Having Fun at a Rainy Festival - La Region Fete Le Parc Naturel Regional Des Barronnies Provencales 2015

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Tuesday 27 October 2015

Having Fun at a Rainy Festival - La Region Fete Le Parc Naturel Regional Des Barronnies Provencales 2015

Almost exactly a month since we enjoyed plenty of sun and fun at the Queyras Natural Regional Park Festival in Chateau Queyras, we found ourselves enjoying yet another festival in the same series, this time celebrating the Baronnies Provencales Natural Regional Park. The Natural Regional Parks of southern France, with 7 already established and 2 more projects underway, exist to protects these areas of outstanding natural beauty and the traditions and customs within. This year was the 10th year since these annual festivals began and with this particular festival being the final event of the year, we had partly timed our departure from the Queyras to coincide with our visit today and take the chance to learn a little more about traditional ways of life in the French countryside.

The Baronnies Provencales Natural Regional Park is quite small at roughly 60km east to west and 40km north to south covering an area of 1560 square kilometres and can be reached in less than an hour from Gap. Lying just to the west of Sisteron and extending close to Vaison-la-Romaine in the Provence it straddles 2 departments (Hautes-Alpes and la Drome) there are just under 32,000 inhabitants in the park and over 200 protected animal species.

There was a little stress on our way to the park as we negotiated Homer towards the festival location along the narrow and winding road from Chateauneuf de Chabre up to Barret-sur-Meouge along the stunningly beautiful Gorges de la Meouge looking amazing in the autumnal morning light. Also, as part of the festival this road was going to be closed all morning for hikers and cyclists to enjoy the scenery  so we needed to make sure we got there on time which had the added advantage that we could sign up for some of the days workshops. This road closure happens every year for villagers of Barret-sur-Meouge and other inhabitants to enjoy the gorge and the regional festivals had chosen to join up with the event as well. The scenery certainly was very beautiful and even with grey clouds looking ominious the rolling, green hillsides and exposed cliffs made for a great setting.

With rain on the forecast we opted not to sign up for the free electric bike usage or any of the nature walks, but did get signed up for an introduction to 'Traditional cooking' in the morning and 'Basket Weaving' in the afternoon. After a short wander around the stalls and collecting various brochures we got queued up for the cooking course and after some surprising hustle and bustle from the busloads of visitors from Marseille, we did get seated in the small kitchen nearby.

The cooking session was surprisingly eye opening and fun for us since it was focused entirely on cooking with free, wild foods taken from the natural park itself! Joining with a group of a dozen other guests and following the French as best we could we tried a host of wild berries and leaves before finding ourselves in the kitchen steaming wild nettles and berries until just after midday. The demonstrator, who also taught diplomas in plant and natural healing, was very inspiring and we came away wanting to learn much more in the future.

After having sampled a small portion of a nettle crepe, wild berry chutney and some lavender and other herbs infused tea in the kitchen our bellies were rumbling so we retired to Homer for a juice and salad lunch before dashing back out for our next session of basket weaving. The rain had begun by now so it was good to be back inside and getting hands on with some ivy and other willowy branches making conical baskets. Esther rocketed off while I needed a little help getting started from the instructor, but after an hour and half of weaving we were both the proud owner of a lovely wicker basket and feeling very satisfied with having made something so beautiful from 'nothing'. It was also a very meditative experience and one we'd both like to try again as we tour onwards.

Back outside in the late afternoon and it was still bucketing down and with most of the stallholders packed or packing up there was a definite feel of winding down. As we were all waterproofed up we took the chance to take one final wander around the fair, try some of the various traditional wooden games on offer, listen to a little of the various speeches being made by important looking folks on stage and enjoy the atmosphere of the masses huddled under the food tents. But as the day darkened further and sun set approached it was time to say goodbye to the festival and enjoy a warm dinner back in Homer. Despite the rain it had been a great day. The only thing we felt we'd missed out on was the few spectacles of music that had taken place while we'd been cooking and weaving, but trying 2 completely new experiences had been brilliant for us. After a summer learning lots of new things on the organic farm it felt good to learn another set of new skills and being inspired as well as enjoying another great regional event.

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