The Best 2017 Events and Activities in France

2017 offers a wealth of festivals, carnivals and activities to enjoy all over France, all of which take advantage of their glorious surroundings to ensure an amazing spectacle.

From live music echoing around the historic ramparts and city streets of Carcassonne to brilliant bright kites on beautiful beaches in the sun-kissed Riviera, the unique cultural identity and scenic beauty of France makes it the perfect holiday destination. So take a look at our pick of this year’s biggest and best events.

Carcassonne Festival, Languedoc-Roussillon- 1-30 June

Carcassonne Fireworks Finale

The amazingly preserved medieval city and UNESCO site hosts this culturally diverse festival. One of France’s most popular events, it offers over 120 shows, many of which are free and take place in and around the  stunning historic streets of Carcassonne. International stars rub shoulders with emerging talent and local artists. www.festivaldecarcassonne.fr

Nice Carnival, Cote d’Azur – 11-25 February

One of the largest carnivals in the world takes over Nice for 2 weeks. The daily parades are a feast for the senses with fantastically decorated floats, huge figurines and over 1000 musicians, dancers and performers throughout the day and night. The famous flower battles see elaborately dressed figures throwing flowers into the crowd. www.nicecarnaval.com

VitiLoire, Tours, Loire Valley – 27-28 May

Celebrate the Loire Valley at this free event comprised of 150 winegrowers from this fantastically diverse wine-producing area. The festival includes a producers’ market, wine bars, cookery demonstrations, dinner parties and of course lots of tasting opportunities! Workshops, walks and cycles through the vineyards are also on offer. www.vitiloire.tours.fr

Dragon Festival, Mondragon, Provence – 13 May

The annual Fête du Drac takes place at night with a huge dragon procession, fireworks, medieval market and a carnival atmosphere. The festival pays homage to an old legend that a dragon appears on the banks of the River Rhone to catch unsuspecting villagers. Thankfully, visitors can just enjoy the spectacle without fear! www.comitedesfetesmondragon.com

Nice Jazz Festival, Cote d’Azur – 17-21 July

Nice city

One of the best known international jazz gatherings that has showcased the talent of Louis Armstrong, B.B. King and Erykah Badu to name but a few. The event dates back to 1948 and is now one of the French Riviera’s most popular events.  www.nicejazzfestival.fr

World Music Day, Nationwide – 21 June

La Fête de la Musique is held annually on the summer solstice and is a celebration of all types of amateur music. Across France musicians gather in the streets, bars and cafes to perform for free so you can enjoy a wonderfully festive atmosphere wherever you choose!  www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr.

Le Tour de France – various – 1-23 July

The world’s most prestigious bike race occurs over 3 weeks in July, taking in mountains, flats and road race sprints. Over 10 million people cheer on the race, enjoying the carnival atmosphere, the official promotional caravan and the grand spectacle. www.letour.fr

Menton Lemon Festival, Cote d’Azur – 13 Feb – 2 March

Citrus Exhibition at the Lemon Festival of Menton

Lemonade, lemon vinegar, lemon trees, lemon statues and lemon decorated floats; 145 tons of citrus fruit are worked into models and art in the centre of Menton to celebrate the lovely lemon! This unique event is over 80 years old and has a wonderful carnival atmosphere with parades and street performers. www.fete-du-citron.com

Bastille Day, Nationwide – 13 and 14 July

This national holiday is celebrated across France with fireworks, singing, dancing and a heartfelt party atmosphere. The storming of the Bastille was the start of the French revolution and many towns and cities, including Paris, also host a military parade. www.parisinfo.com

Avignon Festival, Provence – 6-26 July

Avignon, the UNESCO world heritage site, is home to one of France’s oldest and most famous festivals. Every year over 40 shows take place around the city, showcasing the very best in theatre, dance, music and visual arts for a native and international audience. www.festival-avignon.com

Chorégies d’Oranges d’Orange, Provence – 19 June – 5 August

This classical music and operatic spectacular dates back to 1860 and takes place in the magnificently preserved Roman theatre in Orange. The theatre’s original stone stage provides exceptional acoustics and atmosphere for the audience of 9,000, enjoying performances of well known works such as Madam Butterfly and La Traviata. www.choregies.fr

The Festival of Lights, Lyon, Alps – early Dec

Lyon lights

This beautiful night time spectacle sees Lyon awash with light. Candles are placed outside every window in the city and, buildings, streets and squares are lit by artists and light installations are showcased. The festival has a magical atmosphere, celebrating the creation of light. www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr

Lorient Interceltic Festival, Lorient, Brittany – 4-13 Aug

This Celtic area of Brittany celebrates its history and brings together the Celtic regions of the UK, France and Spain. The 10 days and nights offer a cultural showcase filled with music, dance, processions, markets and games. www.festival-interceltique.com

Braderie de Lille, Pas de Calais – 2-3 Sept

The Lille Street market is one of the world’s largest flea markets and one of France’s most famous events, dating back to medieval times. Lille is transformed into a bustling, pedestrian friendly home to 100km of stalls. Traditionally moules-frites is eaten by visitors, and the local restaurants compete to build the highest pile of empty shells in the street. www.lilletourism.com

Berck-Sur-Mer Kite Festival, Pas de Calais – 9-17 April

Kite festival

Put your feet on the sand and your head in the sky at this International Kite Festival! The huge beach at Berck has hosted all kinds of spectacular and colourful kites for over 25 years. Learn to fly and make kites for the first time or watch the biennial (falling on even years) world team championships. www.cerf-volant-berck.com

World Puppet Theatre Festival, Charleville-Mezieres, Champagne – 16-24 Sept 

The lead event in the world of puppet arts! Every 2 (odd numbered) years, 250 companies from 5 continents meet to present the latest puppet creations and productions. Visitors can enjoy over 200 puppet shows, from traditional to contemporary. Suitable for adults and children. www.festival-marionnette.com

Carpentras Truffle Market, Provence – Nov – March

In the foothills of Mont Ventoux, Carpentras is famous for its black Truffles. Every Friday morning from November until March, local foragers weigh in and sell their delicious finds at the weekly Truffle Market. www.carpentras-ventoux.com

International Garden Festival, Chateau Chaumont-Sur-Loire, Loire Valley – Apr to Nov

The chateau estate is transformed into an open air landscape art museum, showcasing the work of 30 landscape artists from around the world. Each year the gardens offer a new theme and transform beautifully throughout the spring, summer and autumn seasons. The gardens are lit at night using candles and beautifully bright LEDs, creating a magical visitor experience. www.domaine-chaumont.fr

Love at First Sight – 8 romantic breaks in the UK

Burgh Island

1. Art Deco glamour in Devon: Burgh Island is tidal and situated on South Devon’s English Riviera, easily accessible by foot except for twice a day when it’s cut off from the mainland. Choppy seas and sandy beaches make this a glorious spot and an atmospheric one due to the decadent 1930s Art Deco hotel on the island. Channel past visitor Agatha Christie by taking tea in the grand hotel or enjoy a pint by the roaring fire in the island’s pub, the Pilchard Inn, one of Devon’s best. If you miss the tides you can still get back to the mainland by sea tractor ferry!

longcarrow Cove

2. Mix with Cornish legends: Perched high on the cliffs on North Cornwall’s wild and rugged coastline, Tintagel Castle is a breath-taking setting. The 13th century ruins are full of mystery and legend as the alleged birthplace of King Arthur, of Excalibur fame. Further south along the coast is the gentler Padstow, an ideal place for some romantic fine dining in one of Rick Stein’s similarly legendary eateries.

Norfolk

3. A bicycle made for two in Norfolk: Visiting Norfolk feels rather like going back in time; ideal for enjoying a gentler pace of life for two. It’s also really quite flat, hence those famous big skies, which makes it ideal for a spot of cycling. The Sandringham Explorer loop is a great ride sweeping round the royal’s much loved Sandringham Estate. Explore rural north Norfolk on two wheels, sample the local Norfolk crab at any one of the numerous country pubs and cafes.

Blue Night Sky

4. Stargazing in Scotland: If cosying up under a blanket of stars sounds romantic, Galloway Forest Park is one of the best places in the UK for it. Galloway was the first national park in the UK, one of only 3 in Europe to be awarded Dark Sky Park status. The combination of wild scenery and limited light pollution make for unrivalled star gazing. The Milky Way and thousands of stars are visible without the use of a telescope but there is an observatory if trying out the gear is your thing! Make sure you download Scotland’s Stellar Spectacular guide for hints and tips.

Shropshire

5. Delightful dining in the Welsh Borders: Central to the Welsh Border area, Ludlow is a foodie paradise and home to a number of excellent restaurants. The atmospheric medieval town also boasts a stunning river side setting, castle and the excellent Ludlow Food Centre (there’s no escaping food in Ludlow!). The Welsh marches and Shropshire countryside offer great walking just what you need after all that eating, whilst nearby Powis Castle and Garden are an awe inspiring day out.

Northumberland

6. Wild walking in Northumberland: The Northumberland Coast is famed for its long sandy sweeps of beach but until you visit you won’t believe how quiet and unspoilt they are. Low Newton by the Sea is 8 miles from lovely Alnwick and considered by many one of the prettiest spots on this coast. The outstanding pub the Ship Inn is surrounded by whitewashed fisherman’s cottages now owned by the National Trust, and sits almost on the beach itself. There is a wonderful circular work from here to the fishing village of Craster, taking in the magnificent ruins of Dunstanburgh Castle. A seaside, windswept walk followed by a cosy pub – bliss.

Arlington row

7. Get cosy in the Cotswolds: Quintessentially English, the green and pleasant land of the Cotswolds is famously dotted with postcard pretty, honey-coloured villages. A few key names capture much of the limelight whilst the lesser known villages are no less charming. What they all have in common is fabulous rural walks, historic landmarks, cosy country pubs, fine dining and antiques. Go armed with the Cotswold tourist board’s Towns and Villages Guide which lists every village in the area and you can find your own favourite!

Derwentwater

8. Lose yourself in the Lakes: the Lake District always tops the UK romantic polls and its breath taking scenery easily explains why. Despite the wealth of iconic vistas but there are some relatively unknown spots not far from the big name draws. The Lyth and Winster valleys offer some of the best scenery in the Lakes and are famed for their damsons. In early spring frothy clouds of white blossom are everywhere, culminating in Damson Day in mid-April when the humble fruit is celebrated. The area is a rural idyll, dotted with white washed farmhouses and some really great pubs!

Walking in a Whisky Wonderland – Exploring Scotland’s single malt distilleries

Whisky Scotland

Made from its water and barley, infused with the earth and aged in the air, the whiskies of Scotland are as life-affirming, rich and enchanting as the land itself. And with countless variations in the landscape and climate influencing the taste, body and nose of a single malt, to get a complete portrait of Scotland’s whisky you really must explore the farthest reaches of its gorgeous landscape.

Scottish whisky-making covers five different areas, all within a unique environment that adds flavour and distinction to their single malts. Throughout the Highlands and Islands, Islay, Speyside, Campbeltown and the Lowlands you will find more than enough gorgeous views and fine single malts to lift the spirits.

It’s hard to go wrong when sampling Scotch whisky at the source, but with over 100 distilleries, you might want a few pointers. We have chosen a few distilleries across the five regions, each offering fantastic whisky, lovely locales and great visitor experiences. So if you don’t know your Islay from your elbow, or you’re a seasoned single malt sage looking for a your dream break in Scotland, you should find plenty to enjoy.

Sláinte!

Strathisla Distillery, Speyside

stathisla

The Speyside whiskies are renowned for their lightness and subtlety. As such they are perfect gateways to the wonderful world of Scottish whisky, and so too is the Stathisla Distillery the perfect gateway to Scottish whisky distilleries.

Speyside is home to over half of Scotland’s malt whisky distilleries – along with the famed Malt Whisky Trail. With so much choice it can be difficult to know where to begin, but we’re going to go back to the beginning and recommend the oldest continuously operating distillery in Scotland.

Strathisla was originally founded in the late 18th Century, before being purchased by James Barclay of Chivas Brothers in 1950 (creator of the first luxury whisky). Today you can sample and purchase the ever-popular Strathisla 12 single malt along with the famed Chivas Regal blend after enjoying a tour of the distillery. And if you want to dive deeper into the region’s whisky-making heritage, you can visit the annual Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival at the start of May. Enjoy a host of tours and events dedicated to this fantastic whisky producing region.

Port Ellen Distilleries, Islay

Lagavulin on the isle of Islay, Scotland

In contrast the Islay single malts are known for their smoky flavours, full bodies and deep ochre hues. In addition to peat used in the distilling process, the rugged climes and sea spray of Islay are perfect for whisky production, as evidenced by no less than 8 distilleries on an island less than 25 miles long!

For a great cross-section of the Islay single malts try visiting the Laphroig, Lagavulin, and Ardbeg distilleries close to Port Ellen. The largest town on Islay, Port Ellen also offers a ferry connection to the mainland and views to the Oa Peninsula and Kilnaughton Bay.

The Port Ellen distillery now makes the malt for all the distilleries on the island. Follow the malt’s journey along the southern coast of Islay and you will arrive at Laphroig, and a little further, nestled on the bay, is Laguvulin: one of Scotland’s most photogenic, and therefore photographed, distilleries! Finally, complete your micro-tour with a stop at Ardbeg. The distillery celebrated its bicentenary in 2015 and shows no signs of stopping. With several ‘World Whisky of the Year’ awards and a very good café, it’s the perfect peaty pit stop.

Auchentoshan, Lowlands

Sunrise over Glasgow Scotland

Scotland’s Lowlands offer some of its most accessible whiskies – with smooth finishes and delicate notes – and its Lowlands offer some of its most accessible distilleries too. But despite its location lowland distillery numbers dropped rapidly from their recorded peak of over 200 in the late 18th Century, something which many believe was due to acts of Parliament favouring gin production.

Still, patience and resilience are key attributes in whisky production, and there is something of resurgence in the lowland distilleries recently. Several smaller whisky producers have been springing up in recent years with triple distillation being more common in the Lowlands than any other region.

Auchentoshan is well-known for the triple distillation of their whisky.  This creates a smooth and delicate flavour but (testament to their patience!) takes longer to make. Thankfully, they do all the waiting for you, and a visit to the distillery to sample some of their award-winning whiskies only requires a short train ride from Glasgow. Once there you can enjoy one of the tours and enjoy a wee dram.

Dalwhinnie, Highlands & Islands

cairngorms

For the dedicated whisky pilgrim, or just someone who fancies seeing some of the most beautifully barren, wild and windswept of Scotland’s stunning scenery, a trip to the Highlands and Islands is a must. Here you will find some of the most renowned whiskies encompassing a range of strengths and flavours, due in part to the variety of locations the region comprises.

The Dalwhinnie Distillery may not be THE highest distillery in Scotland (though it certainly is in the running) but it is undoubtedly one of the most scenic. Located in the Cairngorms, Britain’s largest National Park, you can marvel at the pinewoods, valleys and tundra like wilderness before taking a tour of the distillery and enjoying a sample alongside some delicious chocolate.

The signature Dalwhinnie 15 year old is a smooth and full-bodied single malt. As such it is perfect for newcomers and perfectly acceptable for whisky veterans. Due to the low temperature of the region (Dalwhinnie offers a borderline subarctic climate) many of its malts offer warming qualities – ideal if you’re going to set out on a walk – and you can also find exclusive editions in the distillery’s shop.

Springbank, Campbeltown

Kintyre Island Costline

Formerly known as ‘Whiskytown’ due to the proliferation of distilleries, today Campbeltown only boasts a handful. But what distilleries they are!  The region’s single malts are often characterised by a hint of salinity, that befits its status as an important shipbuilding and fishing centre, and a bottle of local whisky is undoubtedly one of the finest souvenirs of your time on the Kintyre Peninsula.

Proud of the fact that it is the only distillery in Scotland to complete 100% of the whisky-making process on site, the Springbank distillery not only allows you to sample some of its stunning single malts, but you can also visit two distilleries! The Springbank tour showcases the historic aspect of Campbeltown whisky production whilst the Mitchell’s Glengyle Tour provides the perfect opportunity to see the modern face of whisky production in the region.

Mitchell’s Glengyle distillery opened in early 2004 after a huge amount of restoration and modernisation work and to say its first bottle of 12 year old single malt was eagerly anticipated would be something of an understatement. Visit  either distillery and enjoy a sample of cask strength whisky and a miniature to take home.

The UK’s Happiest Places – as chosen by you!

Thanks for all your entries to our Hamper of Happiness competition – we had hundreds of suggestions for feelgood songs (listen to our playlist on Spotify) and the UK places that put a smile on your face!

As you can see, the South West features very highly with Cornwall the most popular suggestion, closely followed by Devon.

Here’s the Top 10…

  1. Cornwall
  2. Devon
  3. Brighton
  4. Lake District
  5. Scarborough
  6. Scotland
  7. Blackpool
  8. Cotswolds
  9. Edinburgh
  10. Wales

February Events – the best UK activities for half term & beyond

vikings york

SPECTRA, Aberdeen’s Festival of Light, 9-12 February

Now in its 4th year, SPECTRA promises to celebrate the Scottish Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology through an ingenious array of light installations and exhibitions in key locations throughout the city. Alongside the ambient exhibits there will be family activities and more – perfect for the start of half term week! http://spectraaberdeen.com/spectra431/

St Ives Feast & Hurling the Silver Ball, 9 February

One of Cornwall’s oldest customs in one of its most popular locations, the event begins with a civic procession before two teams (‘countrymen’ and ‘townsmen’) try to win possession of a silver coated ball in a scrappy game of brinkmanship played throughout the town. The player who returns the ball to the mayor on the steps of the Guildhall on the stroke of midday is the winner and receives a silver coin! http://www.visitstives.org.uk/events/st-ives-feast-hurling-the-silver-ball-p505483?utm_medium=referral&utm_source=visitcornwall.com&utm_campaign=listing

Stargazing, Various Locations, February

stargazing

February is the perfect time for gazing at the stars, with the shorter nights still a distance away. The UK now offers over 150 Dark Sky Discovery sites, many of which are located in gorgeous National Parks and provide perfect settings from which to gaze up to the heavens and enjoy the breath-taking majesty of the constellations. Active explorations by day and lying under the stars at night – what could be better! Just remember to wrap up warm! http://www.darkskydiscovery.org.uk/

Showzam! Celebration of circus, magic and live performance, 11-14 February

Blackpool’s seaside setting and holiday heritage makes it the perfect location for this grand celebration of live performance. Expect street theatre, sideshow attractions, a free entertainment hub, carnival ball, heritage tours and a host of other surprises. http://www.visitblackpool.com/showzam/

English Heritage Half Term Activities, Various Locations

Let the little ones take a fun tour of English history at locations throughout the country this February half-term. They could become a butler or an awesome archaeologist, sign up for spy school, explore the world of fairy-tales or sit in a bi-plane at Stonehenge. And with so much fun to be had, they might not realise they’re learning something! http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/familydaysout/febhalfterm/.

RBS Six Nations Championship, Cardiff, 11 February

It’s Wales versus England in the scenic setting of Cardiff’s Principality Stadium.  This ancient sporting rivalry has produced over one hundred games of rugby since the first meeting in 1881, with a very even match history. And with the Principality Stadium itself offering a majestic riverside setting and one of the most vibrant atmospheres on match day, so there really is no better place to watch the action. http://www.rbs6nations.com/en/matchcentre/match_centre.php?section=overview&fixid=204328#i462DWEb2PXgqQiZ.97

Snowdrop Walks, Various Locations, February

snowdrops

The ever popular Galanthus (Greek for ‘milk flower’) offers a glorious natural illustration of the changing of the seasons. Normally flowering at the end of January, the first half term break of 2017 is the perfect time to go for a leisurely walk and admire the beauty of winter in bloom. You can find Snowdrop Walks at National Trust properties around the country, but we’d also recommend Fountains Abbey in North Yorkshire and, of course, the stunning Snowdrop Valley in Devon. https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/lists/top-spots-for-snowdrops

Glasgow Film Festival, 15-26 February

One of the UK’s leading film festivals, the GFF allows you to get ahead of the game and see exclusive screenings of the latest films and talks from their creators. This year’s programme includes and a 30th anniversary screening of The Lost Boys in a secret location. Genre fans are well catered for with FrightFest, a weekend of terror, and there are a number of UK premieres, showcases and events. http://glasgowfilm.org/glasgow-film-festival

Jorvik Viking Festival, 20-16 February

jorvik

Europe’s largest celebration of Viking heritage takes place in the elegant streets of York, where Ivar the Boneless once took control with his Great Heathen Army. Vikings left the city when the equally charming Eric Bloodaxe was seen off by King Eadred, but its Scandinavian heritage (and the arrival of spring) is still celebrated with much blowing of horns, drinking of mead and events and activities for the whole family. http://www.jorvik-viking-festival.co.uk/

Theatre Workshops, Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford upon Avon, 20-24 February

Shakespeare’s spiritual home seems like the perfect place for a host of stunning storytelling events. There are creative writing workshops for older kids and younger teens, a play in a day for different age groups, mask and stage fighting courses, free craft activities and more! https://www.rsc.org.uk/events/february-half-term-activities

Ashbourne Royal Shrovetide Football Match, Peak District, 28 & 29 February

The town of Ashbourne’s medieval tribute to ‘the beautiful game’ allows spectators to take part in a huge match played over two eight hour periods with goals over three miles apart! Each Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday two teams from both sides of the river compete to score the most goals. Both the Up’ards and the Down’ards teams boast hundreds of players, and there’s a convivial atmosphere throughout the town – assuming you don’t break the rules (the main ones prohibit murder, hiding the ball and transporting it in a motorised vehicle!) https://www.visitpeakdistrict.com/whats-on/royal-shrovetide-football-p688791

Winnie the Pooh Day – a short walk in the woods

Ashdown forest Sussex

There are few better forests to enjoy a walk in than Ashdown Forest in Sussex. After all, it was in this very location that Alan Alexander Milne and his son, Christopher Robin, found inspiration for the beloved adventures of Winnie the Pooh.

Many of the locations of Pooh’s adventures are lifted directly from real-life locations in the forest, such as Five Hundred Acre Wood (five times bigger than its fictional counterpart?). Other familiar locations include Gills Lap (Galleon’s Lap in the books) where you will find the Enchanted Place and Wren’s Warren valley, which houses the less jovial Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place.

To repay the favour Pooh’s adventures have had on the area, the Poohsticks Bridge was renamed and renovated to look more like its fictional counterpart. Make sure you bring your own twigs!

For Winnie the Pooh Day we thought we’d share Ashdown Forest walking instructions, starting from Gill’s Lap…

Set atop the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Ashdown offers nearly 10 square miles of common land; in fact it’s supposed to be the largest public-access area in southeast England.

Gills Lap itself offers two walks: an adventurous 3 mile trek past Eeyore’s Sad and Gloomy Place and a half mile walk past the Enchanted Place, Heffalump Trap, Roo’s Sandy Pit and more.

From the Gills Lap car park a short 200 metre walk (which can seem a little longer with easily distracted youngsters and plenty of puddles!) leads you to the Enchanted Place on the right.

From there a left turn takes you a few metres down to the Heffalump Trap: a lovely little hollow where a lone pine grows.

Walk back up the path and turn left, after about 10 metres and you arrive at the tribute to Milne and EH Shepard, the illustrator of Pooh’s adventures. The views here are stunning, so it’s no surprise to find the author was so keen on dreaming up Pooh’s idyllic escapades there.

Turn right from the memorial and you soon arrive at the site of Roo’s Sandy Pit (the bank can little slippy, so be careful if you try to walk down it).

Follow the path round from the ‘Sandy Pit’ and you arrive back at the car park. It’s a short and sweet stroll through some of Sussex’s finest scenery. If you fancy rounding up your adventure with a little refreshment you might also want to pay a visit to the nearby village of Hartfield. There you’ll find Pooh Corner, a lovely little tearoom that contains plenty of refreshment and lots of Winnie the Pooh souvenirs.

Beat the Blues: Win a Hamper of Happiness!

beat-the-blues-banner

Win a Hamper of Happiness, filled with feelgood treats! To enter just click the image below and tell us your favourite feelgood song and your happiest UK destination .

Get some inspiration with our Beat the Blues playlist on Spotify, made with a selection of the most popular entries so far!