Fest-Noz in Brittany with Ar Men Du Driving between our house and La Roche Bernard this week, we noticed a small sign pointing to a forthcoming ‘Fest Noz’ in a hamlet called La Ville Perrotin that had, until now, been off our radar.

Fest Noz is a traditional Breton rave: a folk festival that has been around in official form since the 1950s, originally in central Brittany, but which more recently (since the folk revival of the mid-1970s) has spread to all areas in the region. Fest Noz literally means ‘Fête de Nuit (or night festival).

We thought we would take a look and are really pleased we did.

For a small 6 euro entry fee (including parking) we joined several hundred local people in a field – an amazing number given that the population of the hamlet itself was probably much less than that – for an outdoor evening of food (mostly sweet and savoury crêpes and galettes), drink (Breton cider primarily) and dancing to a selection of Breton folk bands. The dancing is the main part of the evening. Almost everyone was dancing – and for the entire evening – and even very old people who were clearly in their 80s (impressive, when you consider that many of the dances were energetic and were quite technical in their execution). Everyone seemed to know the steps, young and old. People mostly held hands while forming a large circle or a chain, all the while executing various figures with their feet, or danced in couples or in groups of 4, to the sound of traditional instruments such as Binious and Accordeons, in dances called either Gavotte, Bourrée, Cercle Circassien or even…Scottish!

We sat out the evening, preferring to spectate rather than embarrass ourselves.

It was great to see a real, thriving French (Breton really) tradition in action, and we’re pleased we went. It was incredible to see the number of people who turned up, especially given the low-level publicity we had seen. We are local (less than 5 minutes away) and we only spotted the signs by accident.

I don’t imagine we’ll become Fest Noz regulars, but it was a perfectly enjoyable, low-cost way of spending a warm Saturday evening in France in September.

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