Village Fêtes: GO!
If you ever find yourself in the country when a village is sponsoring a feast, cancel whatever you had planned and go! We saw a sign for "sanglier a la broche" in a village near where we were staying and decided to go.
We arrived about quarter to 8 and bought tickets for dinner, 18€ each. At 8pm, cars started to stream in. A bar was set up outside the Salle Polyvalenti or village multi-use hall. Everyone was drinking kirs. Inside, women were holding down large sections of tables for their families or friends. Around 9, everyone drifted inside and looked for seating. We were adopted by several couples when they found that we were visitors and, "No way!" Americans. Word soon traveled and we became the curiosities of the evening: crazy Californians who didn't speak the language, miles from a destination town, bellied up to the table for barbequed boar and beans.
Men bought bottles of wine. Baskets of bread arrived. Cantaloupe halves were served and a man came around filling the centers with cassis. Next, platters of boar and bowls of kill-me-now flageolets with thyme and lardons were plunked down between every 8 or so people. Then seconds arrived. Then huge bowls of green salad. Then thirds of boar and beans. Then fromage blanc. Of course, many bottles of wine miraculously appeared and disappeared during the courses. Many toasts. A group of sonneurs (players of hunting horns) entertained. And sang. And a few drinking songs were remembered and sung. Tributes to those who had worked on the fete and even a thank you to us for visiting. Then a drawing for door prizes.
At this point, we were sated and exhausted from being on good behavior so publicly and for so long. My husband signaled that he was about to crash, and we left to protestations that dessert was yet to come! It was 1:30am. We made our thanks to the table and MC and found our way out, amazingly remembering our route back to our beds on dark and narrow and unfamiliar country roads.
If we ever have to choose between another fête and keeping a reservation at a nearby 3star, there will be no hesitation in choosing the former. If you have the opportunity to attend one, grab it!
We have been to two village fêtes, 8 euro and 15 euro each, both in Calvignac, in the Lot, both for the Fête de St Jean. It was the greatest. And foreigners were treated like VIP guests. In fact, for the last fête, the Americans received extra kind treatment. The time coincided with the start of a very unpopular war, and many villagers came over to toast us and tell us that they wanted us to feel welcome and not be bothered by respective governments' stands.
But then they tried to talk DH and me into jumping over the raging bonfire, which was a tradition for young couples . Well, we were half of those things, so we declined.
Indeed one of the most exhilirating dining experience ever.
Well, DCM is rife with envy no more.
He and we went to an awesome village méchoui in the Basque village of Sare.
We had the best blood sausages and piperade ever. in fact I never liked either of those things before. Now I am converted for life.
And that was only the starter.
Main was barbecued lamb and Tarbais beans in a rich lamb broth. Thinking back I want to weep.
Much, or most, of the village was there, plus neighboring villages. Our neighboring dining companions, young men in charge of the village festival concert production, told us that the fête de Sare was the village festival that they look forward to all year, that it was serious partying.
In fact I am very proud to say we were the most boisterous party among the 500 feasters.
They snobé'd the banquet's red which we found quite good, and had brought their own bottles and insisted on sharing them with us. I can't tell you what they were. The feast now gets very hazy.
We were an absolute hit with the young men. Two were draped over my DH. Another one sang songs with our girlfriend R in the post-dessert Basque singalong. She didn't know Basque; they were probably singing they wanted to kill all the French and Spanish.
Sorriest, the cheese (ok) and the dessert (quite good gâteau basque, not as revelatory as the 1st 2 courses) were honestly more blur than reality.
But just the starter and main alone - both of which we were offered seconds - were among the best things we have eaten in the Basque country, and we had some awesome meals.
Oh. Price. 22 euro for 3 courses plus wine/cidre and mineral water and coffee.
The next day DH and I ran into one of the young men on the village square, who caused a commotion screaming in English: AMERICAN FRIENDS ! I LOVE YOU ! AND I LOVE YOU !
Glad you enjoyed your fete. Sounds as if it was a good one.
Our problem in this area is that we're spoiled for choice. Every village has it's fete during July & August. I fact the local Mayors get together to schedule them so that they don't conflict.
We have to ration ourselves, otherwise we're shattered by the end of the season.
When we first lived in France we went to one of our first fetes & the local lads adopted me. They insisted that I try their homemade eau de vie, each claiming his was best. My wife had to drive me home and a friend helped me up the stairs. A lesson learned!
No more eau de vie! Its lethal.
We'll be going to our village fete in the Haut Languedoc in a couple of weeks time. It's four days long, culminating in a meal for 600 people in the square. It's normally something simple like sausages and aligot (French version of bangers and mash I guess) or squid stew. We've had the melon filled with eau de vie for starters and usually a simple pudding and cheese - but I love the all eating together aspect of it - a great tradition.
Another upcoming fete (September 16) is the Fete des Vendanges in Cleebourge (Alsace) a few km from the German border. This is a larger fete that encourages public attendance: town band, folk dancing exhibition, traditional costumes, pork-and-noodle banquet, desserts made by the village women, extraordinary parade at 3 in the afternoon. Lots of bubbly (crement de Alsace). Really needs to be an overnight affair. Closest lodging is in Wissembourg. This fete was a day long grin.
(Is anyone interested in posting about upcoming fetes with their location and date?)