We all know that France is famous for its food so it stands to reason that there are lots of great food festivals in France. From truffles, onions and chillies to lemons, strawberries and cherries, the French celebrate them all. And why not?
One of the many things I love about living in France is the freshness of the produce. The French love to eat what’s in season. What you see in the supermarkets is usually what’s coming out of the fields. If it’s not in season it won’t be available to buy.
It’s a wonderful way of life as it’s like taking a step back in time to an era when people shopped daily. They’d grab their basket and head for the local market to pick up what they needed for that night’s dinner. And that’s what it’s like here in rural France.
The weekly markets are bursting at the seams with local produce and nearly everything has its own fête (festival). Attending one of these food festivals is hands down the best way to experience the food culture, meet the local artisans, and immerse yourself in the history of France.
Nearly every fête has a legend or story behind it, so I hope you’re ready.
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January 14 - 15 2023, Fête de la Truffe, Sarlat-la-Canéda
Sarlat is in the Dordogne region right here in South West France, and known for its foie gras and truffles. It’s a beautiful Mediaeval city steeped in history, but in January the focus is on the revered black truffle, or “black diamond,” as it is often called.
The legend behind the festival dates back to the 19th century, when the town of Sarlat was known for its thriving truffle trade. According to the legend, a young shepherd boy named Jacquot discovered the first truffle in the nearby woods.
The story goes that one day, while tending to his sheep, Jacquot saw his dog digging frantically at the base of an oak tree. Curious, Jacquot investigated and found a strange, knobby object in the soil. He brought it back to his village, where the locals quickly realised that it was a truffle, a highly prized delicacy in the culinary world.
News of the discovery spread quickly, and soon the forests around Sarlat became a prime location for truffle hunting. The festival includes truffle markets, cooking demonstrations, truffle hunts, and tastings of truffle-infused dishes and wines.
February 16th, 2023, Fête des Bœufs Gras, Bazas
The Fête des Bœufs Gras is a centuries-old tradition that takes place in the town of Bazas, located in the Gironde region here in South West France. It’s dedicated to celebrating the prized Bazadais breed of cattle, known for their rich marbling and succulent meat. The festival typically takes place on the Thursday before Mardi Gras, also known as Fat Thursday.
According to legend, the origins of the Fête des Bœufs Gras de Bazas date back to the Middle Ages. Apparently, a local lord, impressed by the quality of the cattle in the area, declared that every year he would award the fattest and most beautiful animal with a prize. Over time, this tradition evolved into a festival, with the cattle being paraded through the town and judged by a panel of experts.
Another version of the legend suggests that the tradition of fattening cattle began in the 16th century, when the Archbishop of Bordeaux granted the town of Bazas the right to hold a weekly market. In order to make their cattle more attractive to buyers, the locals began to fatten them up, and this practice eventually evolved into the Fête des Bœufs Gras.
February 11-26, 2023, La Fête de Citron, Menton
Famous for its lemons, the town of Menton on the French Riviera celebrates all things citrus for two weeks. You’ll see huge sculptures made from oranges and lemons, which get sold off to locals for jam-making at the end of the festival.
One of the highlights is the night parages with huge carnival floats adorned with fruit with dancing and music troupes from around the world.
The legend behind the festival dates back to the late 19th century, when the town’s citrus growers were looking for a way to promote their products. According to the story, a group of growers hit upon the idea of creating a festival featuring lemon and orange floats, inspired by the famous carnival in Nice.
The first Lemon Festival was held in 1934, and it quickly became a popular event, drawing visitors from around the world.
For more information visit the Fête de Citron website >>>
March 16-19, 2023, Foire au Boudin, Mortagne-au-Perche
This annual event celebrates the humble sausage in Mortagne-au-Perche in the Normandy region of France. Artisans from all over Europe gather to showcase everything from black pudding, for which the town is known, to white pudding, tripe and charcuterie. You’ll also find some of France’s best cheeses, wines, ciders and spirits.
The origins of the Foire au Boudin are unclear, but the fair has been held for several centuries. Some historians believe that the fair may have originated in the Middle Ages, when it was common for farmers to slaughter their pigs in the winter and use every part of the animal for food. Blood sausage was a popular dish and it’s possible that the fair was originally held to allow farmers to trade their sausages with each other.
For more information visit the Foire au Boudin website >>>
April 6-9, 2023, Foire au Jambon, Bayonne
Located in the Basque region of southwestern France the fair is dedicated to the local delicacy of Bayonne ham, a cured ham made from the hind leg of a pig. There’s a market selling a variety of hams and other pork products, as well as food stalls serving traditional Basque dishes like piperade and Axoa.
There’s also parades, concerts, and other events, as well as competitions to determine the best ham of the year.
Dating back to 1462 the story of Bayonne ham apparently comes from the Hundred Years’ War between France and England. The Duke of Lancaster, who was also the King of Castile, married a French princess and acquired the duchy of Aquitaine, which included Bayonne.
To celebrate his new territory, the Duke introduced a new culinary tradition to Bayonne: the art of curing ham. The local farmers soon adopted this technique, and over time, they perfected their own recipe for Bayonne ham, which became famous throughout France and beyond.
To find out more about the event visit the Foire au Jambon website >>>
April 8-10, 2023, Fête de l'omelette Géante, Bessières
This annual event takes place in the town of Bessières, located in the Occitanie region of southwestern France. The festival is dedicated to the culinary tradition of making a giant omelette, using dozens of eggs and other ingredients.
According to legend, the tradition of making a giant omelette dates back to the 16th century, when Napoleon Bonaparte and his army were travelling through the south of France. One night, the soldiers stopped in Bessières and were invited to a meal by a local innkeeper.
The innkeeper made an omelette for the soldiers, using all the eggs in the village. Napoleon enjoyed the dish so much that he ordered the innkeeper to make a giant omelette for his entire army the next day.
Ever since that time, the people of Bessières have continued the tradition of making a giant omelette to celebrate Easter. The omelette is made with at least 15,000 eggs, as well as onions, bacon, and other ingredients and cooked in a giant pan heated over an open flame. Once cooked, it’s cut into pieces and distributed to the festival-goers.
To find out more about the festival visit the Omelette Geante website >>>
May 14, 2023, La Fête de la Fraise, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne
Just down the road from where I live in the Charente, the strawberry festival is an annual festival in the Dordogne region of South West France. It’s dedicated to the locally grown Gariguette strawberry and celebrates the arrival of spring.
One of the legends associated with the festival dates back to the time of the Knights Templar, who were known for their expertise in horticulture. The knights brought the first strawberry plants to Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne from the Middle East, and the locals soon adopted the practice of growing them.
To find out more visit the Fraise de Beaulieu website >>>
May 21-23, Fête de la Cerise, Céret
The Cherry Festival takes place annually in the town of Céret, located in the Pyrénées-Orientales department in southern France. It’s a wonderful way to celebrate the cherry harvest with two days of markets, tastings and live music. Part of the celebrations include a spitting of the pips competition. I’m not sure exactly what’s involved but I’d love to find out.
It’s said that the Romans brought the first cherry trees to Céret from Italy and from there they’ve become a local produce celebrated every year.
Find out more on the Vallespir Tourisme website >>>
July always the weekend before July 14, Féria du Melon, Cavaillon
The melon festival takes place in the town of Cavaillon, located in the Provence region of southern France. It’s all about celebrating the harvest of the melon. There are some great traditions during the festival. The Brotherhood of Knights of the Order of the Cavaillon Melon taste the melons to decide who has produced the best harvest.
The main highlight of the weekend is the running of 100 Camargue horses around the streets. So much fun to watch the whole thing unfold.
For more information visit the Avignon Provence website >>>
August 19-20, 2023, Fête de l'Oignon de Roscoff, Roscoff
The pretty harbour town of Roscoff on Brittany’s north coast is famous for its onions, especially the pink variety. There are onion-string-plaiting competitions, visits to farms, Breton music and dancing. Plus huge vats of confit onions cooked and served on the local speciality galette-saucisse.
Apparently the onion was first brought to the region by Friar Cyril, a Capuchin monk in 1647 after a trip to Portugal. But it wasn’t till 1828 when a young peasant from Roscoff, Henri Ollivier, took some onions to England, that their value was appreciated. He sold everything he took and realised that money could be made from selling them.
Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the “Onion Johnnies” would sell them door-to-door from the handlebars of their bicycles in Britain. We’ve all seen the pictures from the 1930s of Frenchmen with strings of onions around their neck.
To find out more about the history of the onion and the festival visit Oignon de Roscoff website >>>
August 27, 2023, Fête de la Figue, Solliès-Pont
Solliès-Pont is in the Gapeau Valley, Provence, and is famous for its fig orchards. They produce about 2,500 tons of the fruit each year and 75% of France’s entire fig harvest. The region is famous for its “Violette de Solliès” variety of fig, which is purple with huge leaves that can often be the size of dinner plates.
The first evening of the festival hosts a dinner held in the town square where each course features figs in some way. During the festival, there are cooking demonstrations, fig trails through the valley, and you’ll also have the opportunity to taste and buy a wide variety of figs, including fresh figs, dried figs, fig jams, and fig liqueurs.
For more information visit the Ville Solliès-Pont website >>>
October 15, 22, 29, 2023, Fête de la Châtaigne, Collobrières, Provence
Seeing chestnuts roasting reminds me of Christmas, ice rinks and clutching a mug of hot chocolate. However, in the small town of Collobrières, about an hour away from Saint-Tropez within Massif des Maures’, are cork oak and chestnut forests.
For three Sundays in October the town celebrates the chestnut harvest. With a wonderful carnival atmosphere of parades and concerts you’ll be able to eat roasted chestnuts, drink chestnut wine and try chestnut paste.
If you’ve never had chestnut wine you don’t know what you’re missing. The local artisans attend the local farmers market and the smell coming from the different stalls is just wonderful.
To find out more take a look at the Visit Vars website >>>
October 28-29, 2023, Fête de Piment, Basque Country
One thing I noticed when I first moved to France was the fact that the French aren’t keen on spicy food. However, the piment d’Espelette is a gentler chilli. A native to Mexico, it’s been cultivated in the Basque Country since the 16th century.
The festival marks the end of the harvest and is celebrated in style with a parade of floats decorated with dried chillies. There’s plenty of traditional Basque music and dancing with locals all dressed in traditional outfits of red and white.
One of the highlights of the festival is the chilli eating contest to see who can eat the most hot peppers in a set amount of time. I’m not good with anything too hot, so there’s no way you’d catch me doing this. But it’s a fun way to see how high your tolerance for spicy foods really is.
To find out more visit the Espelette Pays Basque website >>>
November 16, 2023, Beaujolais Nouveau
Beaujolais Nouveau is a young red wine made from Gamay grapes in the Beaujolais region of France. The wine is released on the third Thursday of November every year, just a few weeks after the grapes are harvested.
At the stroke of midnight bottles are cracked open and it’s party time. I’ve been to a few of these celebrations and all I can say is you need to pace yourself.
The release of Beaujolais Nouveau began as a local tradition in the Beaujolais region, where winemakers would share a taste of the new wine with friends and family shortly after the harvest.
In the 1950s, this tradition was commercialised by a local winemaker, Georges Duboeuf, who saw the potential to market the wine as a seasonal celebration.
To find out more visit the Beaujolais Nouveau website >>>
Mid-December (date TBC), Fête de la Dinde, Licques, Hauts-de-France
The village of Licques is in the Pas-de-Calais region in northern France and is famous for its poultry. It was in the 17th century that monks from the local abbey began rearing turkeys. They’ve now developed into their own breed known as the “Dinde de Licques”.
The event starts with la potée, a massive cauldron of turkey soup sitting on a big open fire to keep it warm and served to those attending. As always there’s a market with local produce offering everything including turkeys, cheese, honey, and wine. A great place to stock up for Christmas.
One of the main traditions of Fête de la Dinde is the parade of turkeys. Hundreds of turkeys are decorated with ribbons and led through the streets by their owners, it’s quite a sight to see.
According to local legend, a golden turkey once appeared in Licques and was captured by a local farmer. The bird was so prized that the farmer refused to sell it, and instead kept it as a pet. The legend of the golden turkey is still celebrated today, and a golden turkey is even featured in the parade.
To find out the date of the event visit the Licques Volailles website >>>