Attracting more than a million visitors every year, the Fetes de Bayonne is France’s largest and most lively festival. The event dates back to 1932, when locals decided that they wanted to create something that could rival the San Fermin festival of Pamplona – famous for the running of the bulls. This influence can still be seen today, as festival attendees wear white with a red scarf and belt. Bulls play a big role in the Fetes de Bayonne, just like in the San Fermin festival.
There is an event where the public can enter a ring and try to get as close as possible to the animal without getting injured – an activity that might not be everyone’s cup of tea. The festivities kick off on a the last Wednesday of July, when the official mascot – King Leon – stands on the town hall balcony and throws the keys to the city of Bayonne into the crowd. After this important tradition is over and done with, the city breaks out into five days and nights of partying.
Each morning, King Leon, who is somewhat of a jester, is woken up by children attending the festival, rewarding them with a comical performance. Giants roam the streets of the city, while carnival-like parades provide entertainment to the masses. You will see tamborradas, which are processions of noisy drummers, Basque sporting competitions, parades of vibrantly decorated floats, and traditional music and dance that are unique to this particular part of France.
There are also concerts held at night, and impressive firework displays that will leave you with a feeling of awe. Over in the market there will be an important event that you must see: the world championship of bell pepper omelettes! When you’re not getting involved in the festivities, you can explore what else Bayonne has to offer you. As you walk around, you’ll see colourful houses, the picturesque Nive River and plenty of chocolate shops. The Fetes de Bayonne and the city itself will leave you wanting to visit again and again.