October Tour in Provence
Sometimes people ask me what my favorite season is in Provence. I usually say spring as I love the wild flowers but when October comes around I am at awe with the ruby reds and golden yellows. An October tour in Provence provides stunning colors and a quieter, less busy touristy atmosphere.
October is also rich with festivals that seem to take a more authentic feel than those during the warmer months. Let me show you what an authentic small village festival looks like…
Drive to the backroads of Provence in the area where lavender fields, tiny hilltop villages and mountains interlace each other. One village you may have heard of is Banon as it is known for its goat cheese. Not far from Banon is Revest-du-Bion. I don’t know much about this minuscule village except for two things: it has a view of the Mount Ventoux with a lavender field setting and it has an annual chestnut festival the last Sunday in October.
This year the village was celebrating its 17th Fête de la Chataigne. The weather was so superb this weekend that I decided to embark my family on a mini vacation for an overnight stay at a horse farm B&B next to the chestnut festival.
We arrived after a leisurely breakfast to find lots of people already walking down the country road with a blue mesh bag. Then we saw the chestnut tree plantation and locals at work picking up chestnuts.
Some of these people looked quite armed (gloves and sticks) and we didn’t know why until we picked up our first chestnut. The prickly covering around the chestnut is extremely painful if you don’t handle it with the utmost caution!
The festival is a way for the chestnuts to get harvested quicker by a community effort. All harvests have an enduring side to them (being married to an apple and pear farmer I know) but these little chestnut guys are indeed labor intensive and a good cause for an evening backache.
After filling our pockets and jackets with chestnuts (we did not get a blue bag from the village first) and after getting pricked a few times, we walked to the village to meander the market.
This was one of the best markets I have ever been to. From everything chestnut (cakes, cookies, jams, purées, roasted, waffles, flours, etc.) to apple cider made the old-fashioned way to Provencal baskets and cheese vendors I could have spent a lot of money (kids are good for one thing – they keep you moving so you don’t buy what you don’t need).
If you ever decide to have an October tour in Provence, I highly recommend incorporating this authentic village festival into your itinerary.
Fun facts about Chestnuts
- In greek mythology the chestnut tree was called the “gland of Zeus”
- For many centuries it was referred to as an aphrodisiac (thanks to Zeus I assume)
- It used to be collected by the poor to make a “poor man’s bread” that replaced meat (chestnuts are rich in mineral salts, protein and vitamins)
- The average age of a chestnut tree in the south of France is 300 years
- It’s optimal harvest doesn’t occur until 40 to 60 years after it is planted
- Chestnuts help fortify energy in the kidneys
- Chestnuts are not picked from the tree. They are ripe when they fall to the ground
- To make chestnut flower the chestnuts are dried in an oven for 40 days
- Chestnut wood is used in carpentry and for wonderful winter fires in the fireplace.