Every year in December and January, you can travel to China without leaving the South of France. For these two months, the market town of Gaillac in the Tarn department hosts the Fééries de Chine – Festival des Lanternes, the biggest Chinese lantern festival in Europe. During the event, the Parc Foucaud transforms into an illuminated splendour, representing several Chinese provinces. And I can tell you that it is a true feast for the eyes!
The first edition of Festival des Lanternes took place in 2017, and since then it has become an enormous success. Several hundreds of thousands (!) of people visit the festival each year to admire this superlative city of lanterns. I strongly suggest you buy an online ticket well before the date you want to go. Especially if you are planning to go on a Saturday when the organisation only accepts pre-booked tickets. As I was going on a Saturday evening, I expected it to be busy. It was! And it took me at least half an hour of driving in circles to find a parking spot. I finally found one… right in the centre of Gaillac at the Place d’Hautpoul of all places! From there, I followed the crowd to discover the festively lit streets that led to the entrance of the festival.
As I walked in, I could see that the Festival des Lanternes was going to exceed all of my expectations. By far! The entrance gate was of such marvellous beauty, and that was only the beginning. I had done my homework before going and had read that the festival has over 1,500 monumental light sculptures presenting 46 thematic scenes from various Chinese provinces over 4 hectares of park ground. To build up this incredible site, no less than 90 Sichuan artisans- like metal workers, painters and couturiers- worked for two months on the site. And all this is specially designed for Gaillac, to be renewed entirely next year.
Once inside, I let the lights lead me and I found myself amidst one magical scene after another. After walking through a lane with man-high pink Camellia flowers, my eye spotted a magnificent 100 meters long dragon, with scales made of CDs. Followed by colourful Chinese opera scenes, the animals of the zodiac, a performance by Sichuan acrobats, the Great Wall of China, and much more. It was so hard to pick a favourite!
Undeniably, the absolute highlight had to be the 18 meters high golden Buddha statue sitting in the middle of a 75 metre long Sichuan landscape of mountains and waterfalls. It took me two hours to visit the festival, but you can easily spend more time there. Take your time to eat at one of the dining options, for example. There’s almost no need to say that I highly recommend going to the Festival des Lanternes so that you can experience this breathtaking event for yourself!