Dunkerque on the north French coast is the place to go to next weekend and the following week for its weird and wonderful carnival celebrations. It all takes place around St. Valentine's Day, and what could be more romantic than catching a smoked herring flung from the town hall's belfry and handing it to your intended? If that doesn't work, then try one of the dances and go dressed up for the occasion.
To get yourself into the mood, and to understand more about this rather odd carnival, book a greeter through the tourist office. The tours are free and the greeters are locals with a passion for their town. When you meet them, they will discuss what you would like to see and tailor a tour around your interests. Each has a different speciality; it may be art and architecture, natural history, flora and fauna along the sea shore, or local history. It's a great way to learn more and you meet the locals. The head of the Greeters is a local photographer who is also the leader of the Carnival, Patrick Loock. You'll see him in the processions, dressed as La Baronne (the Baroness),in a black dress with ostrich feathers in his hat and clinking jewellery.
Once you know all about Dunkerque from your Greeter, the carnival will make more sense. It all started in the 17th century when the fishing fleets returned from Iceland with their catches after months at sea. Apparently even the fish waltzed with joy (well, it was a long time ago and there were no scientific tests to see if this was really true so you might as well go with the flow.)
Today the people leading the event dress up, and there are long processions with dancers and musicians that snake through the town. Each main procession is followed by dinners and balls, and of course those smoked herrings. Different 'bandes' take part from various parts of the town. All the 'balls' are within the main town of Dunkerque, easy to reach from the center by bus or taxi.
There's still time to book next weekend, February 9th and 10th at special rates (see link below).
- Sunday February 10th Dunkerque Bande
- Monday February 11th Citadelle Bande
- Tuesday February12th Rosendaël Bande
- Sunday February 17th: Malo les Bains Bande
- Saturday February 9th Nuit de l'Oncle Cô in the Kursaal (Palais des Congres) in Dunkerque
- Sunday February 10th Bal des Acharnés in the Kursaal (Palais des Congres) in Dunkerque
- Tuesday February 12th Bal du mardi Gras, in the Salle Looten in nearby Bergues
- Wednesday February 13th Bal des Zotches (for children) in the Palais du Littoral in nearby Grande Synthe
- Wednesday February 13th Bal des Chevaliers (for children) in the Kursaal Dunkerque
- Saturday February 16th Bal des Gigolos in the Kursaal Dunkerque
- Sunday February 17th Bal de la Violette in the Kursaal Dunkerque
- Saturday March 2nd Bal du Printemps in the Kursaal Dunkerque
- More about Patrick Loock and the Carnival
- Weekend Offer for February 9 & 10
- General Information on the Carnival
- Carnivals in France
Images: Top: Waiting for herrings at the town hall; Bottom: An exhausted reveller; both © Dunkerque Tourist Office