I hope that you and yours are well.
This time of the year is all about festivals in my part of rural France. There’s a contest for the best straw sculpture – held between the valley villages and taken rather seriously if you ask me. Everyone involved in the creation of a sculpture is sworn to secrecy in case another village steals your thunder.
Food festivals and parties
There’s a crab festival, mussel festival and herring festival (you can tell we live near the coast) and musical fetes galore. Dancing giants roam the streets at many of the events – they are a centuries old local tradition. Up to 28 feet tall, the giants usually represent local heroes and figures from folklore, often fishermen or Lords of yesteryear though I have also seen a Roman general. They’re not real giants of course, they’re made from wicker. They have babies, get baptised, even get married and sometimes move to different towns to be with their new partner!
There are medieval festivals too, the last one I went to involved several courses of food that people would have eaten 600 years ago, surprisingly good! And there are ducasses – a local word for a party. My village holds a harvest Ducasse each September, a mobile friterie (chip wagon) arrives and cooks lashings of chips and spicy sausages and dancing goes on until the early hours of the morning, keeping dogs awake and making owls hoot indignantly.
And there are festivals called Les Illuminations. We went to one soon after we moved here, many moons ago after we were inspired by a glossy poster which had an image of the Eiffel Tower all lit up. “Blimey” we said to each other “that looks good.” And it was good, but not because of the lights – there was certainly no Eiffel Tower but you can’t let a fact get in the way of a good promotion. It mainly consisted of Christmas tree lights hung over trees in the square of a nearby village and alongside a stream, just above the water line which made for sparkly reflections but was an interesting approach to health and safety.
Les Illuminations are not swanky, trendy or funky, but they are fabulous fun as it’s really an excuse for people to get together, have a glass of wine or beer, eat moules or saucisse and frites, sing and dance, and for the kids to play outside until the sky turns velvety black and is pricked by a million twinkling stars. Locals dig out Christmas lights and hang them over hedges and trees and some sit in the garden surrounded by candles (last year I passed one garden with 2000 tea lights) and chat to passers-by of which there are usually many – admiring the efforts of those who join in. People will drive for miles to go to an Illuminations. Vincent Van Gogh once said that great things are done by a series of small things brought together. So wish me luck for this weekend when I do my small part in our village’s first ever Illuminations as I switch on the lights in my front garden and be part of something great!
Next week I’m off to lovely Aix-en-Provence, and from there I’ll head to Arles, and then take a barge cruise with CroisiEurope to explore the far south of France: the Camargue, Sète, St-Guilhem-le-Desert and more – I know, I have to pinch myself sometimes! Come with me via Instagram where I’ll post photos and videos – and if there’s anywhere you’d like me to take a photo of, just comment on Instagram and I’ll do my best!
Bisous from France,
Janine Marsh is Author of My Good Life in France: In Pursuit of the Rural Dream, My Four Seasons in France: A Year of the Good Life and Toujours la France: Living the Dream in Rural France (April 2022) all available as ebook, print & audio, on Amazon everywhere & all good bookshops online.
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