The French Riviera is lined with gorgeous beach resorts, coastal villages and historical towns. However, if you’re looking to discover the real Cote d’Azur and embark on something a little bit different on your visit, we have put together a list of both famous and quirky festivals for you to explore, enjoy and allow yourself to become immersed in the festival culture of the French Riviera.
There is something for everyone, whether you’re interested in the music and the arts, yachts, horse racing or even food! The magic of the French Riviera is that there is something going on all year round, so no matter when you’re planning your stay, you can find something new.
January: Monaco – The Monte-Carlo International Circus Festival
The Circus Festival has been an annual event since 1974, this festival awards the greats amongst the circus world, and awards are presented to the ‘Golden Clown’ and other extravagant circus acts. It is held every year in the Chapiteau de Fontvielle, which was built especially for this festival! If you’re looking for something a little bit different, this is sure to take your breath away, featuring the best trapeze dancers, acrobats, ventriloquists, clowns and animal trainers you can find, not to mention the array of animals on show, anything from horses to lions and elephants!
February: Menton – Fête du Citron “Lemon Festival”
This festival also goes by the name of ‘The Carnival of Menton’. Here you can see impressive floats made from tonnes of lemons and oranges that weave their way along the sea front in large processions, these also feature confetti, fanfares, dancers and folk groups. After the processions have taken place, the citrus creations are taken apart and the fruit is sold at a discounted price. Each year there is a new, different theme – in 2018, the theme was Bollywood. Other themes include Broadway, religions of France, Alice in Wonderland, Pinocchio, Great Civilizations and also Around the World in 80 days.
February – March: Nice – Carnival de Nice
This two-week-long festival gathers together well-known actors, musical artists and theatrical performers. Along with the ceremonial burning of the carnival king, Nice’s famous Promenade des Anglais becomes home to a sea of colourful flowers and girls can be seen in outfits made entirely of flowers. As the evening comes, the festivities are followed by a fireworks display. This festival is very popular, attracting over a million foreign visitors gathering here.
May: Cannes – Film Festival (Festival de Cannes)
For seven decades everyone who is anyone attends the Cannes Film Festival, this is the most prestigious film festival in the world. You can find red carpets full of movie stars, many film screenings, networking events, meetings, fancy parties, delicious cocktails and extensive award ceremonies. Only a few dozen films are selected to play at Cannes Film Festival each year, twenty films are competing for the ‘Golden Palm award. Sadly, Cannes Film Festival is an industry only festival, so the general public cannot attend, however you’ll be sure to spot a celebrity or two if you’re staying in Cannes at the time of the Film Festival.
June – September: Nice – Soirées Estivales “Summer Evenings”
Between June and September, the French Riviera becomes its own stage full of Classical music, song, dance, traditional music, jazz, theatre. With over 400 free performances in 158 communes sharing their generosity, their passions and their talent, this is an event not to be missed.
July – August: Monaco – Monte-Carlo Sporting Summer Festival
Known for bringing the biggest international stars to the glamorous stage, this festival has been happening every summer since 1974. The most recent 2018 musical stars include Tom Jones, Rita Ora, Gypsy Kings and Seal. Previously, they have had unforgettable performances from Rod Stewart, Mariah Carey, Frank Sinatra, Tina Turner, Rihanna, Mika and Jamie Cullum. This event is held in the Salle des Etoiles, which is 1000m2, featuring huge bay windows overlooking the Mediterranean. The Principality of Monaco also is home to a roof that retracts in seconds, so you can enjoy this festival beneath the stars.
July: Antibes – The Big Reggae Festival
For over 20 years, The Big Reggae Festival has been held in the pine forest of Antibes, this magical location allows you to enjoy the real reggae scene. In 2018, the likes of Damian Marley, Naâman and Andrew Tosh will be showcasing what they have got this summer on the reggae stage in Antibes.
July – August: Cagnes-sur-Mer – Summer Horseracing Meeting (Les Nuits D’Ete “The Summer Nights”)
The Hippodrome de la Cote d’Azur is the second biggest racecourse in France, with over 6,000 seats, 2,000 parking spaces, 2 panoramic restaurants, two bars, a children’s playground and even room for fireworks after events! Each meeting combines shows, entertainment and true gastronomy. Everyone’s a real winner on the Cote d’Azur throughout their summer horseracing events, spectacular locations and views with memorable, once-in-a-lifetime events.
July – August: Cannes – Fireworks Festival
Every year since 1998, Cannes has welcomed the world’s best pyrotechnics to a spectacular show that is performed on a 400 metre sea front with over 200,000 spectators every night! These shows combine creativity, technology and a lot of high precision. The reflection of the fireworks on the water and the incredible sounds that accompanies take you into an enchanting and magical world. 6 guest countries compete in a competition to win the ‘Silver Vestal Award’ and every 4 years the winners are invited back to compete to win the ‘Gold Vestal’.
August: Cannes – Les Plages Électroniques
Bringing you some of the best DJs and performers on the electronic scene, you can enjoy techno and deep house directly on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea. Feel the sand between your toes whilst you embrace the best electronic music from around the globe.
August: Cannes – Russian Art Festival
Something a little bit different! Over five days, this festival showcases the Russian cultural identity through many artistic forms of expression – anything from music, dance and cinema to crafts, fashion and culinary. This festival is supported by the Russian Ministry of Culture and is a unique experience that takes place in a beautiful part of the world.
September: Cannes – Regates Royale Cannes
This is a very prestigious fixture in international regatta season, bringing together a range of vintage and classic yachts for both display and racing. Every year, the bay of Cannes gathers dozens of racing boats – over 150 yachts from 10 to a massive 50 metres in length. This festival involves 5 days of racing in the beautiful location of Cannes, for different categories of boat. It is a great experience as both a spectator as well as a competitor.
November: Nice – Manca Festival
Dedicated to the music creation, the production, distribution, research and training aspects are all exhibited here. This festival showcases the talents of composers, researchers and engineers in the world of music. Classical music shows are also put on in both Grasse and Monaco too – ensuring the east side of the French Riviera is filled with beautiful music in November.
December: Nice – Noël à Nice
In December a range of extravagant Christmas festivities can be found in Nice. This includes a family friendly ‘Christmas Village’, with fairground rides, ice skating, bouncy castles, a 20m high tree, plenty of traditional decorations, luminous sculptures, games, pony riding and a range of food stalls selling a variety of treats – anything from waffles to oysters – and not to forget, a selection of your favourite Christmas carols!
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