Monday, 20 October 2008

12th October - Collobrieres

Our holiday started on Saturday 11th October 2008 with a pleasant enough direct flight from Edinburgh to Nice. Just over 2 and a half hours later and we were skimming the waters of the bay at Nice, landing in the sunny south of France. The airport is right next to the water which got Amber truly worried and convinced we were actually going to crash into the water. Nothing major to report on the car hire pick up other than we got a SKODA. Andrew was delighted; he's always wanted one. I was just glad nobody knew us in France!!! We ignored Amber's requests for a Ferarri. Tis difficult as you can imagine to find common ground with those 2!!

An hour long drive on the major roads and we had arrived at our village apartment in Collobrieres. A small village with narrow streets and tall town houses. Talking of narrow streets the French have huge difficulties keeping to their side of the road...... not just the odd driver........ ALL of them. They must be taught that way. Collobrieres was a village where time had stood still. We noted some activity with a few cafes and restaurants.

The apartment was rented from a couple Bruce and Frank but it was Margaret from the village that gave us the keys and walked with us to the apartment, pointing out various places of interest in the village. Which naturally went in one ear and out the other!!! There are pictures later on in the blog showing the apartment itself. First impressions though after we tackled the narrow terracotta winding staircase up two flights was clean, tidy, rustic, old fashioned floor to ceiling window balconies with wooden shutters..... all quite charming and very French. One thing we did recall though was Margaret mentioning the annual October Chestnut Festival was taking place the next day, Sunday, and that it was likely with the number of visitors due to attend that we'd not be able to get our car out of the village. Still, it gave us the ideal chance to explore Collobrieres the next day.

We headed out to a local restaurant called La Restaurant de la Terrace where Andrew had steak and Amber and I both had fish. Very nice. Amazing creamed potatoes!!! Chap who owned it was Turkish and other dinner guests included 5 English and 2 Irish folk. Luckily a french family were there which reminded us we were in fact in France!!!

And off to bed we went!

We were woken around 7am with the sound of immense activity in the streets of Collobrieres. Laughing, shouting orders and general noisy banter. The Chestnut Festival preparations had started with a vengence. This festival takes place each year over the last 3 Sundays of October. We got ourselves up, had breakfast then headed out to explore.

First thing that met us was an amazing smell of chestnuts being roasted on an array of fires throughout the village. The market stalls had set up and there were stalls filled with local goods - sausages, cheeses, huge meringues, breads, olives, soaps, lavender. Absolutely amazing. This was a truly local french welcome. In addition to the smells music filled the air with a traditional french band playing music at the end of the market. Think of the advert for Bertolli that's on ITV just now and you get the idea of the music they were playing. New Orleans meets rustic France!!! The band had a double bass, violin, guitar, clarinet and accordian. Here they are doing their stuff!!

The place was filled with villagers and thousands of people flocking from outside the village. Noisy and colourful it was a great start to our holiday, just strolling through the colourful stalls and soaking up the atmosphere.

The band and a colourful balloon seller in the background.

Early visitors to the market hoping the pick up a bargain!!!

Pies, breads and pastries, all locally made. The smells were wonderful. One band was not enough coverage for the entire village setting so they were helped along by another band that wore what we thought was traditional Collobrieres costumes. Unlike the other band they marched through the market area as they played their music.

The stalls with home-baking provided too much of temptation and Amber chose to part with 1 Euro for one of the biggest meringues I'd ever seen!!

As the morning marched on, the number of visitors to the market steadily increased. It was getting harder and harder to stroll through the stalls.

The traditional band that were marching through the market had a somewhat unusual accompaniament in the form of a large man on stilts dressed in a green furry suit who went about bothering all the shoppers!!!! Very amusing and no idea of the significance of him!!!

The following picture illustrates yet another surprise that this market seemed to have round every corner. We walked with the band for a while enjoying their music and at the end of the bridge in Collobrieres there was a chap dressed and face painted in white mimmicking a statue. He did move occasionally. It was amusing for the children who went too close to him!!! You can just see him on the right of this picture.

The walking proved too much in the heat so we sat for a welcome break and just watched the Chestnut Festival unfold!!

So what's with the chestnuts? Well Collobrieres is a village reknowned for its chestnuts. Many of them are harvested and made into glazed sweets called marron glacee. A local shop sells marron glacee in every available shape, size and form. We tried some of the samples on offer and whilst they were nice I felt nothing could beat eating a simple roasted chestnut fresh off the fire. They sold them in little paper coronets for around 1 euro 50 cents. Delicious. Here is one poor chap braving the heat of his wheelbarrow roasting the chestnuts for all the visitors.

I'd mentioned the bridge which signalled the end of the village of Collobrieres. Reminded me of a smaller version of our bridge here at Cromlix.

At 6pm the Chestnut Festival was drawing to a close as the mass exodus out of the village started. But not before we headed up to one of the village squares where farmers had brought along some of their animals for show. Amber couldn't resist patting these lovely goats. No doubt the farmer kept them for making cheese, another local speciality.

As Amber amused herself at the goat pen, Andrew's eye was drawn to a much more interesting creature... a wee pot bellied pig. And I hate to admit it but he was truly a wee cutie.

Whilst wandering round the village square we came across the local church and wandered inside. The exterior was very plain and simple but inside what a surprise. An absolutely beautiful, ornate church.

Back out to the goats again though for Amber who spotted a small baby goat that just needed her attention!!!

And then a last chance to wander round the town as the Chestnut Festival was drawing to a close. Not too many balloons sold from the balloon seller!!

And let's not forget the bronze statue of a giant boar which greets you as you enter the village.

Oh and back to the church........ as I said the outside was very plain and simple.

As everyone poured out of the village we headed up for something to eat. Quite a few of the restaurants had closed by now since they'd spent the entire day feeding the masses. We did stumble into a local pizza place who unfortunately were just closing up. But my pitiful face must have convinced them we needed feeding so they quickly set up a table for us and we munched our way through roast duck and chips! It summed up the villages welcoming atmosphere especially when we found out they'd used up over 200 paper table cloths that day feeding everyone!!!! They deserved an early night which they got AFTER we left them a generous tip for their trouble.

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