Get your white shirts and red scarves out, because the Fêtes de Bayonne (Bayonne Festival) is coming to Basque country this year on July 23–27 2014!
The Fêtes de Bayonne takes place in Bayonne every year on the Wednesday before the first weekend of August and lasts until Sunday. The five days of festivities are filled with fun and games like concerts, traditional dances, spectacular fireworks, Basque cuisine, illuminated float parades, and more – all fun, free and outdoors as the town becomes one giant street party.
Here is our guide to Bayonne Festival 2014…
What is the Fêtes de Bayonne?
Heavily inspired by the Spanish festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, the Fêtes de Bayonne was first celebrated in 1932 and has since become one of the most popular festivals in France. Locals and visitors from all around the world flock to the city of Bayonne to take part in the five-day festival, sporting white shirts and red scarves.
Originally, the official colours of the Bayonne Festival were white and blue. It was not until 1969, when singer Luis Mariano threw the keys to the city from City Hall’s balcony (a festival tradition) dressed in white and a red scarf to honour the holiday colours of Pamplona, that the colours changed. Since then, the white and red tradition has continued!
If you want to get in on the action and party like a pro, then you need to speak the Bayonne festival lingo! Here are some must-know words and phrases:
If you participate in the Fêtes de Bayonne then you are a Festayre, and if you are partying with friends then you are part of a Peñas (refers to a group of friends and also the festival associations).
The Bandas are the music bands playing in the streets, and Bodegas are the traditional outdoor bars or cellars where you’re sure to find a lively and festive atmosphere.
Cinta is the traditional red scarf of Bayonne.
Feria is a local festival in the South of France and in Spain during which various activities take place (like concerts, games, and bull races) and entertainment is provided throughout the day and especially at night by bandas in bodegas (you should know what those words mean now, read above!).
Oh and finally, don’t forget King Leo – the iconic Fêtes de Bayonne character who watches over the city during the celebrations. The origin of King Leo comes from the 1950’s Bayonne resident Léon Dachary. An opera singer and raincoat salesman, Léon was so popular amongst locals that he was proclaimed the King of the Bayonne celebrations.
For more Bayonne vocabulary, check the official Fêtes de Bayonne website.
The Best Bayonne Parties
Now that you can talk the talk, it’s time to walk the walk! Here are the top events of the festival:
The Rise of King Leo: Massive crowds gather in front of City Hall to cheer on King Leo – a chubby little character dressed as a musketeer, who became a famous comic book character. His arrival on the balcony symbolises the opening of the festivities.
The parade of King Leo’s court: This puppet parade of King Leo’s court includes a jester, chocolatier, governess and doctor and is more than 4 meters high. The parade attracts thousands of people and is especially popular with younger crowds!
The official opening of the festival takes place on Wednesday evening, with a symbolic handover of the city’s keys to Festayres from the balcony of City Hall. The opening celebrations then continue with fireworks, live music and dancing all night.
The balls are another wonderful tradition of the Bayonne Festival, Several balls occur each evening and last until the early morning hours – perfect for Festayres who want to dance the night away! Numerous concerts are also held at the Bayonne Festival. Check the official Fêtes de Bayonne programme for information on specific events.
The cow races (there are no bull races at this feria) take place every year on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Corso parade of illuminating floats runs through the city on Sunday to celebrate the end of the festivities.
If you need a place to stay, check out our hostels in Biarritz – Bayonne is a 20-minute bus ride away.
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Thank you greg varinot and fran6_44 for the images off Flickr and Karim Saari for his lovely image of Festayres on the bridge. Please note that all images were used under the Creative Commons license at the time of posting.