What's on in May
Where to go and what to see
Jazz sous les Pommiers, Coutances, May 5-12
Held every year in Coutances (Manche, Normandy) during Ascension week, the ‘Jazz under the apple trees’ festival has an idyllic setting – the medieval castle of Bricquebec surrounded by ramparts. The eclectic programme ranges from “New Orleans” jazz to electronic music, and it includes many street shows – eight days of music, with nearly 400 professional musicians, spread over seven stages.
Les Foulées du Gois, l’Ile de Noirmoutier, Vendée, May 6
The passage du Gois, a “road under the sea” measuring 4,150m was, for a long time, the only link between the island of Noirmoutier and the mainland. Twice a day the sea recoils and exposes a ribbon of paving stones and bitumen.
During this window, more than 1,500 participants will join running races for children, men and women, while the famous “Race Against the Sea” brings together thirty elite international athletes in a foot-race against the rising tide.
Strawberry festival, Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne, May 13
For strawberry lovers across France, May brings to market the first juice-filled fruits of the season. But in the pretty riverside village of Beaulieu-sur-Dordogne in Limousin, they take their fraises even more seriously – by dedicating every second Sunday in May to glorifying this blushing Fragaria.
As well as producers selling their freshly-picked scarlet goodies, the annual Fête de la Fraise sees the creation of oversized puds for all to share – visitors can tuck into a special ‘strawberry tree’ – a 30metre long cake requiring about 200kg of strawberries, 150kg of cream and 60litres of whipped cream!
Cannes Film Festival, May 9-20
All eyes turn to the Croisette and the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès for this glitzy gathering of Hollywood stars and directors, the best of world cinema and France’s finest, all under the astute direction of festival boss Thierry Frémaux.
The 2018 festival jury will be headed up by two-time Oscar winner Cate Blanchett, who succeeds Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Last year, he and his fellow jury members awarded the prestigious Palme d’Or (for best film) to the Swedish tragicomedy The Square.
Coutellia knife festival, May 19-20
The knife-maker’s craft is taken very seriously in France, and much respected, with prestigious couteaux made by generations of artisans from Nontron in the Dordogne to Laguiole in Aveyron.
The biggest gathering for professionals and enthusiasts alike is Coutellia in Thiers, Puy-de-Dôme (Auvergne), where 220 producers from 20 countries come to show off their skills and their finely-crafted cutlery. Forge demonstrations and even corkscrew manufacturing displays make it an artisan-lover’s paradise.
French MotoGP, May 18-20
The French Motorcycle Grand Prix at the historic Le Mans circuit in Sarthe is an important part of the MotoGP World Championship calendar. Up to 100,000 petrolheads catch the action, and enjoy off-track distractions such as concerts and an area to stock up on merchandise.
Public road users beware, however – in and around last year’s event local police caught 1,400 drivers speeding!
European Bandas festival, Condom, May 11-13
A banda is a walking band with big horns and loud drums that gets the atmosphere going at street parties. In Place Bossuet, Condom (Gers), an annual festival-come-
competition sees groups battle it out to claim the prize for top banda of the year. This lively weekend is for fun-seekers only, not shrinking violets!
European museum night, across France, May 19
The 14th edition of the after-hours event ‘Night at the museum’ is organised by the Ministry of Culture and forms part of the programme for the European Year for Cultural Heritage, set up by the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union.
Last year’s event attracted two million culture vultures to 1,200 participating museums and venues. This year there will be a European theme to their visual arts, music or literature events.
VitiLoire, Tours, May 27-28
This free event aimed at promoting the wines of the Loire Valley takes place in the heart of Tours. VitiLoire presents a village of producers and craftsmen, cooking demonstrations by top chefs, a market, vintage wine bars, large guinguette-style tables, a wine bookshop, hiking or cycling tours through the vineyards plus workshops to discover 70 or so AOCs. Expect wine tastings aplenty!
Taste Paris, May 17-20
About 20 of the capital’s top chefs set up tiny pop-up eateries amid the grandeur of the Grand Palais to showcase their culinary talents to visiting foodies and fellow food professionals. Have a nibble here and there – small portions are available – or push the boat out for a VIP table. Among the top names represented will be Christophe Michalak and Alain Ducasse.
Cheese festival, Rocamadour, Lot, May 20
Dedicated exclusively to AOP farmhouse cheeses, this friendly fair highlights quality products and the know-how of local producers. And, of course, there is no better way to accompany these tasty cheeses than with a few sips of Quercy wine, such as Cahors, Coteaux du Quercy or Vin de pays du Lot. The ideal bread to eat with your cheese is a nice loaf of local Croustilot, with its hazlenut taste.
French Open tennis, Paris, May 27-June 10
Enjoy two weeks of world-class tennis in the French capital, at the only clay court grand slam event. The defending champions are Jelena Ostapenko and Rafael Nadal, and this year’s winner’s purse is up to a whopping €2.2million, with overall prize money climbing by 10% to €39.2m.
You can buy tickets from the Roland Garros website, with single ticket prices quoted at €20, but you need to register before buying.
Fête de la Bretagne, May 18-27
While this annual celebration of all things Breton encompasses tradition in a big way with its exhibitions, concerts, fest noz (parties) and more, it also tips its hat to modern Brittany, with hip-hop and electronic music shows. There are also trips out to sea and gastronomy events, and do not worry if you cannot get to Brittany itself – the Breton spirit will also be celebrated around the world, from Paris to Peking, New York to Le Havre.
Special effects – Steal the scene! Paris, until August 19
The acceptable side of ‘fake news’ is celebrated at the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, which makes reference to blockbusters, commercials and popular series, to reveal the special effects techniques used to make movie magic.
The ‘studio’ shows how post-production transforms the image into multiple layers of visual effects, while creative visitors can even record their own productions,
to watch their own trailer at the end of their tour of the exhibition.
D-Day Festival Normandy, May 26–June 10
For the 12th time, the tourist offices around the D-Day landing beaches will be organising many events in tribute to the Allied soldiers whose sacrifices and heroism laid the groundwork for the liberation of France on June 6 1944.
On the opening Saturday morning an international march for peace kicks off at 10am and will conclude at the church at Sainte-Mère-Eglise at 5pm. There will be a book fair in the village all day, and an exhibition of military vehicles a week later, as well as the Liberation banquet in the village’s church square.
Elsewhere, at Picauville, Isigny-sur-Mer, Arromanches-les-Bains, Utah beach/ Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Carentan-les-Marais and Bayeux there are countless exhibitions, concerts, dances, guided tours and processions. Plan your trip using the event’s website:
Transhumance, Lozère,May 27
The longstanding custom of farmers bringing their cattle up to pasture in
May and taking them down again in September is called transhumance and it provides a really fun day out for those who love rural French tradition. This happy and colourful celebration sees the beloved beasts dolled up for the occasion with flowers and bells and the gathering is the perfect opportunity to have a party and tasty local meal.
At the Col de Bonnecombe in Lozère, the herd will be blessed from 11.30am, then after grazing and posing until 2.30pm, they make their way uphill before having their garlands removed
and settling in for summer in their new home. Meanwhile human grazers can enjoy some aligot with their beef kebabs, cheese, dessert and a drink for just €18.