The festival season is in full swing here in Provence. Last week it was figs, this week melons, and tonight Bédoin hosts the annual wine festival (a personal favorite). These are all part of the Fêtes de Terroir, a series of markets throughout Provence that began in April with the Strawberry Festival, and goes through mid-November with the Truffle Festival.
In Provence we literally celebrate everything from soup to nuts.
On Friday we drove to nearby Pernes les Fontaines for the melon festival -- what better way to celebrate my wife's 50th birthday than with fresh, ripe melons?
We love that each town takes pride in their local produce that they celebrate it with the community. People come from all around to enjoy the simple pleasure of being outdoors and savoring delicious food together.
And while the festivals are generally themed around one subject, they are also an opportunity for a wide variety of merchants to offer their goods. Along with beautiful ripe melons, there was honey, jam, soap, craft beer, and of course wine (always wine).
We can’t get enough of the summer food festivals. They are a chance for us to venture out in the Provence sun and explore. And eat, which is one of the things we have learned to do best!
As a Canadian friend who lives in France noted, "Only in France could we have a Brotherhood of the Fig." Today we visited our neighbor village of Caromb for the Fig Festival. Fig connoisseurs throughout Provence will tell you that Caromb figs are the best. Yes Keira Knightley, even better than Mazan figs.
Fig fans by the hundreds lined the village's main street, sampling all variety of products. There are white figs, striped figs, green figs, fig jam and fig wine, but the real star of the day is the Fig Noire de Caromb. It's distinctive long shape, black skin and sweet purple flesh makes it the perfect summer snack. We especially love them served on a slice of baguette with a bit of goat cheese on top.
Of course there is more to the Fig Festival than just figs. Jams, ice cream, cookies, pastries and more line the street. It takes an iron-strong will to walk the length of a market in Provence and not indulge in the endless variety of decadent goodies offered by the local producers. That's not us -- we try everything.
As we worked our way through town we heard the distinctive chatter of an excited French crowd. We had found the free aperitif table (merci Saint Marc Cellar)! Free wine is one of our favorite French market traditions. And we're not talking just free sips of wine; these are proper glasses of serve-yourself wine (along with water, fruit juice and chips for kids).
We are fortunate that we have discovered a few locations where Caromb fig trees go unharvested. When the figs are ripe and falling off the tree we fill bags with plumb black fruit that we eat, freeze or give to friends. When we have more than we can manage we make them into a delicious Fig Tart.
Sipping our complimentary rosé we walk through the market and munch on a few ripe black figs while a traditional Provencal band plays our soundtrack. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
We always try to get out the door early on Monday mornings, though we are rarely successful. Our destination is the Bédoin market, which we know will be crowded with tourists this time of year. Parking will require creatively wedging our Prius into some tiny available space, probably not actually meant for a car, followed by a long hot walk, bags in hand, on our way to the town which has been blocked off to vehicular traffic. It's always worth the trouble.
The markets of Provence are a sensory overload of fresh produce, spices, cheese, meats, colorful fabrics, clothing, antiques, and really just about everything one could need in life (but really, what else is there?). Many villages have had their weekly market on the same day for hundreds of years. We've seen many of the same vendors for 10 years or more.
Bédoin's weekly market is on Monday mornings, from about 7am to 1pm. The village is transformed into a bazaar that attracts tourists from all over the Vaucluse. Buses drop off loads of sightseers, and parking lots are overflowing with rental cars.
We have mixed feelings about the influx of crowds as our normally quiet town is jam packed with sunburnt strangers, but we know that the local businesses depend on the income from "the season" as their main source of revenue for the entire year. A successful tourist season means that our favorite shops can afford to stay open during the slow winter months (there is nothing more depressing during the winter than driving into a village where every shop is closed for business).
For us the market is the perfect time to people watch and catch up with friends over a café and a decadent buttery croissant. Sitting at our little table we can often make out half a dozen different languages being spoken. It's a wonderful reminder of the cultural diversity around us.
The french have an expression to "passer un bon moment" which means to have a good time -- the Monday market is always an opportunity for us to slow down and enjoy the best that life in Provence has to offer. It is always a bon moment.
Have you been to a Provence market? What was your favorite? We would love for you to share your experiences in the comments below.
Au revoir, and à bientôt!
Ken & Felicia
Little House in France