The Queyras Natural Regional Park Annual Festival 2015

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Monday 28 September 2015

The Queyras Natural Regional Park Annual Festival 2015

Having already enjoyed the local annual festival in Ceillac and the Organic Festival in Embrun during our time in the Alps this summer, we were especially excited to find out that the Annual Festival for the Queyras Natural Regional Park was taking place in Chateau Queyras this September. Having been enjoying the Queyras so much these past few months we were keen to visit ourselves and take part in the day, one of a series of events taking place in 9 different Natural Regional Parks through the autumn. With great weather, lots of stalls, exhibits, shows and even free white water rafting, it turned out to be a brilliant day.

In France a regional natural park is a rural habitat recognized nationally for its strong heritage and landscape value, but weakened by the development of the rural and often threatened by excessive urban pressure or over-tourist attendance. It is organized around a concerted project of sustainable development, based on the protection and enhancement of its heritage and it is this initiative that also drives this series of autumn festivals in the parks of the Queyras, Alpilles,  Barronies Provencales, Carmargue, Luberon, Prealpes d'Azur, Verdon, la Saint-Baume and Mont-Ventoux. There were even buses coming from as far as Marseille!

We set off mid-morning on our bikes to cover the 25km or so up the Guil valley to Chateau-Queyras which we'd visited several times before during our time in the region, including for a brilliant hike to Ceillac and to climb the Col Agnel and Col d'Izoard as well. It was a steady uphill ride and Esther was working especially hard on Thomas the Tank engine in a bid to make sure we got signed up in time for free rafting!

Arriving pink and sweaty we did indeed get a free rafting ticket, one of the last of the day with just 40 places available, before putting on some normal clothes to explore. Positioned alongside the river Guil and looking up at the Fortress that dominates Chateau-Queyras the stalls were a fun mix of food (hot and cold), clothes, agricultural machinery and even a bric-a-brac sale by local residents.  We were especially happy to see a face we recognised from the artisan market in Aiguilles many weeks beforehand, the man selling organic raspberries, and we enjoyed a couple of punnets ourselves. 

Although we'd arrived after the agricultural display of livestock, we still had a great time wondering through the pens of sheep, goats, pigs and cows basking in the sun, including some late season lambs looking especially cute. We also managed to get a quick visit to the geological museum as well just before lunch to see some of the regional geological development in pictures and rock exhibits.

Sadly we then managed to have an argument which saw us heading in different directions for a period of time. We are still learning a lot about ourselves and new situations and can sometimes throw up old triggers and there was something that triggered a disagreement that had been building for a few days. Esther went off try some of the traditional craft workshops, producing a piece of traditional printing with leaves and cloth while I sat in the sun by the stage.

We did manage to come back together again as afternoon rolled around and we took a seat for the Concert d'Amore (how ironic). The show was by an Italian duo playing various popular love songs on their ingenious stage set up. They really were very funny and talented, playing instruments like accordions, trumpets, cymbals and tubular bells, usually at the same time while also singing. It was a really fun show that got a lot of laughs from the large crowd.

Then, soon afterwards, it was time for the big event - white water rafting. We had tried this together just once before, in Norway 11 years beforehand, so were quite excited to be trying again. After a rather cramped and slightly awkward changing session with our fellow 6 rafters behind the shed as we squeezed into tight neoprene outfits, we were ready to go.

Over by the rafts we discovered we'd be in 2 teams of 4 and we were paired with a French couple before a quick training session where we learned the commands we'd need: forward, backwards, lean left, lean right and banzai (i.e. get down). Then it was into the chilly waters of the Guil, haul in our raft and off we went.

Rafting through the narrow gorge beneath the fortress, using our new skills of forward, back, leaning and even a single banzai moment, was fantastic. It was exciting and beautiful and even though this free taster only lasted perhaps 20 minutes in the water, we felt very grateful to have had the opportunity and would definitely consider the full experience if we visit again or stay longer. 

Back at the rafting centre and in dry clothes once more the day was beginning to wind down. We were just in time to catch the organic raspberry man to get some supplies to take home, but as the stalls began to depart and the afternoon cooled we began to prepare for the ride home which was thankfully mostly downhill after our morning exertion to get to the fair in time. We were certainly two very tired cyclists by the time we arrived home that evening, but still buzzing from our day at the fair. It felt right, having spent so long in this area and having had such a nice time, to be able to take part and support it's annual festival.

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