On July 29, the mayor of Bayonne will kick off the biggest festive event in France: the Bayonne festivals. A giant event eagerly awaited throughout the Basque Country. For five days and five nights, the city is adorned in red and white, vibrates to the sound of bandas and sees its most beautiful Landes cowhide parade, as well as its most original tanks.
Try to meet a Bayonne resident outside of their hometown in early August. The task promises to be difficult, if not impossible, and for good reason. Every year since 1932, Bayonne has become, for five days at the beginning of August, "the" city where you have to be if you want to party, or rather parties.
Inspired by a Spanish Basque tradition straight from Pamplona, the Bayonne celebrations announce from the outset the color, the colors we should say: red (for the scarf tied around the neck and the belt) and white (pants, t-shirt and shoes). The origins come from the festivals of Pamplona, during which a red scarf is worn in honor of the blood spilled by San Fermin, the patron saint of the city, who was slaughtered. The white dress, meanwhile, was adopted by the bourgeois to distinguish itself from the peasants, traditionally dressed in dark costumes. As for the red belt, it is there to hold the pants! Most stores and supermarkets sell the perfect festive paraphernalia to blend in with the crowd. But as the rule is that we are impeccable every night, it is advisable to buy several outfits if you want to stay several days.
Over time, the city has developed a certain know-how in the way of organizing the most famous and most anticipated event in the South West region. Unmissable ingredients have made its reputation such as the famous bandas, these music groups that bring the streets to life to the sound of brass and bass drums. And what would the Fêtes de Bayonne be without King Leon, the throwing of the keys to the city, the cowhide and the peñas? Nothing !
Cowhide races - which are unleashed in the streets - have been organized since the first edition of the Fêtes de Bayonne. As for King Leon, he is the essential puppet who watches over the festivities throughout the festivities. This little character is inspired by a figure of Bayonne life, Léon Dachary, renowned at the time for his escapades. He is now the hero of a comic book by Jean Duverdier.
Another custom making the history of the Holidays: the symbolic throw of the famous keys to the city. The mayor accompanied by a personality goes up to the balcony of the town hall and gives the keys to the inhabitants, as if to say that for five days, the city is theirs.
The program hardly varies from one year to the next, but it has been enriched with new features: for the past few years, the chili omelet championship has been delighting gourmets! Are there brave people to take up the challenge? Another innovation: at aperitif time and in the evening, a "jazz swing fiesta" will enliven the rue de Thiers. The chosen theme being dance, the musicians will have to play a festive jazz.
Every morning, a parade arrives as far as the town hall square and an orchestra is responsible for waking King Leon at noon. In the afternoon, the cows invade the streets of the city, and more particularly the Place Saint-André. It's fun to follow them, but it can be dangerous if you're in front of them. Be careful… On the other hand, good news for those who don't like it: there are no more bullfights during the Bayonne festivals. Indeed, we should not confuse celebration and féria.
Every late afternoon, around 19 p.m., hundreds of Basques gather at Place Montaut for a dantzazpi, a traditional dance from the region. And in the evening, the terraces of restaurants, bars and other stalls are always full and alcohol flows freely. Moreover, do not miss to taste a "special Holiday" cocktail, the Jacqueline, composed of white wine, lemonade and grenadine. Another beverage deserves a tasting: Kalimutxo (typically Basque), a mixture of red wine and cola. Notice to amateurs, but to consume in moderation!
To drink and to eat
For insomniacs or fans of the bottleneck, the peñas open the doors of their bodegas as soon as the classic bars close until the rooster crows. It is possible to drink (beer, cider, wine) and to eat (double fat, onion soup), in the company of these bands of friends grouped together in associations.
Children are not left out either, since Thursday is traditionally reserved for them. After walking through the streets of the city in costume, two thousand blond heads aged between six and twelve awaken King Leon. They meet in the streets for a cardboard bull run (encierro txiki) and a giant picnic.
Another essential element of the Fêtes de Bayonne is the parade of floats on Saturday evening, called the luminous corso. Floats decorated by enthusiasts and associations come together around a theme and parade through the heart of the crowd, in front of a jury responsible for choosing the most original. This year, the eleven tanks will have to redouble their imagination and creativity around the theme of famous films.
The Holidays will end on Sunday August 2 with a very busy program starting with the traditional mass of the bandas. and ending at 23 p.m. with the huge fireworks display that precedes the scarf removal ceremony at midnight. Each year, the thousands of festayres still present untie their red scarves, brandish them and promise to put them back on the following year!
How to get there ?
Bayonne is served by the TGV. Info and reservations on voyages-sncf.com
- Official site of the Fêtes de Bayonne.
- Unofficial site.
- Bayonne Tourist Office.