Summer holidays are a cherished time in France when people enjoy the festivals and reunite with family and friends. There are famous festivals in southwest France – in Bayonne, Toulouse, Pau and Dax to name a few. However, there are lesser know festivals that are just as exciting such as the medieval town of Orthez. With a sizzling atmosphere and something on offer for all ages, nonstop things to see and do, plenty of food and drink and good humour!
Orthez is in the region of Béarn, at the crossroads between two important transport routes. The A64 traversing Toulouse, Bayonne and the A63 running down from Bordeaux to Spain. It is cloaked in a rich history, once the capital of Bearn – between 1242 and 1464. The mother of Henry the IV of France, Jeanne d`Albret lived in Orthez. A devoted protestant, she established Orthez as a centre of protestant theology in 1564 and a university was founded in 1583 for the study of Medicine and Law. The most recognised landmark is the famous medieval bridge.
It is a working, agricultural town with a sleepy atmosphere. But when the festival is on, it attracts a flood of Orthezians who left to live and work elsewhere. Held in July the festival encourages people to wear the traditional colours of Orthez. A red scarf draped around the neck, white shirt and red pantaloons and traditional berets. The festival opens with a traditional ceremony, and through the weekend there is a melting pot of rock music, hip hop, Spanish like reggae music, a DJ stage. Music floods the cafés, large speakers blast music from pop up street bars. The house of Jeanne d`Albret is a beautiful setting for musicians, encouraged by an energised crowd gathered in the courtyard.
There is an assortment of fairground attractions for children, streets turned into long bars for adults. Dancing is on every corner!
A beautiful ambience is created by using historical locations as the backdrop to the musical entertainments. Saint Pierre church is lit up and a large stage set up in front of its doors with people dancing and enjoying the music through the night.
If you are in the region when the fete is on in July, it’s worth stopping off and enjoying the free of charge festival.
Katie Disken grew up in Dublin, Ireland and now lives in southwest France where she writes short stories and poetry, and is a fan of the unique wines of Jurancon.