Today I went with a friend to my favorite Christmas fair on the Cote d’Azur. First of all there was glorious weather with the late autumn colors and blue sky contrasting with the medieval stone of the village. It had been raining in this area with record dumps, road closings and flooding, so a day of glorious sunshine was certainly appreciated.
Most of the fairs have local products for sale like soaps, olive oil, honey and Christmas crafts. But what makes this one different is that the town goes all out to make it very atmospheric with the locals playing their part. It is set up around the Mairie (town hall) and on a few levels so you get a great visual of what’s on offer. And as you walk around you shuffle through the soft hay laying on the ground to give you the special of a country fair.
There were about 10 stands, ‘manned’ by locals in period costume giving you a good feel of what the local trades would have been going on in about 1900. There was a group of ladies spinning wool, a barber with his scary straight razor, a blacksmith, and a humorous one showing you how ladies undergarments have changed over the years. Some of those were big in their day and would not comply with EasyJet's carry on luggage restrictions!
Although these stands were there for historical and cultural context with nothing for sale, there were plenty trading their wares and we both managed to pick up a few gifts - scarves, jams, paintings and jewelry.
We tasted our way through a few free samples of cheeses, hams and pâtés but soon turned our attention to choosing something more substantial.
We ended up having a locally brewed beer from Grasse to accompany deep fried zucchini flowers, a slice of toast with fresh foie gras fried up and finished off with flaming cognac and then a glass of wine (1 Euro!!) with our dessert. It took us three circuits of strolling around to settle on our selection. We had to skip the socca (the typical chick pea flour pancake) as the line was too long, although I can still smell it being baked in the special oven they brought to the fair.
As for the music there were traditional bands that attracted dancers young and old, gypsy like itinerant groups walking through the fair while gathering followers, and Christmas carols coming out of all corners. It all seemed to blend together perfectly.
The young kids were certainly kept engaged with animals on display or pony rides, an atelier area full of arts and crafts and music that got their little bodies bobbing around. We got a kick watching all the kids running around and darting in and out, while their families sat at long tables with platters of charcuterie and cheeses, all being washed down with wine.
We almost felt transformed into an era of a few hundred years ago when these fairs would have been held throughout the year and not just for Christmas.
And we were grateful that village of Le Rouret continues the tradition even today.