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By Sarah-Leigh Shenton
You know that feeling, one minute you're driving through the winding streets of a peaceful Provencal village admiring fountains and chapels and deciding on a spot for lunch, the next, you're surrounded by a raucous crowd and being shepherded down a flight of steps with more sheep than you can shake a (French) stick at. To save your blushes, and to help you make the most of Provence's intriguing calendar of local events and festivals, here's my rundown of some of the best.
Fete du Citron, Menton
18th Feb - 9th Mar
Actually located on the Cote D'Azur just a few miles up the road from Monaco, but for a few weeks every year from Mid-February to March, the coastal town of Menton hosts the second biggest celebration in the South of France (after the Nice Carnival, but before the F1 Grand Prix). Over 230,000 people come to see 145 tons of citrus fruit cut, squeezed and carved into a series of elaborate floats and statues.
Hivernales Dance Festival, Avignon
24th Feb - 5th Mar
Those with an interest in performance art must check out this spectacular contemporary dance festival in the city of Avignon. Each year there is an unmissable programme which showcases the latest and most dynamic work from the best choreographers in the U.S, Cuba, France, Canada, Belgium, Argentina and Brazil.
The Roman Games, Nimes
23rd, 24th and 25th April
Roman life flourished in the South of France, and the city of Nimes is littered with more historical evidence than most. At Easter, the amphitheatre will once again come to life with the sound of the games as the city puts on the biggest historical re-enactment event in the region. Roman legionnaires, Celts, the Imperial Court, auxiliaries, cavalrymen and war chariots will all be paraded through the streets in this unique celebration. A must for the kids.
Fete de la Transhumance, Saint-Remy
Pentecost Monday, May
The Festival of Transhumance marks the seasonal movement of people and their livestock to pastures new. To celebrate this local shepherds in traditional dress drive thousands of sheep through the streets of Saint-Rémy and put on impressive sheepdog displays before the flock is divided up and driven through the town to their new grounds.
International Festival of Extreme Sports, Montpellier
13th - 16th May
If the kids are slightly beyond Roman legions and sheepdogs, how about checking out this awesome 4 day competition in cosmopolitan Montpellier? Featuring some of the world's best Skateboarders, BMXers and Wakeboarders, the action kicks off with the heats on Thursday and progresses through a knockout competition with the final on Sunday.
Les Choregies d'Orange, Orange
Selected dates from 9th July - 2nd August
A series of classical music events set within one of the world's best-preserved Roman theatres is the scene for the oldest festival in France. The remarkable theatre still features exceptional acoustics and seating for up to 9,000. This year the festival will be based on the work of Verdi and Beethoven.
Fete de Vin, Gordes
What compilation of French festivals would be complete without mention of wine, and what better place to taste the excellent local produce than in picture-postcard Gordes? The Wine Festival is held on the first Sunday of August in the gardens of this idyllic hilltop town with spectacular views towards the valleys and vineyards of the region.
Fetes Daudet (Daudet Festival), Fontvieille
A festival in honour of the French Novelist Alphonse Daudet, who was born in the nearby town of Nimes. His "Lettres de Mon Moulin" referenced the windmill in Fontvielle and brought him to the attention of readers across France. Every August the town celebrates with a torch-lit procession and folk dancing outside the mill.
Fete des Olives, Mouries
In a further celebration of local excellence, the town of Mouries, known as the "Olive Oil capital of France", honours the Green Olive every September by virtue of a procession in traditional dress and mass tastings of this exceptional local product.
Nautical Parade, Isle sur la Sorgue
Antiques are relegated to second place on this occasion as the town focuses its collective attention on the beautiful nautical parade. Grab a table at one of the many waterside cafes and enjoy the evening procession of lit-up flower covered floats. There are prizes for the winners as well as local honour being at stake, so look out for some pretty audacious designs.
Sarah-Leigh Shenton is Head of Marketing for Abercrombie & Kent Villas, a private rental villa specialist with villas in France as well as Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Sarah-Leigh's role takes her to some of France's most beautiful regions, including Provence, the Cote d'Azur and the Dordogne.
Sarah-Leigh can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
or see her web-site: luxury Provence villas
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