Top Events

Festival d'Avignon, July

Fête du Citron, February

Fête des Lumières, December

Festival de Cannes, May

Monaco Grand Prix, May

January

With New Year festivities done and dusted, head to the Alps. Crowds on the slopes thin out once school's back, but January remains busy. On the Mediterranean, mild winters are wonderfully serene in a part of France that's mad busy the rest of the year.

Vive le Ski!

Grab your skis, hit the slopes. Most resorts in the Alps, Pyrenees, Jura and Auvergne open mid- to late December, but January is the start of the ski season in earnest. Whether a purpose-built station or Alpine village, there's a resort to match every mood and moment.

Truffle Season

No culinary product is more aromatic or decadent than black truffles. Hunt them in the Dordogne and Provence – the season runs late December to March, but January is the prime month.

February

Crisp, cold weather in the mountains – lots of china-blue skies now – translates as ski season in top gear. Alpine resorts get mobbed by families during the February school holidays and accommodation is at its priciest.

Nice Carnival

Nice makes the most of its mild climate with this crazy Lenten carnival. As well as parade and costume shenanigans, merrymakers pelt each other with blooms during the legendary flower battles. Dunkirk in northern France celebrates Mardi Gras with equal gusto.

Fête du Citron

Menton on the French Riviera was once Europe's biggest lemon producer, hence its exotic Fête du Citron. These days it has to ship in a zillion lemons from Spain to sculpt into gargantuan carnival characters.

March

The ski season stays busy thanks to ongoing school holidays (until mid-March) and warmer temperatures. Down south, spring ushers in the bullfighting season and Pâques (Easter).

Féria d'Arles

In France's hot south, four days of open-air dancing, music and concerts alfresco enliven the Féria d'Arles, a flamboyant street festival held at Easter in Arles to open the town's highly controversial bullfighting season.

April

Dedicated ski fiends can carve glaciers in the highest French ski resorts until mid-April or later at highest altitudes. Then it's off with the ski boots and on with the hiking gear as peach and almond trees flower pink against a backdrop of snowcapped peaks.

Fête de la Transhumance

During the ancient Fête de la Transhumance in April or May, shepherds walk their flocks of sheep up to green summer pastures; St-Rémy de Provence's fest is the best known. Or head to villages in the Pyrenees and Auvergne to witness this transit.

May

There is no lovelier month to travel in France, as the first melons ripen in Provence and outdoor markets burst with new-found colour. Spring is always in.

May Day

No one works on 1 May, a national holiday that incites summer buzz, with muguets (lilies of the valley) sold at roadside stalls and given to friends for good luck. In Arles, Camargue cowboys prove their bull-herding and equestrian skills at the Fête des Gardians.

Fêtes de Jeanne d’Arc

Orléans residents have celebrated the liberation of their city by Joan of Arc since 1430. Festivities include a four-day medieval market, costume parades, concerts and, on 8 May, a cathedral service and military parade (including tanks).

Pèlerinage des Gitans

Roma flock to the Camargue on 24 and 25 May and again in October for a flamboyant fiesta of street music, dancing and dipping their toes in the sea.

Festival de Cannes

In mid-May, film stars and celebrities walk the red carpet at Cannes, Europe's biggest cinema extravaganza.

Monaco Grand Prix

How fitting that Formula One's most glamorous rip around the streets is in one of the world's most glam countries at Monaco's Formula One Grand Prix.

June

As midsummer approaches, the festival pace quickens alongside a rising temperature gauge, which tempts the first bathers into the sea. Looking north, nesting white storks shower good luck on farmsteads in Alsace.

Fête de la Musique

Orchestras, crooners, buskers and bands fill streets with free music during France's vibrant nationwide celebration of music on 21 June (www.fetedelamusique.culture.fr).

Paris Jazz Festival

No festival better evokes the brilliance of Paris' interwar jazz age than this annual fest in the Parc Floral de Paris.

July

If lavender's your French love, now is the time to catch it flowering in Provence. But you won't be the only one. School's out for the summer, showering the country with teems of tourists, traffic and too many complet (full) signs strung in hotel windows.

Tour de France

The world's most prestigious cycling race ends on av des Champs-Élysées in Paris on the third or fourth Sunday of July, but you can catch it for two weeks before all over France – the route changes each year but the French Alps are a hot spot.

Bastille Day

Join the French in celebrating the storming of the Bastille on 14 July 1789 – countrywide there are fireworks displays, balls, processions, parades and lots of hoo-ha all round.

Festival d'Avignon

Rouse your inner thespian with Avignon's legendary performing-arts festival. Street acts in its fringe fest are as inspired as those on official stages.

Jazz à Juan

Jive to jazz cats in Juan-les-Pins at this mythical Riviera music fest, which has been around for 50-odd years. Jazz à Juan requires tickets, but the fringe 'Off' part of the music festival does not.

Festival de Cornouaille

Traditional Celtic music takes over the Breton town of Quimper during this inspiring summer festival in late July.

August

It's that crazy summer month when the French join everyone else on holiday. Paris, Lyon and other big cities empty; traffic jams at motorway toll booths test the patience of a saint; and temperatures soar. Avoid. Or don your party hat and join the crowd!

Festival Interceltique de Lorient

Celtic culture is the focus of the Festival Interceltique de Lorient, when hundreds of thousands of Celts from Brittany and abroad flock to Lorient to celebrate just that.

Route du Champagne en Fête

There's no better excuse for a flute or three of bubbly than during the first weekend in August when Champagne toasts its vines and vintages with the Route du Champagne en Fête. Free tastings, cellar visits, music and dancing.

Fêtes d'Arvor

The Fêtes d'Arvor is a passionate celebration of Breton culture. Think street parades, concerts and dozens of authentic festoù-noz (night festivals) spilling across the half-timbered, cobbled Vannes.

Hestiv' Òc

Ramp up the summer with four days of revelry in the Pyrenean town of Pau, featuring performances and music on stages in the centre of town (www.hestivoc.com). The best feature: it’s entirely gratuit so won’t cost you a single centime.

Festival Jazz en Ville

Concerts and jam sessions featuring big names from the international jazz scene in the Breton town of Vannes; late July or early August.

September

As sun-plump grapes hang heavy on darkened vines and that August madness drops off as abruptly as it began, a welcome tranquillity falls across autumnal France. This is the start of France's vendange (grape harvest).

Rutting Season

Nothing beats getting up at dawn to watch mating stags, boar and red deer at play. Observatory towers are hidden in thick forest around Château de Chambord.

Braderie de Lille

The mountains of empty mussel shells engulfing the streets after three days of mussel-munching have to be seen to be believed. Then there's the real reason for visiting Lille in the first weekend in September – its huge flea market is Europe's largest.

October

The days become shorter, the last grapes are harvested and the first sweet chestnuts fall from trees. With the changing of the clocks on the last Sunday of the month, there's no denying it's winter.

Nuit Blanche

In one last-ditch attempt to stretch out what's left of summer, museums, monuments, cultural spaces, bars and clubs rock around the clock during Paris' so-called White Night, aka one fabulous long all-nighter!

November

It's nippy now. Toussaint (All Saints' Day) on 1 November ushers in the switch to shorter winter opening hours for many sights. Many restaurants close two nights a week, making dining out on Monday a challenge in some towns.

Beaujolais Nouveau

At the stroke of midnight on the third Thursday in November the first bottles of cherry-red Beaujolais nouveau are cracked open – and what a party it can be in Beaujolais, Lyon and other places nearby!

Vente aux Enchères des Vins des Hospices de Beaune

The grandest of the many wine fests in Burgundy's prestigious Côte d'Or, this three-day extravaganza see the Hospices de Beaune hold a private auction of wine, the proceeds of which go to charity.

December

Days are short and it's cold everywhere bar the south of France. But there are Christmas school holidays and festive celebrations to bolster sun-deprived souls, not to mention some season-opening winter skiing in the highest-altitude Alpine resorts from mid-December.

Alsatian Christmas Markets

Visitors meander between fairy-light-covered craft stalls, mug of vin chaud (warm mulled wine) in gloved hand, at Alsace's traditional pre-Christmas markets.

Fête des Lumières

France's biggest and best light show, on and around 8 December, transforms the streets and squares of Lyon into an open stage.