It’s been such a strange and incredibly sad year, with so much of what we had considered a normal life, being turned on its head as a result of the pandemic. We were in Menton for the Fete Du Citron and Carnaval de Nice, as the impact of what was happening started to hit home, resulting understandably, in both events being cancelled
During the year the local calendar is usually filled with events that take place in the villages and towns across the area, and it has been so hard seeing notices that these have had to be cancelled for the first time in many years. All we can do, like so many others, is hope that this year will see the spread of the virus being brought under control, to the extent that they can start happening again.
There is normally so much going on, from small village fairs, celebrating local produce, to international events, such as the Festival D’Avignon and even the Tour De France (all being well, passing through Provence again this summer). Generally there’s so much to look forward to, and so much to celebrate.
In the height of the season, it seems that every village has its own Fete, usually lasting a full weekend, with community meals, music, fairs and markets and more often than not, a highly competitive boules tournament. Normally called the ‘Fete Votive’ they were originally held in celebration of the village’s Patron Saint, for example Saint Etienne (Saint Saturnin Les Apt) Saint Symphorien (Bonnieux) or Saint Loup (Murs). In fact, hardly a weekend passes in summer without a village being ‘en fete’ and whilst some are smaller than others, they really give people from the village and further afield, a chance to get together and relax.
Then there are the festivals that are dedicated to local produce, from the ‘Honey fair’ that takes place at Goult, to the quite wonderful Fig Festival celebrating the black figs of Caromb. We stumbled across signs for this fair a few years ago, whilst we were out on the bikes and decided to cycle across to see what it was all about.
Arriving in the village, the centre was closed off and was packed with stalls selling crafts and every possible fig-related food product that you can imagine. There was a parade of all the local food associations, the members dressed in colourful cloaks, carrying banners, all being led by a wonderful old grey horse, wearing an old tweed flat-cap…. an item of clothing more normally associated with England, than with a food festival in Provence, and even more bizarre when it is perched on the head of a gentle old horse. It really was a superb event.
There is also an annual festival in Apt, celebrating the local production of ‘fruits confits’, the sticky, sugar soaked fruits, that glow and glisten like jewels when the light shines through them, where they are piled up in shop window displays. Aptesiens were called the ‘squires of jam’ as early as the 14th century and local businesses continue to produce and export hundreds of tons of these sweet delights around the world.
Sault, at the foot of Mont Ventoux, though is home to the Fete de La Lavande, when each year on 15th August the town and its racecourse turn purple to honour the local lavender harvest. This is by far the biggest of the local festivals we have visited, with the whole town, heady with the scent of those delightful, blue flowers, and packed with stalls, displays and local performers….
There is also a shuttle bus taking vistors up and down to the racecourse, where there is a big artisan market, with crafts, art and all nature of lavender scented food, together with other displays and attractions, set around the final, flowering lavender field in the centre of the track.
I have yet to visit the Chestnut Festival that takes place in nearby Revest Du Bion at the end of October, which I understand is on a similar scale to the festival at Sault, so that will have to be added to my ‘must visit’ list, once it is up and running again.
That list just continues to grow longer, and includes the cheese festival at Banon, the melon festival at Cavaillon and also the Transhumance at Saint Remy, where around 3000 sheep are driven through the streets, marking the time that they are moved to the high pastures away from the heat of the summer.
There really is something for everyone, with a programme that includes classical music too – from the festival of ancient music in the castle keep at Simiane, to the international piano festival at La Roque D’Antheron, or the concerts in the open theatres at Gordes and Lacoste.
Art and antiques take centre stage in L’Isle Sur La Sorgue twice a year, at the Antiques, Art & You festival, where the main road is closed to traffic and that and the large park are filled with stalls selling all manner of antiques, from fabrics and coffee grinders, to wonderful pieces for the garden and high-end furniture.
Along the street you will find gazebos filled with art and homewares, from the sublime to the slightly bizarre.
We inevitably come back with something, and have been known to turn up on our bikes, only to have to return later with the car to collect things that just had to be bought, including the 2 iron bases, that have now been transformed into our outside dining table.
So once everything settles, we will get back to enjoying these events, as I am sure everyone is just waiting to be able to start planning them again, as they are such a key part of local life.
And in the mean-time I will just keep adding things to my ‘must-visit’ list, which I have a feeling will keep us busy for a considerable time to come.