

More than 3,000 French museums will stay open long past their bedtimes on Saturday May 14th for the 18th Long Night of Museums.

How to make the most of France's 'night of museums' this weekend
(Photo by Pascal Pavani / AFP)

The annual event takes place on the third Saturday in May each year in towns and cities across the whole of Europe. There are temporary exhibitions, themed guided visits, musical entertainment, lectures, concerts, food tasting, historical reconstructions and re-enactments, and film projections. Best news of all, almost everything is free. 

Here’s The Local’s guide to getting the most out of the night:

Plan, plan, then throwaway the plan

Consult the online programme and map out your route. A little preparation will make the night much easier – 3,000 museums will be open long into the night in France, and you don’t want to waste hours standing on a bridge arguing about where to go next. 

The site has suggestions for major cities, including Lyon, Dijon, Bourges, Strasbourg, Lille, Rouen, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Marseilles. And four museums that have been closed to the public for years – Musée de Cluny in Paris, the Musée de Valenciennes, the Forum antique de Bavay in Nord and the Musée départemental Albert-Khan in Boulogne-Billancourt – are reopening on the night.

So, decide where you’re going beforehand – then feel free to dump your carefully plotted plan in a bin when you overhear someone else talking about this extraordinary thing they have discovered and go with the flow.

Be patient

When you are consulting the official website, try not to scream. You have to navigate a map rather than a traditional programme format – though, at least, this year it’s broken down in to French regions, which is marginally less frustrating.

It is actually much easier if you know the specific museums you are interested in visiting, as they have individual programmes of events. But half the fun of a night like this is visiting somewhere you’ve never been before.

Wear comfortable shoes and travel light

Wear shoes for the long haul rather than the first impression. There will be distances to cover and you might even find yourself dancing in the middle of a museum. 

And blisters are never a good partner with great art. Leave your skateboard and shopping trolley at home, they will just prove a nuisance when you are going through security checks.

Come early – or late – to avoid endless queues

Arriving at the Louvre at 8pm is always going to mean a giant queue. And nothing ruins a night quicker than spending most of it standing in an unmoving line. Try to escape peak times at the major museums – but check they’re not doing something interesting that you don’t want to miss – hip hop dance classes in the Department of Oriental Antiquities, in the Louvre’s Richelieu wing, for example…

Go somewhere you’ve never been to before

Do a lucky dip. Pick somewhere you’ve never heard of and know nothing about. What about the Musée de Valenciennes, which reopens after years of being closed to the public, for example. Its giving visitors the chance to see its fine art under ultraviolet light – which will reveal things you wouldn’t normally see.

Or you could delve deep into the Aude Departmental Archives, in Carcassonne, and discover the amazing life stories of some of the region’s historical figures

Make it social

Gather the troops, this is a night for multi-generations of family and friends. Art, history and culture, is very much a shared experience and you can usually find something that everyone loves – or hates.

Plan a pitstop

You will always need refreshing and wouldn’t a night of culture be wonderfully enhanced by a delicious picnic on the banks of the Seine, if you’re in Paris. 

Your mind will need a little pause from all the intellectual overload. Find a spot, listen to the music (there’s always music from somewhere) and watch the Bateaux Mouches go by as you eat a baguette with some good local cheese and some saucisson.

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CULTURE

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer

From old rockers to classic cinema, fireworks to modern theatre, here are some of our favourite French summer festivals.

16 of the best festivals and events in France this summer

JUNE

Festival de Nîmes

Starting mid-June and running through to July 24th, the Festival de Nîmes has brought modern music to the famous Roman Arena. This year, Gorillaz, Deep Purple, Gladiator Live, Kiss, Sting, Black Eyed Peas, Stromae and Sexion D’Assaut are among the headliners.

Fête de la musique

You will scarcely be able to move for musicians in France on June 21st, as villages, towns and cities are alive with the sound of music, celebrating the sheer joy of live performances and the breadth and diversity of musical genres.

It’s the 40th anniversary of the annual national, nationwide midsummer’s night festival. At l’Olympia in Paris, for example, Angèle, Pomme, Franz Ferdinand, Benjamin Biolay and Parcels are all performing in a series of concerts that will be broadcast on France Inter.

Rétro C Trop 

For three days between Friday, June 24th, and Sunday, June 26th, at the appropriately aged Château de Tilloloy, Hauts-de-France, there’s the ‘festival of old rockers’, this year featuring sets by Alice Cooper, acoustic ska band Tryo, Status Quo, Simple Minds, Madness, OMD, The Undertones, and Les Insus – you may know them better as 80s hit-sters Telephone.

Joking aside, previous festivals have featured the likes of Sting, Stray Cats, Tears for Fears, and Scorpions – so they know actually do know how to rock out at the 17th-century chateau. And also how to pace themselves…

Nuits de Fourvière

From the beginning of June  through to July 30th, the spectacular Gallo-Roman theatre at Fourvière hosts 60 equally spectacular performances of theatre, dance, music, cirque. There could surely be no better venue to watch Midnight Oil on July 14th.

JULY

Z’accros d’ma rue, Nevers

Theatre, circus and music are in store at Les Z’accros d’ma rue in Nevers in July, as they have been since the opening event in 1999. Most of the shows are free

The La Rochelle Film Festival

Rugby fans have rediscovered La Rochelle this year, but cinema-lovers should not ignore the Charente-Maritime resort between July 1st and 10th, as it hosts its 50th film festival, which this year pays tribute to the legendary Alain Delon.

Some 21 films featuring the French actor with eyes of ice will be screened during the festival. There’s also a retrospective of the films of the 50s queen of Hollywood, Audrey Hepburn – including Roman Holiday, Funny Face, Sabrina, and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

Other highlights include a day of Brad Pitt films, five films from Bulgarian pioneer Binka Zhelyazkova – whose works were frequently banned in her home country, and a celebration of the centenary of the birth of Italian visionary Pier Paolo Pasolini.

Festival de Carcassonne

Deep Purple, Orelsan, Rag n Bone Man, John Legend, Sexion D’Assaut, Calogero, and Jack White are among the acts gracing the music, theatre, arts, dance, comedy and cinema festival in the historic city between July 5th and 31st. Comedian Gad Elmalah will also perform, and there are numerous free off-festival performances.

Pause Guitare

Julien Doré, Orelsan (again), Bob Sinclar and Mika headline the four-day Pause Guitare programme. The relatively little-known music festival that routinely punches above its weight, runs from July 6th to 10th in the World Heritage city of Albi, southwest France.

Festival d’Avignon

No rundown of summer events in France would be complete without mentioning the Festival d’Avignon, which runs from Thursday 7th to Tuesday 26th July.

Celebrated Russian director Kirill Serebrennikov, who’s currently banned from leaving his country, has been chosen to open the theatre festival. Whether he’ll actually be there remains to be seen, but the opening ceremony on July 7th kicks off three weeks of performances from some of the world’s leading stage performers across a range of disciplines.

Pyrotechnic Art Festival

Not satisfied with the bright lights of its Film Festival in May, Cannes turns on the lights again for its summer Pyrotechnic Art Festival, which runs from July 14th to August 24th. 

Nice Jazz Festival

Where would you find sultry chanteuse Melody Gardot, influential bassist Marcus Miller and punk’s grandad Iggy Pop on the same poster? The Nice jazz festival, which runs from July 15th to 19th. 

They’re not the only performers joining in the fun on the Riviera. Some 33 acts are taking part in the Festival proper, while several more are performing in the Off festival programme.

Fête nationale

July 14th marks France’s Fête nationale, known as Bastille Day in the Anglophone world, which is a public holiday. The big military parade is on the Champs-Elysée in Paris but most towns do something to mark the occasion, with concerts, parties and fireworks displays. 

AUGUST

MiMa 

MiMa is the International Festival of Puppet Art, held from August 4th to August 7th in the medieval town of Mirepoix, Ariège. The festival is open to young creators as well as artists who influence and update the recent history of puppet theatre, an inventive art with many faces. The line-up showcases a variety of techniques, with glove puppets, string puppets and marionettes portées.

Festival du Bout du Monde

The darkly named End of the World Festival takes place from August 5th to August 7th at Landaoudec Prairie on the Crozon Peninsula in Brittany, a few hundred yards from the wild Atlantic ocean. The wonderful Ballaké Sissoko is on the programme this year, as is the drum-and-trumpet fusion of Gallowstreet, as well as Julian Marley and Selah Sue.

Rock en Seine

Stromae, Rage Against the Machine, Arctic Monkeys, Jehnny Beth, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, London Grammar, Frank Carter and the Rattlesnakes, Crawlers, and Baby Queen are among the numerous acts lined up for this year’s annual and mostly family friendly – if you don’t mind Zack de la Rocha’s swearing – Rock en Seine festival at Domaine national de Saint-Cloud.

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