High times: 10 parties across the water

Gorge on garlic in Lautrec, get ship shape in Cherbourg, or jazz it up in Nice. Claudia Pritchard picks the best summer festivals
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The Independent Travel

1 Opera in Orange

Three overlapping festivals of music and drama take place in and around Avignon from now until early August. These include the Chorégies d'Orange, a season of opera staged in the open air at the Roman amphitheatre of Orange. The festival opens this weekend with Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann, with a further performance this Thursday, starring the American tenor Marcus Haddock in the title role. Next comes Carl Orff's Carmina Burana on Saturday 16 July, and Puccini's La Bohème on Saturday 30 July and Tuesday 2 August, with stellar husband-and-wife team Angela Gheorghiu and Roberto Alagna in the leading roles. The lure of the Avignon festivals for such performers, directors and designers from Paris and abroad is a stint in Provence, with all its attendant pleasures - and that goes for members of the audience too. Kurt Masur closes the Chorégies with Beethoven's Ninth on Saturday 6 August. And, if the weather turns inclement, each performance is rescheduled for the following evening.

Chorégies d'Orange (00 33 4 90 34 24 24; www.choregies.asso.fr), Théâtre Antique, BP 205, 84107 Orange, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. Box office is adjacent to the Roman Theatre, until 2 August. Tickets cost from €8 (£5.70).

2 Tall ships in Cherbourg

Stand by for a breathtaking flurry of sails as the Tall Ships Race drops anchor in the safe haven of Cherbourg's harbour on the second leg of this annual event. Some 130 vessels from around 30 countries crewed by around 5,000 will pull into the Channel on Bastille Day and drop anchor for four days of celebrations and demonstrations before setting sail for Newcastle and, finally, Fredrikstad in Norway. Among spectacular Class A tall ships taking part in this, the 49th race, are the UK's Queen Galadriel and Spirit of Cheminus and France's own Belem. There are also Class A boats from as far afield as Indonesia, Romania and India, some, such as Russia's Mir, fresh from the Fleet Review in Portsmouth. Cherbourg celebrates this coveted date with a full programme of events kicking off with the arrival of the fleet at noon on Thursday 14 July. These will include fireworks at 11pm on 14 July and 16 July, an open-air screening of Pirates of the Caribbean at 11pm on Friday 15 July, and street entertainment, concerts and marches until the grand Parade of Sail at 2pm on Sunday 17 July.

Tall Ships Race, Cherbourg, ( www.tallshipsraces.com; www.ville-cherbourg.fr), 14 to 17 July.

3 Cahors Blues Festival

The Soirée Ladies' Blues Night is a

highlight of this year's festival, when Sharrie Williams, Janiva Magness and Diunna Greenleaf top the bill for one of the five nights in this event which has been a favourite fixture on the blues calendar since 1982. The 20,000 inhabitants of this historic town on the river Lot are joined by at least as many blues fans from all over the world for concerts, some free, throughout the day and evening. British acts include Eddie Martin, and the five-man Climax Blues Band - both free events. Between sets wander along to the 14th-century Pont Valentré, the twin-domed cathedral of St Etienne and the Duèze papal palace.

Cahors Blues Festival (00 33 5 65 35 99 99; www.cahorsbluesfestival.com), Cahors, Midi-Pyrénées, 19 to 23 July. The festival box office is located at rue Wilson BP 181, 46004, Cahors. Prices start from €3 (£2.10).

4 Nice Jazz Festival

Jazz greats and up-and-coming artists have been heading to the south of France for more than half a century to attend the spectacularly successful Nice Jazz Festival. Family-friendly, and blessed with a naturally graceful backdrop on the slopes of Cimiez above the city, the stage has hosted everyone from Charlie Mingus and Dizzie Gillespie to Count Basie and Lionel Hampton. This year's headline acts are just as stellar and include Joss Stone, Katie Melua and Van Morrison on Wednesday 20 July, Starsailor and Roberta Gambarini on Friday 22 July, Billy Preston on Sunday 24 July and Gilberto Gil on Tuesday 26 July. The main auditorium is the magnificent Greco-Roman amphitheatre, with other stages in the olive groves nearby together accommodating some 45,000 spectators, who can wander from stage to stage for sets every hour on the hour from 7pm until midnight.

Nice Jazz Festival ( www.nicejazzfest.com), Cimiez, Nice, 20 to 26 July. Single-day tickets cost €36 (£26) and €10 (£7.10) for under-10s, a three-day pass €84 (£60), and an eight-day pass €163 (£116) are available through FNAC (00 33 1 53 56 28 00; www.fnac.com).

5 Music in Alsace

Every summer, international professional musicians and rising artists alike head for the Alsatian town of Rouffach for a Dartington-style programme of classes, workshops, lectures and masterclasses. These culminate in a concert series that introduces today's audiences to many of the stars of the future. Performances take place amid the inspiring architecture of local churches including the church of Notre Dame de l'Assomption in Rouffach and a Dominican abbey in Guebwiller. The festival opens with two Brahms quintets on Friday 22 July in Rouffach, which will also play host to an all-Mozart concert by the chamber orchestra Capella Istropolitana of Bratislava on Saturday 23 July. The orchestra of San Luis Potosi, Mexico will perform in Guebwiller on Saturday 6 August.

Musicalta 2005 (00 33 3 89 47 59 93; www.musicalta.com), Rouffach, Alsace, 22 July to 9 August. Tickets cost €12 (£8.50), with concessions. Some festival events are free.

6 Garlic in Lautrec

Garlic has gone gourmet. As with coffee and olive oil it's no longer enough to use any old bulb or clove, when you can choose between green shoots of spring's ail nouveau or the fat blanc de Beaumont. But in the home of the pink garlic, Lautrec, the ultimate compliment is paid with an entire festival to this pungent bulb on the first Sunday of August. Forget swans made of sugar or bread baked as wheatsheaves: every year prizes are awarded in Albi for the most ingenious garlic sculptures, which went last year to a garlic bonsai tree. Then there's the prize for longest manouille or garlic plait (try beating 21.25 metres in three hours) as well as the eating of garlicky gourmet treats.

Fête de l'ail rose, Albi, Midi-Pyrénées, 5 August, 8.30am to 8pm. Tourist information (00 33 5 63 75 31 40; http://site.voila.fr/ailrose.lautrec).

7 Jasmine in Grasse

The headily-scented flower that forms the base of many classic and modern perfumes is feted every year at the height of its harvest. The Jasminade in Grasse, the home of Chanel No 5 and scores of other fragrances, celebrates the gathering of over 25 tons or more of jasmine, which is considered by aficionados as the king of flowers. At the beginning of August, it's everywhere, decorating the floats of the carnival queen in the evening parades and used by the fistful as ammunition in the bataille de fleurs. Musicians, street performers, and food-stalls all help this exceptionally fragrant party along.

Fête du Jasmin, 5 to 7 August (00 33 4 93 36 66 66; www.ville-grasse.fr), Grasse, Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur. Admission free.

8 Bastille Day in Paris

The party that was put on ice on Wednesday when Paris failed in its bid to host the 2012 Olympics takes place this week instead. Cheated of one knees-up, Parisians will be really throwing themselves into their Bastille Day celebrations. The tricolore will be out in force for the great parade along the Champs Elysées from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde. The public holiday marks the storming of the infamous prison La Bastille in 1789 (although the date was only ordained a public holiday in 1880), and as one of the country's most important is celebrated in true Gallic style across the land. Jollification begins on Wednesday 13 July, the eve of Bastille Day, when the simple pleasures of eating, drinking and dancing in Place de la Bastille and a communal picnic extending across the city begin. Or while everyone else is looking the other way, head for the Louvre where admission is free for the day.

Bastille Day, Paris and throughout France, 14 July.

9Lavender festival in Sault

One of the quintessential images of Provence is the glorious landscape covered in purple fields of lavender. We are indebted to the Romans who disinfected and perfumed their baths with the flower, the cultivation of which is one of the crowning glories of the region. The population of the village of Sault celebrate their sumptuous harvest with a full day of traditional merrymaking including the celebration of mass, produce and craft displays, a cycle race, a concert and an art exhibition.

All of the above are - naturally enough - punctuated by a long lunch under the oak trees of the Défends: take your place among the 1,500 tucking in tofabulous local delicacies. The menu at the repas champêtre includes ham, a terrine, grilled lambs' cutlets with minted tomato, goats' cheese, tarte aux fruits, fresh fruit, wine and coffee. Make sure you contact the tourist board and reserve in advance.

te de la Lavande (00 33 4 90 64 01 21; www.fetedelalavande.com), Sault, Provence-Alpes-Cô te d'Azur, 15 August, from 9.30am. Tickets for the lunch cost €17 (£12). Free shuttle bu s es to activities run from centre of Sault.

10 A pilgrimage to Lourdes

The resourceful and devout traveller could hop from place to place and catch the feast of the Assumption over and over again throughout the year, depending on local traditions. But the mainstream Roman Catholic church observes the death of the Virgin Mary and celebrates her new life in heaven on 15 August, the Feast of the Assumption. One of the most important celebrations takes place at the holy shrine of Saint Bernadette in Lourdes, which attracts more than five million devoted pilgrims each year. The day of observance concludes with a spectacular torchlit Marian procession beginning from the town centre at 9pm, followed by the Solemn Proclamation of the Feast.

Feast of the Assumption, Lourdes, Midi-Pyrénées, (00 33 5 62 42 77 40; www.lourdes-france.com), 15 August.