Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Mighty Bayonne Festival

Giant doll at Bayonne Festival procession
Photo Rainer Fritz on Flickr

Here every village has their own festival, but some of them stand out. Like th Mighty Bayonne Festival that gathers over one million visitors during the annual five day festivities. If you go, count on getting lots of music, smiling and dancing people, lots of beer and incredibly crowded streets.  When I first went there, on a sunny Sunday, we were greeted by a sea of happy people, all dressed in white and red. The sun is really shining, but it would have been sunny here anyway. I have never seen such a friendly and happy crowd!

It is noon, Sunday and the last day of the festival. We are meeting up with some friends at the central market place in Bayonne. The bar is full and people have spread ut on the street with plastic glasses in their hands. We get something to drink too and look out over the river. There are tables and people everywhere, the streets are already getting crowded.  We go to the Marengo Bridge to watch the final procession of music groups and giant dolls, coming out from the church after mess. The dolls are really heavy, we watch as they take turns being inside. Several children are watching too, cute in white and red, some on the shoulders of their parents. My children would have loved this!

Crowds of people during the Bayonne Festival

We continue by crossing the bridge and going into Petit Bayonne, the part with the most and the best bars in town. Our friend Stéphane wants to show us his uncle's bar. He is member of a choir and many associations, pêna, have meeting places that are transformed to bars during the festival. Most of them are private, so you have to know somebody to get invited. The streets are narrow and getting more crowded by the minute. I mumble a bit over my handbag that is getting in the way the whole time. As we enter the bar, people are cheering and welcoming us with drinks, a mix of young and not so young.

We end up by returning to the other side of the river and the famous restaurant Aviron Bayonnais, the rugby team favorite. The place is cracking with people but still a smiling and happy atmosphere. We see several famous rugby players, all tall and well built. As we get seated, the crowd bursts out in a Basque song.

I join this video to show the opening ceremony, with fire works and all in a nightly lit up Bayonne and thousands of people. Here you see that all ages are present, from children to elderly people. A true people celebration.

Basque flags from the Bayonne Festival
Photo Derfouille Flickr

Daytime or night time? The festival is not on all night, the bars close around three in the morning, but it is hard to do both. I think it wise to chose between day and night to get the most out of your stay. Daytime is more family friendly and suitable for anyone. Even old folks like me (40 years). Nighttime is for the young and strong, good if you enjoy getting beer on your clothes, because the narrow streets get packed to the limits with people and as the hours pass, the drunkenness increases.

What to wear? That is the easy question, because EVERYBODY is wearing white and red clothes. Usually white with red accents. The red and white clothes represent a uniting bond between the participants, festayres, and should be respected! If you see anyone with something blue and white, that is a Bayonne rugby team supporter. Beer and wine are easily spilled, so take clothes that are easy to wash and steady shoes to avoid any glass splitter. You easily lose someone in the crowd,  set up a meeting point in advance. Maybe a basker that can be seen far away is a good option? The cash machines sometimes empty, make sure you bring enough cash.

What about children? I have seen quite some children, some bigger, some still in their prams, but I personally feel reluctant to bring mine so far. Too much people and noise. Exept Thursday, the day with special activities for children - I am planning a first try this year!

What happens during the festival? The festival looks pretty much the same from year to year. Among the activities you find a market, the pepper omelet competition, basque dances, concerts and much more. The evenings end with dancing at several spots. Many say that Sunday, the last day, is the best. Since 2009 there are no corridas during the festival, but a few days later.

What about getting there and home? When the main occupation is going from one bar to another, it is easy to get too much to drink. Plan ahead... if you come by car, better to come early to have any chance to find a parking. The police routinely have alcohol checks at the exits from Bayonne.. There is a system with buses to nearby places, but I have never tried it. A good option is to stay in Bayonne of course, but this must be planned well ahead. Bayonne is really a small town.

2010 the Festival starts on the 28th of July and ends on the 1st of August.

Official Bayonne Festival site in English Pictures, advice, planning, the program day by day.
Non official site Bayonne Festival in French Funny and well written. Read the article about Equipment. Extract: La tradition veut que le pantalon ne doit pas être lavé pendant toute la durée des fêtes. Ensuite, il sert à la maison jusqu’a la fin de l’été pour faire fuir les moustiques. Free translation: According to tradition, the white trousers should not be washed during the whole festival. Afterwards, it is used at home to avoid getting mosquitos in your house.


  1. Så roligt det ser ut! Jag önskar att vi hade mer sådana här festligheter i Sverige. Här i Skåne skulle vi t ex kunna fira Spättekakans dag eller ha magnoliafestival! Jag tror att sådana här begivenheter svetsar samman människor och bygger identitet och gemenskap - något vi tyvärr ofta saknar i vårt land.

  2. Hej Lotta! Jag var ärligt inte superpeppad för att gå, för jag hade mest minnen av spritindränkta festivaler i Norrköping och dito Vattenfestival i Stockholm, men det här var helt annorlunda! Sån stämning! Sån stolthet över sina traditioner, sån sammanhållning! Rekommenderar varmt ett besök på festivalen! Sen finns det ett par till som är riktigt stora, kommer skriva om Dax t ex!

  3. Went first as as student 35 years ago Last went 20 years ago and still have my original scarf and beret given to me by a reveler.Had a fantastic time every time we went. Must plan another trip just to rekindle the memory.


Hi! Please say hello! It is so nice to see if somebody has read a post!

Related Posts with Thumbnails