November Is Always Très Busy in France

November Is Always Très Busy in France

Here are 'les dernieres aventures de Beth' in her dream French country estate in rural southwest France. This month, well, last month, she discovers that November is traditionally a busy month, it has two bank holidays, 1st and 11th, every year. And also the excitement about the Beaujolais nouveau, how was it this year? Banana or strawberry flavour?

Imagining that November here is a flattish month would be misguided. The chill of winter may be approaching, but that doesn’t stop France from buzzing with activities. It begins with perhaps the most significant celebration of them all.

La Toussaint is the Christian festival, All Saints Day. It takes place on the first of the month. The tradition dates back to the fourth century, when the Syrian Church dedicated a day to celebrate martyred saints. Over the centuries, the meaning has evolved. Today, families throughout France gather to honour the memories of past kith and kin.

Cemeteries are festooned with candles, plaques inscribed with messages of endearment. Also Chrysanthemums. Why? There are several theories. One that resonates with me is associated with symbolism. The flower is believed to be a symbol of happiness, love, longevity and joy.

And while it is a sombre event, La Toussaint brings families together from far and wide. After paying their respects to departed loved ones, they celebrate reunions over a meal. Regions differ, but a favoured dish served in our part of the Tarn et Garonne is the French favourite, le “Pot-au-Feu”.

This hearty stew has several versions. Our neighbours prepare a base of root vegetables, chuck beef and herbs, thickened with marrowbone. Traditionally cooked in a marmite (traditional casserole pan) – it’s perfect for sharing.

Unsurprisingly for a country in love with gastronomy, there are plenty of celebratory food festivals. This one bridges the end of October and the beginning of November and is the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate and cocoa.

Over 500 participants from 60 countries flock to the Porte de Versailles for Le Salon du Chocolat. Five days of foodie heaven include demonstrations, tasting sessions, and pastry competitions. They even have a fashion show with dresses made from chocolate. Imagine that!

November is not just a period for the chocolatiers. Lovers of the venerable kipper are remembered at this time of year too when much of Normandy’s Alabaster Coast join to celebrate the herring. This fish is traditionally known as the Poisson roi (King of fish) in Normandy. It’s where the phrase ‘Eat up your herring, and you will have beautiful children!’ was coined.

Grilled, pickled, salted or served with a slice of lemon and a glass of crisp white wine; herring has been relished for centuries. The festival begins in the seaside town of Le Tréport before moving west to Dieppe, Saint-Valery-en-Caux and Fécamp.

Festival goers mooch among the quayside stalls stacked with fishy fancies, entertained by fishermen singing sea shanties as they sell their wares. With over 100,000 people every year enjoying the Dieppe festival alone, this event is hugely popular.

For horticulturalists, November is a lovely month. The International Garden Festival at the Chaumont-sur-Loire château in the Loire Valley actually runs for seven months, and it’s one I would love to visit.

The event was established in 1992. With similarities to London’s Chelsea Flower Show, it celebrates new ideas, nurtures new talent, and inspires gardeners to break down barriers and try new approaches. Each year has a different theme. Each is sensational.

For photography and nature lovers, the International Festival of Animal and Nature Photography is a dream. It takes place in the north-eastern town of Montier-en-Der on the third weekend of November.

The Montier Photo Festival started over 24 years ago. It showcased exhibits from the world’s most significant competition for wildlife photography: Wildlife Photographer of the Year, which London’s Natural History Museum now organises.

The popularity of the event was such that it became a festival. Today, spread across several sites, diverse exhibitions are presented by photographers from all over the world. More than two thousand photographs are displayed. The programme is based on different naturalist and environmental themes each year.

Ever heard the phrase, ‘Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrive!’? Among the many November events, this is probably the most internationally renowned. When the clock strikes midnight on the third Thursday of the month, France celebrates the arrival of the wine Beaujolais Nouveau. Bottles are opened, and folks in France raise their glasses to savour that first sip.

As the name suggests, Beaujolais Nouveau originates from the Beaujolais area in the north Lyon, just below Burgundy. This new wine is called primeur, meaning early fruit and symbolises each year’s grape harvest. It is a young fruity red wine, so young that it makes it from vine to bottle within a handful of months. That’s pretty special in France and many other countries including Japan who love it.

There doesn’t seem to be much argument that Beaujolais Nouveau is a tad lacking in finesse. It was traditionally a table wine quaffed at the end of the harvest. However, the novelty value of distributing a wine within the year of harvest soon became a marketers dream.

Recognition of Beaujolais Nouveau came in the 1950s where a date was set for the wine’s official release. Distributors competed each year in a race to deliver the first bottles to Paris. Originally exclusive to wine merchants and bistros of the region, this event quickly spread across France and the world.

But who gets to receive their precious bottles first? With worldwide deliveries allegedly made by elephants, hot air balloons, rickshaws, and more. There’s something about this wine that excites the imagination.

So while November begins with a sombre tone, it ends on a party high. If you want to join the grape-inspired fun, over a hundred Beaujolais Nouveau festivals are held in the Beaujolais, mostly around Beaujeu and Villefranche sur Saone.

The most famous festival, Les Sarmentelles, lasts for days and the winner of the annual tasting wins their weight in wine. Now I bet that’s a bash to remember!

Having lived in the heart of Beaujolais I remember with fondness those crazy wine celebrating weekends, with the parade in the middle of town, passing outside my house, rue Nationale, on the Sunday morning, very happy days ...

Thanks once again Beth for your precious contribution and lovely stories. For those who don’t yet know Beth, she has been contributing to our French blog for over a year. She also series of excellent books called Fat Dogs & French Estates, as they’re on sale on Amazon, it’s not late to get them on time for Noel!

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