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The magnificent Jazz in Vienne festival

There’s no denying that the French love a festival, their many and diverse street celebrations always seem to bring out the soul and essence of a city. And surprisingly, the sleepy and historic city of Vienne in the Isère department of the Auvergne Rhône Alpes region in the south east of France, is no exception.

For two weeks from late June until mid-July, Vienne’s ancient walls, cobbled streets and many Roman remains throb to the rhythm and beat of jazz and blues, as its remarkable annual Jazz a Vienne festival gets underway.

Jazz a Vienne

Vienne is a modest city, with thousands of years of history and a population of a little under 30,000. It’s surrounded by outstanding natural beauty with rolling hills, ancient ruins, vineyards clinging to steep rocky terraces and orchards. It sits on the banks of the majestic River Rhône which sweeps slowly by.  For most of the year,  there’s a sense of quiet calm, bathed as it is in southern sunshine and a reassuring sense of its own important place in history.

Which is one of the reasons that the Jazz a Vienne festival is quite such a surprise and a delight. It’s the main jazz festival in France and one of the biggest in Europe, attracting some 200,000 festival goers every year.

Free and paid events take place around the city. Narrow, cobbled lanes throb with the sound of music, the Roman gardens of Cybèle in the heart of the city become a stage. So do the ancient Roman ruins at the Musée de Saint Romain en Gal across the river. While the stunning and ornate Théâtre à I’Italienne hosts midnight performances.

Jazz in Vienne Festival 2018

In 2018, some 250 different events or concerts are planned, with 4 main stages and 200 free events. Each day the festival runs from noon to midnight. The programme includes musical lectures, film screenings, and live music in the city’s many cafés and restaurants. Hedonistic beats dance off the Corinthian columns of the Roman temple.

The most exhilarating venue has to be the stunning and huge Roman amphitheatre, with its unique acoustics and atmosphere. Lit up at night, with a huge sense of history, some 14,000 revellers enjoy headline acts. The fantastic line up includes international stars like Earth, Wind and Fire, Gregory Porter, Jeff Beck and Sting! And if you can’t get a seat in the amphitheatre you can always enjoy an aerial view by walking up Mont Pipet directly above.

The music isn’t necessarily strictly jazz and the festival embraces gospel, blues, soul, funk, ethnic and quite a lot more. The festival describes itself as eclectic and opulent, vast but intimate. For two weeks, music is everywhere, echoing back off the Rhône and the mountains, lifting the soul and feeding the mind. It’s an extraordinary moment in time when the wonders of Rome collide with the wonders of music and for music lovers looking for something unique, it really shouldn’t be missed.

For more help planning your trip contact the tourist office at www.vienne-condrieu.com

 Lucy Pitts is a freelance writer, Editor of Fine Magazine and deputy editor of The Good Life France

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