“I am now in the land of corn, wine, oil, and sunshine. What more can ask of heaven? If I should happen to die at Paris, I will beg of you to send me here, and have me exposed to the sun. I am sure it will bring me to life again.” Thomas Jefferson
It seems a shame that Thomas Jefferson didn’t manage to spend an Autumn or Winter season in the south of France, for I believe, his quote would have read very differently if he had. Summer might have ﬂed our sunburnt shores together with the throngs of Provence’s admirers. Gone are the smells of hairy unwashed armpits mixed with suntan lotion. Gone are the hordes of summer tourists winding their way down to the calanques to enjoy the Mediterranean. The summer restaurants and cafes are now closed again till spring, leaving the roads and beaches free to be enjoyed by those of us, who are lucky enough to call ourselves locals.
What visitors in search of the sun fail to understand and appreciate is the amount of hard work involved for those of us left here in the south, as the season of festivals looms ahead.
The rest of the world might read about Provence in their Sunday magazines and travel posts.
But it is us, the locals who must bravely ready ourselves, our kitchens and our cars with great expectations and charge backwards and forwards across the countryside to ensure we enjoy all the fetes and gifts that Provence offers.
First come the Vendanges. It is French for grape harvest and it signals the excitement and promise of the annual vintage: announced not timidly but with the roar of vineyard tractors and machinery, that come to life every morning during September at 3.00 am, across Provence. Trucks carrying storage tanks and lighting equipment crowd the ﬁelds so that the grape picking can go on through the night. Is that a ﬁlm crew moving in to the vineyard at the end of the road to make the next Blockbuster? No… it’s the beginning of the trafﬁc go-slow on the roads as machinery is moved from ﬁeld to ﬁeld, to get those lovely looking bunches of plump grape-nectar ready for the crushing bins.
As locals do we just stand by, watching? Not at all. Barely is there enough time to compare, contrast, test, taste, then race around to the next appellation to discuss, dispute and digest the qualities of the local wine, before we are off again: this time to ﬁnd friends with a yacht, and to take part in the Festival of Sails at St- Tropez, the 1st week of October. Les Voiles de St-Tropez Regatta is the closing event of the Summer season there. Over 300 of the most amazing sailing yachts from all over the world unite for a week of racing and festivities. And it’s right on our door-step.
After the week of festivities, it is time to stagger home as the Chestnut festivals are announced.
Each year, you can follow the progress of the chestnut harvests down the hill-sides of Provence and watch the leaves on the Chestnut trees change from green, to orange to red. But far more fun is a visit to the villages that proudly offer up their streets for a weekend of mayhem and munching; where the chestnuts are picked, shelled, pickled and transformed into all manner of goodies… from chestnut beer to soap, and all in the 2nd half of October. I favour Les Mayons but Collobrières gets the populist vote. Just when you believe there can’t possibly be another use for chestnuts, our mad dog Max comes rushing over with a piece of paper that says it all… Important sources of vitamins and minerals, these locally picked chestnuts help people with physical and intellectual asthenia, convalescence, the elderly and children. Better buy some more, to be sure. And now… is it time for a rest? No way! It’s off to the Marrow festival!
For one weekend in October in Lauris takes place a huge marrow market, with displays and tastings; everyone gets to sample the excellent preserves and sauces as well as measure their own and everyone else’s marrows.
At this point, after all the racing around, sampling, tasting plates and cooking experiments we are beginning to look a bit like overstuffed marrows ourselves but there’s no time to stop.
The end of November heralds the weekends of the huge cattle fairs and live-stock markets in many of the local towns and villages. Here come the shepherds with their sheep and goats, herded down the main streets. Horses are shown off and the animals mingle with locals as every ﬂavour of Provence comes together to be bought and sold before the Christmas festivities start.
I’m sorry, but I’m going to have to cancel Christmas this year. I don’t think we’ll have the time.
We’ve just discovered trufﬂes and we’re going off in search of our very own. Trufﬂe hunting season runs from November to March. A little research reveals that dogs have replaced pigs to sniff out the trufﬂes. No worries. I’ve sent Mad Max off to enroll in trufﬂe smelling classes so we’ll be ready to take part in the Trufﬂe festival next season. Max… I said Trufﬂes… not snails!
Still hungry? Not to fret. There’s still the Lemon and Orange festivals in Menton in January and February. And then, it will almost be time for the tourists to return.
Perhaps on reﬂection, Thomas Jefferson did visit Provence in the not-so-sunny season, and return to Paris after all the festivals, so exhausted that he was able to write…
It is wonderful how much may be done if we are always doing. Thomas Jefferson.
Happy Festival Season!
This post originally appeared in the Languedoc Sun and was written by Caren Trafford.
Republished with permission.