Insight Guides: Explore Nice & the French Riviera (Insight Explore Guides) (2015)
More than anywhere else in the country, the French Riviera is a whirlwind of arts festivals over the summer season. Away from the action, even small villages have their own celebrations throughout the year.
When the main arts venues close in high summer, their place is taken by cultural events ranging from classical music and jazz festivals to electronic music parties, most of them outdoors, and films screened on the beach. All year, there’s a roster of celebrations for everything from flowers to obscure saints, often with origins dating back centuries. For information on over 300 summer festivals in the region, pick up the booklet Terre des Festivals at tourist offices. Some festivals have their own box office (online too), but tickets are also often available from tourist offices and at the branches of Fnac (www.fnac.com) in Nice, Cannes and Monte-Carlo.
Menton’s Fête du Citron is renowned for its colourful displays
Nicolas Sartore/Office de Tourisme Menton
CLASSICAL AND OPERA
One of the oldest cultural events on the coast is Menton’s chamber music festival (www.festival-musique-menton.fr; Aug). Along with big-name ensembles and singers, there are inexpensive 6pm concerts where you can pick out the talents of the future.
Opera is the focus of Musique au Coeur (www.antibesjuanlespins.com; early July), held in the lovely gardens of Villa Eilenroc on Cap d’Antibes and Les Azuriales (www.azurialopera.com; late Aug) at the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild on St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat.
In Cannes there are classical concerts in Les Nuits Musicales du Suquet (www.cannes-destination.fr; July), while in Monaco the acclaimed Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlo plays in the Cour d’Honneur in the palace (July-Aug).
WORLD, ROCK AND POP
Despite Menton’s retirement home image, it has recently rejuvenated its arts scene with Ma Ville est Tango (www.tango-menton.com; July), four days of concerts, lessons, shows and dances. In Vence, Les Nuits du Sud (www.nuitsdusud.com; mid-July-mid-Aug) sees some of the best names in world music performing in the place du Grand Jardin, with plenty of free concerts too. Meanwhile, Monte-Carlo Sporting Summer Festival (www.sportingmontecarlo.com; July and Aug) rolls out big international rock names and golden-oldie comebacks at the Sporting d’Eté on Avenue Princesse Grace.
JAZZ AND ELECTRONICA
Nice and Juan-les-Pins vie for the title of southern jazz capital. Jazz à Juan (www.jazzajuan.com; mid-July) held in the Pinède Gould, was founded in tribute to saxophonist Sidney Bechet, who composed Petite Fleur and Dans les rues d’Antibes when living in Antibes; while Nice Jazz Festival also includes rock and blues. Festival Pantiero, (www.festivalpantiero.com; Aug) at the Palais des Festivals is now the place for the latest electronic music trends.
Menton’s chamber music festival is in August
Office de Tourisme Menton
THEATRE AND STAND-UP
On the hill above St-Tropez, Ramatuelle’s theatre festival (www.festivalderamatuelle.com; July-Aug) puts the emphasis on one-person shows and classic comedy theatre, performed by well-known actors in a spectacular 1200-seat amphitheatre. For a more alternative scene, try the Festival du Rire (www.festival-rire.com; Sept), a week of café-théâtre and stand-up comedy at St-Raphaël.
A few big arts festivals take place over the rest of the year. As well as the celebrated Film Festival each May, Cannes’ dance biennial (www.festivaldedanse-cannes.com; Nov 2015, 2017) features top dance companies from across Europe, while the Festival International du Cirque de Monte-Carlo (www.montecarlofestivals.com; Jan), held under the big top in Fontvieille, is renowned as a springboard for breathtaking new circus talents.
In St-Tropez, Roman centurion Torpes is celebrated in the Bravades de St-Tropez on 16 and 17 May, while in Monaco Corsican saint Devota is remembered with a ceremonial boat burning on the eve of her fête on 26 January. The carnival tradition remains strong in the weeks leading up to Lent: the biggest event is Nice Carnaval (www.nicecarnaval.com; Feb) when spectacular giant floats parade along the promenade des Anglais, while in Villefranche-sur-Mer traditional carnival kings are replaced by a watery bataille des fleurs from boats in the port.
Menton’s Fête du Citron has bands and floats along the seafront and spectacular sculptures made of oranges and lemons in the Jardin Biovès (www.feteducitron.com; Feb), and in late February, extravagant floats decorated with mimosa and other flowers parade around Bormes-les-Mimosas (www.bormeslesmimosas.com). In August, perfume town Grasse marks the start of the jasmine harvest with floral floats and brass bands in the Fête du Jasmin (www.ville-grasse.fr).
There are spectacular summer fireworks displays in Cannes and Monaco, while St-Raphaël’s Fêtes de la Lumière (www.saint-raphael.com) celebrates Christmas with fireworks, floodlighting, street theatre and Father Christmas who arrives by boat.