Saturday 27 March 2010
* Set more or less at the meeting point of northern and southern Europe, Aquitaine’s variety of landscapes – from mountains to lush river valleys and an extensive coast – enjoy a particularly kind climate. All of which means there are celebrations based around food, culture and sport throughout the year. Head south to pretty Bayonne during Easter for the
Bayonne Ham Fair (1-4 April;
; free), when the marketplace by the River Nive (pictured) becomes festooned with some of France’s best pork products, preserved with the highly prized local salt. Inland in northern Aquitaine, the town of Nontron stages a most eccentric fete on 18 April.
Le Carnaval des Soufflets (
; free) is a festival of bellows, for which townsfolk dress in nightshirts and parade the main street blowing bellows at each other and into the air while singing nonsensical songs in Occitan. The tradition dates back to medieval days and symbolises purification and the explusion of bad spirits.
* Over on the coast, the start of summer is celebrated at Arcachon with a literary event. Arcachon lance l’ete ( arcachon.com ; details to be confirmed) takes place on the beach on 8 and 9 May, with writers holding open-air readings while on the Saturday an oyster buffet is spread along the waterfront. This year’s biggest early summer event is the Bordeaux Wine Festival from 24 to 27 June ( bordeaux-fete-le-vin.com ; a tasting pass for €15 covers 12 tasting tickets, glass and other benefits). Apart from sampling wine, activities to watch range from barrel rolling to stilt walking and a swimming competition across the Garonne river.
* For spectacular water action make for Biarritz between 10 and 14 July when the Roxy Jam surfing competition takes place. The focal point is the World Female Longboard Championship, but alongside it are funky exhibitions, |concerts and open-air performances ( biarritz.fr ; most events are free). Further north, the laid-back yet lively Sanguinet jazz festival is on from 22 to 25 July ( jazzinsanguinet.com ; details to be confirmed). Meantime, for Basque music as well as dance, bull running and more, join the throng at Bayonne festival on 28 July ( fetes.bayonne.fr ; most events free) when for four days the town becomes a huge, colourful party.
From 2 to 7 August, Périgueux |becomes a hive of quiet drama with an annual Festival of Mime ( mimos.fr ; admission charged for some shows, others free). Harvest time in late August sees the start of autumnal food and drink celebrations as the medieval city of Agen hosts Le Grand Pruneau Show ( grandpruneaushow.fr ; free) on 27, 28 and 29 August, with tastings, gourmet markets, much street entertainment and prune-inspired music.
* For the past three years, the Marathon du Médoc ( marathondumedoc.com ) has been voted the most convivial race in France, with many of the contestants in fancy dress and much food and wine laid on. Starting from Pauillac, the circuit is stunningly beautiful and loops past more than 50 chateaux. This year’s event takes place on 11 September.
* For rural crafts and traditions head to the village of Villefranche du Perigord on 16 and 17 October when the Chestnut and Cep Festival ( tourisme.perigord-fr.com ; free) is held. There’s more piquant fare at the Espelette Pepper Festival ( espelette.fr ) on 23 and 24 October. This picturesque Basque town becomes a whirl of activity, with music, dance, strong-man events and many peppers to sample alongside Basque specialities. Then revel in the taste and aromas of France’s oldest brandy at the Armagnac Festival on 30 and 31 October at Bastide d’Armagnac ( labastide-darmagnac.net ; free).
* The Christmas season begins at |the end of November, with the atmospheric gourmet market Festivolailles at Saint Sever ( fermiers-landais.fr ; free) on the last weekend of the month. Meanwhile the Gironde village of Monsegur’s duck and goose fair ( tourisme-aquitaine.fr ; free) is on 12 December.
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