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Fête de Châtaignes

October 27, 2014

Fall abounds with festivals in the Languedoc-Roussillon: in late August and early September they celebrate the vendange, then comes the olive harvest, and now — chestnuts!

I had driven through the sleepy little village of St. Pons-de-Thomière (population 2200) on my way to and from Albi, so was completely unprepared for the explosion of people in the town for its two-day Chestnut Festival. Sleepy no longer — there had to be at least 25,000 people there.

Lunch in square      la place

I began at the expansive market in the town square, as usual finding all kinds of merchandise in addition to chestnuts: clothing, outerwear, shoes, olives, honey, bread, charcuterie, fish, and medieval armor for the kiddies. There was a woman dancing with a horse and grown men brandishing swords and challenging young boys to duels; beer tents and café tables where families had gathered for lunch; and various wines to dégust.

olives   cheese  garlic

People were lined up outside the restaurants and cafés lining the streets around the central square. As I was swept along by the crowd, I spotted carnival rides clustered to one side of the main roundabout, children squealing in that universal language of delight and fear. Further on were more streets lined on both sides with even more vendors: cheesemongers, crèpe makers, chocolatiers, nougat stands, booksellers, straw bag displays, craftspeople…you name it, you could find it here. Several vendors were offering aligot, a regional concoction resembling sticky cheese fondue that’s a combination of melted cheese, garlic and mashed potatoes, stirred with gigantic wooden spoons in enormous pots. Comfort food, for sure.

The further I walked, the more I realized that this festival was some big deal, taking up virtually every corner of the town center.  Spotting a sizable pile of cast-off wood behind a fence, I discovered the heart of the fête — in an enclosed area, chestnuts were roasting in mesh barrels, rotated by strong young men wielding cranks, over two blazing bonfires. Now I have an altogether new mental image of chestnuts roasting on a open fire.

roasting chestnuts

On my way back to the car, I spotted these two lovely creatures posing in the window of an antique shop.

         black and white cat                           cat with doll

The traveler sees what he sees, the tourist sees what he has come to see.

G.K. Chesterton

From → Solo travel

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