As life slowly returns to normal, the communities of the Alpes-Maritimes are facing a balancing act between summer festivals and public health concerns

Finally, at long last, the lockdown is over, and life slowly picks up again, just in time for the summer holidays. With tourism as a major source of jobs and revenues, regional communities face a balancing act: After months of forced inactivity, the economy needs a serious boost. In the Alpes-Maritimes region, economy is synonymous with tourism. Tourists want fun and animation, and the annual summer festival season usually more than delivers. But this year, there is another factor to consider: how to keep everyone – locals and visitors alike – safe from another round of the virus. And how to comply with government regulations while enjoying nights out with friends and family?

At the end, economic considerations won. The Département’s political leadership was the first to venture out and announce that the annual cultural festival Les Soirées Estivales with over 400 free events in 154 communities will indeed take place from June 27 through September 20. Both Nice and Cannes swiftly followed in its footsteps, presenting their programmes as well. Out with “virtual” events of all kinds – finally time for live ones again… with due respect for all mandatory hygienic measures of course!

Nice: “Transforming a Constraint into an Opportunity”

Mon Été à Nice logoM’en bati, sieù nissart! Nice’s defiant motto, loosely translating to “I don’t give a f***, I am Niçois” has never been truer. When the entire world scrambled to reinvent itself post-lockdown, Mayor Christian Estrosi tapped into the considerable local talent pool and launched a call for proposals from local artists, performers, and talent to create an ad-hoc summer festival that gives the usual high-paid acts a run for their money. Under the headline Mon Été à Nice, 210 events in 60 different venues with over 600 artists puts the summer event calendar right around the annual mark. The only difference this year: all of the events are outdoors… easily done when you benefit from a good-sized city, the balmy Mediterranean climate, and spectacular urban and natural scenery.

And therefore, like any other year, Nice is bursting with activities from late June on and through October, staging events and unusual gatherings throughout its urban and regional territory. Dance, music, theatre, circus, readings, and educational walks of all kinds make culture more easily accessible than ever in squares, gardens and markets.

But instead of making this a one-season event, Nice pursues a longer-term strategy. It has engaged municipal cultural establishments like the “109” arts space, the Matisse Museum, the MAMAC, the Museum of Photography and the Masséna Museum, as partners, obliging them to rethink their indoors-only concepts and “break down walls” in a way that can be reproduced in years to come.

Events are grouped in six categories:

Mon Été à Nice events

Mon été musical

From DJ The Avenger to the local firemen’s annual extravaganza, world music and jazz concerts, Corou de Berra, the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra…. Impossible not to find your favourite dish on this musical menu.

Mon été culturel

Opera, theatre, museum… classic or modern art, literature or humour… what’s your style? It’s guaranteed to be there. The TNN offers pop-up shows in the Coulée Verte and the outskirts of Nice, the Matisse museum and the Museum of Photography turn their forecourts into a stage for performing art act relating to their current exhibitions, the Cimiez and Rimiez gardens install open-air cinema…

Not exactly part of the summer festival but still happening and worth a socially distanced visit: Les Années Joyeuses, an exhibition at Musée Masséna through November 15, features works of cult photographer Jean Ferrero, whose work embodies the memory of a glorious period of contemporary art in Nice that still shapes the city’s artistic identity today, as well as that of some of his friends and contemporaries.

Mon été patrimoine

Ever wanted to know the secrets behing the midday cannon blast in Nice? Or explore the history of Castle Hill? These are just two of several animations on tap to learn about Nice’s rich heritage.

Mon été animé

Lots of family-friendly events under this category, from circus on Place de Pin to ad-hoc shows especially for children in various Niçois parks, and the annual Fête du Port.

Mon été sportif

The 107th Tour de France, traditionally scheduled for late June and through mid July, has been postponed this year until sanitary conditions permitted it to take place, and the honour to kick it off goes to Nice this year The long awaited event for all aficionados of “la petite reine” – as the French lovingly call the bike – will span several days from 27 to 31 August. And because Nice has a way to always find a way for the arts into any major event, numerous artistic works will line the route, from street art to monumental sculptures.

Mon été nature

Nature lovers, too, have plenty to look forward to this summer, starting with educational visits and workshops in various venues around town to diving excursions at Cap Ferrat and a photo competition on the topic of underwater biodiversity.

Cannes – The Show must (and will) go on!

Cannes Repart 2020Cannes’s immensely popular mayor David Lisnard – freshly re-elected with 88% of the votes in the recent municipal elections – is a magician whose hat holds more rabbits than anyone could possibly imagine. Cool as a cucumber, he pulls them out, one by one, and absolutely nothing can faze him, not even a virus that threatens the entire world. This man, it seems, thrives on massive challenges thrown his way. As soon as rules for the easing of lockdown rules were known, David Lisnard and his cultural events team produced a 2020 Cannes summer at a moment’s notice that is as polished as you would expect it from this star-studded town, yet strives to reflect Cannes’ humble roots as a fisher’s village.

Slightly tweaking Serge Gainsbourg’s famous song “Sous le soleil exactement” to this year’s motto “Under the Sun, Differently”, a whole cornucopia of events, ranging from music to ballet, readings, and humorists is lined up. In keeping with social distancing rules, all events are outdoors, and the City of Cannes couldn’t have improvised a better “stage” for this #Cannesrepart summer: the roof terrace of the Palais des Festivals offers a panoramic view that sweep from the glamourous Croisette to the heights of Cannes’ Old Town, le Suquet, on to the magnificent hills of the Esterel, and over to the Îles des Lérins. Other venues around town, like the leading galleries and arts spaces around Cannes are doing their part in the relaunch as well, hosting exhibitions, concerts, outdoor cinema sessions, walks, and workshops. The Cannes programme is too packed and varied to single out individual acts, we’ll let you pick your favourite yourself.

There are three events though you should definitely not miss, like Kehinde Wiley’s exhibition at La Malmaison (Croisette) from July 10 through November 1. This is the Black American artist who painted the famous Barack Obama pop art portrait. In this retrospective, the first of its kind in France, he explores the role of Blacks in paintings, whether visible or absent.

Another highly anticipated exhibition through August 31: Nikos Aliagas and his black & white photo collection, aptly named “Thalassa” (Θάλασσα)” , meaning “sea” in Greek. “If you pronounce ‘tha-las-sa’ the Greek way, with an English “th”, the word resembles the sound the sea makes,” the renowned photographer and journalist says. His open-air photo exhibit along the Croisette is compiled of a collection of gorgeous Cannes vistas as well portraits of the fishermen, monks, or others for whom the Mediterranean Sea has become a source of making a living, or of daily meditation

And those who love the magic of illuminations at nightfall can revel in grand-scale mapping projections. Between July 14 and August 31, the façade of the Palais des Festivals whisks you away on a journey through the aquatic world, diving from the water surface through the foam and waves deep down to shipwrecks in the dizzying abyss. And the mapped illuminations on the Notre-Dame d’Espérance church high up in the Old Town (Suquet) beckons you to climb the stairways to the stars in the night sky.

As always, many of these events are free to visit for locals and visitors although advance reservations are required. Indoor exhibitions do charge admission but the Cannes Culture pass, offering the visit of all four shows for the price of 10 euros, is an unbeatable bargain.

All over 06: Transforming the Region into a giant Open-air Festival

Soirées Estivales 2020

The annual summer festival known as Soirées Estivales is the envy of France: hundreds of quality shows for free. This year is no exception, despite the giant wrench thrown in the works earlier in the year. Impossible to single out highlights among the 400+ events – browse the website for your personal favourites. And as with all other events, reservations are mandatory.

Of course the idea is to have fun – and more so than ever after a very challenging spring. Do have a great time but wherever you go and whatever event you visit, just don’t forget to pack one additional must-have accessory along with sunglasses, sun screen, and mosquito spray – your mask!

another grey line

Lead image by Jude Beck on Unsplash; other photos courtesy Ville de Nice, Ville de Cannes and Département des Alpes-Maritimes

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