It was 8am and as I opened the resort window to let within the day, the cool autumnal air introduced with it the aroma of roasting chestnuts: Collobrières’ pageant was below means. I used to be within the Var, Provence’s most unspoiled division, for the nutty festivities, which happen during the last three Sundays in October.
This rural French knees-up has seen chestnuts being munched in all their guises since 1982, with (in pre-Covid occasions) about 45,000 guests descending on Provence’s chestnut capital.
As with many autumn festivals throughout France – equivalent to Normandy’s apple, cider and cheese pageant, the Basque nation’s Espelette pepper celebration, and lots of a grape harvest fete – it’s an opportunity for locals to don conventional costumes, for bands to ring out historical tunes and everybody to get merry on the native liqueur.
Whereas chi-chi Saint-Tropez is simply an hour away, a lot of the Var is laid-back, leafy and distant. The Massif des Maures mountains that again on to the Côte d’Azur are made up of the dense cork oak and chestnut forests that sustained the native inhabitants for hundreds of years. Whereas the forests have been not too long ago ravaged by fires, Collobrières was spared, fortunately, and the pageant goes forward after a break in 2020.
From Saint-Tropez, I drove the primary of the winding roads previous the city of Grimaud to La Garde-Freinet, a village perched excessive over the coast the place the bric-a-brac retailers and galleries sandwiched between family-run eating places reveal a gentler tempo of life than the Riviera. I climbed as much as the ruined medieval fort on the hill behind and seemed down upon the jumble of terracotta roofs and amber and peach-hued streets.
The subsequent day, the drive into the Maures’ forests was a thrill, the slender highway from Grimaud passing vineyards, the place the reddening vines stood on twinkling dew. The highway twisted this fashion and that, giving periodic glimpses by means of the timber of uninterrupted vistas of steep, forested hills.
Twelve kilometres earlier than reaching Collobrières, I adopted indicators to the Chartreuse de la Verne, a Carthusian monastery with a outstanding previous. It burned down 3 times within the thirteenth and 14th centuries and lay in ruins for a couple of hundred years extra, earlier than being restored within the 18th century. Taking the self-guided tour across the large website, full with the sparse dwelling quarters the place the monks as soon as lived, I realized, too, that the constructing survived the French Revolution – presumably it was an excessive amount of trouble to get there to ransack it. Nonetheless, the monks beat a hasty retreat to Italy, abandoning the location to nature. Having been the primary folks to domesticate chestnuts right here, their groves have been their legacy. The monastery was lastly restored within the mid-Twentieth century and its present residents, the white-cloaked Sisters of Bethlehem, create beautiful painted ceramics with low price-tags.
Although the silence was welcome, I knew the get together awaited in Collobrières and after I arrived, the city was filling up with stalls for the weekend’s festivities. After checking into the Lodge Notre-Dame, near the centre, I went for a wander, strolling uphill on the ochre lanes previous bric-a-brac retailers and the workshop of the native knife-maker. Additional on, I climbed the ruins of the Sixteenth-century Saint-Pons church and seemed out on the view of the valley with Collobrières beneath.
The subsequent morning the city was a-buzz. A whirl of individuals browsed stalls below the avenue of golden airplane timber, braziers crackled as large pans of chestnuts roasted above the flames and I risked the finger-singeing warmth to eat them at their finest. Different stalls bought chestnut flour, chestnut muffins, chestnut liqueur and the delectable crème de marron: candy chestnut purée to hold residence and blend into yoghurt or bake into muffins.
Fabien Tambolini, a former forest-worker from the Jura, had a tower of jars of crème de marron on sale. He advised me how he took over a small grove within the woods above Collobrières and quadrupled its crop in 4 years whereas dwelling in an off-grid cabin close by. “We solely moved into the city from there when our son began faculty because it was too far to drive every morning.”
Whereas the pageant is filled with small producers, the most important enterprise on the town is that of the Confiserie Azuréenne, a big family-run manufacturing unit that makes a few of France’s hottest marron glacés – candied chestnuts. They have been promoting them by the punnet in large portions, however I joined the queue on an adjoining stall to order a scoop of its ice-cream: La Véritable Glace de Collobrières aux marrons glacés, a purpose to be there in itself.
Quickly, the marching bands sporting conventional costume, piped and drummed their means by means of the city and festivalgoers sat at lengthy tables and devoured the menu du jour. Each restaurant served the identical: daube de sanglier – a country stew designed to deal with the native wild boar inhabitants’s destruction of the chestnut crop.
I saved the stew for later with dinner on the Lodge des Maures; the hotel-restaurant is the city’s most revered institution, run by the identical household since 1886. The bar was filled with locals who partied lengthy into the night they usually have been eager to share a toast of chestnut liqueur topped up with champagne. As I sipped it again within the surrounds of the brilliant and jolly bar, I found the easiest way to benefit from the native crop: candy, rustic and with a contact of Riviera glamour.
Collobrières’ chestnut pageant takes place on 17, 24 and 31 October 2021. For extra info see mpmtourisme.com. To enter the pageant space you have to to indicate the go sanitaire. Keep at Lodge Notre Dame in Collobrières (doubles from €85, room solely). If visiting La Garde-Freinet, Villa Fontane reopens within the spring (doubles from €100 B&B)