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Every summer in France, thousands of tourists rush to the South to enjoy the beaches of the Côte d’Azur, but also the Provençal landscapes as well as the ferias, a tradition from the Basque Country! In Europe, ferias are local events, happening in places like the South of France, Portugal and, of course, Spain. For many towns like Bayonne, Dax or Mont-de-Marsan, these ferias represent the year’s biggest event. If like many Australians you plan on spending your winter in France, these towns turn out to be must-see locations at this time of the year.
What exactly is a feria? It’s a bullfighting festival characterized by a series of corridas (bullfighting events). Depending on the town where the event held, the bulls are released in the streets or in arenas. During the ferias, mobile bands called bandas play music until the end of the night and alcohol flows like water. The atmosphere is really one of partying. In the south-west, the word festayre (which comes from the Gascon word “hestaire”) designates the people partying during the ferias, and there’s more of them every year.
Ferias are these days commonly associated with bullfighting events, however the word “feria” once referred to agricultural events, as it in fact means “fair” (as in “agricultural fair”) in Spanish. Bullfighting ferias and fairs started blending as soon as the end of the 19th century in France as well as in Spain. These fairs’ traditional colours are red and white, two colours the locals wear proudly, turning the whole thing evermore picturesque. In the end, you only need to add some white to get the French flag!
A famous song called “Les Pèlerins de Navarre” (“The Pilgrims of Navarre”) translates as such:
“I will go from Pampelune to Bayonne
I will go from Dax to Mont de Marsan
I will take on the biggest journey
A festayre ever travelled”
The feria of Bayonne is the biggest in France. As such, Bayonne’s festivities gather around 1.5 million people every summer. This year, they will take place from the 27th to the 31th of July. During the opening ceremony, the keys to the city will be delivered to the famous King Léon, the mascot of every feria. After that, it’s 5 days of non-stop partying and bullfighting events in the streets of the city.
The “feria” of Dax, often designated as “fêtes de Dax” (“celebrations of Dax”), is probably one of
the most lively in France. This year, it will take place from the 11th to the 15th of August in the arenas as well as in the city centre of
this thermal town that’s awaiting around 700 000 visitors! A myriad of different shows and bandas parades are organised all
around town, and the bars flood the streets.
In Mont-de-Marsan, the feria is often called “fêtes de la Madeleine” (“celebrations of Madeleine”) in honor of Saint Madeleine, the town’s patron saint. This year, they will take place from the 20th to the 24th of July and will feature, as expected, bullfighting events in the town’s arenas. Every summer, about 400 000 people explore the streets of Mont-de-Marsan.
If you are lucky enough to visit the South of France this year, we wish you a happy time during the ferias, and a lovely summer! Take the opportunity to taste some of the Basque specialties: the piperade, the Basque chicken, Bayonne’s famous ham, the Ossau-iraty, chili from Espelette, and plenty of other wonders!
Adele Bouet for l’Alliance Française de Melbourne
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