With France’s history and culture so firmly rooted in agriculture, the harvest season is perhaps the most magical time to visit the country. It is a time of celebration: when bountiful crops ripened over the summer months by the strong continental sun are collected at their very best, not a moment too soon or too late. Rural villages which had slowed to a lethargic pace to suit the glowing heat suddenly spring into action, consigning every member of the community a task to ensure the harvest is collected at its best, leaving nothing to waste. Young boys and girls, men and women scurry about country lanes filling crate after crate with grapes, melons, and fresh vegetables, whilst the older generations sit outside at long tables, preparing the crop for storage.
By the evening, when the day’s work is complete the celebrations begin. Those same tables used to count the harvest are laden with dishes and the last of the year’s wine, ready for a final hurrah before the winter months.
At France Today we have long discussed our favourite places in France to visit during harvest, and over the years we’ve been lucky enough to join festivals and celebrations all over the country. Each time we get together, however, there is one festival which is consistently mentioned with rapturous praise, which due to its uncommon and enchanting history, captures our hearts every time, leaving us desperately searching for October flights to the southernmost tip of the Vermillion Coast…
We asked Jennifer Dugdale, Tour Director for France Today Travels and seasoned expert on festivals in France, why the Banyuls-sur-Mer wine harvest festival takes the prize…
First of all, tell us about the town of Banyuls-sur-Mer…
The sleepy town of Banyuls-sur-Mer can be found on the French Catalonian coast, just a stone’s throw from the Spanish border.
Being a Catalan region, the area has a really strong cultural identity which can’t be found anywhere else in France, and that’s why I love it. I think this is what makes it such a great place to take people from outside of Europe, because it reflects aspects of both French and Spanish culture, with the cuisine, language and even the dancing! It’s very unique.
Out of the thousands of harvest festivals in France, why have you chosen Banyuls-sur-Mer for the France Today Travel Tours?
There are literally thousands of wine festivals in France, ranging from larger ones like the fête in Montmartre each year, to tiny village get-togethers in wine growing regions. I chose the festival at Banyuls for our tours because of how unusual it is. With the boats arriving on shore, the dancing and extravagant costumes; there’s simply nothing like it in all of France.
The people here are so friendly as well. Unlike neighbouring Provence and the French Riviera, you see fewer tourists in these parts, and as a result the locals are not jaded and everyone is treated as a fellow festivalgoer, regardless of where you are from.
Tell us a favourite memory from this festival.
Difficult question! From the delicious local food cooked en “plein air”, on barbeques, to the amazing selection of wines to sample… I think it has to be the arrival of the boats on the beach to a fanfare of music. This is when the dancing and cheering begins! It seems everyone in the crowd shares the same excited energy, young and old.
What can guests on your Tour expect at this festival?
Well, as the Banyuls wine festival falls on the last day of the tour this event makes for a fantastic celebratory goodbye. The perfect finale! We’ll make our way through the town in the day, at a leisurely pace, making sure we don’t miss out on any of the fantastic street food or wine tastings on offer. We can expect to see plenty of traditional dancing complete with French Catalan costumes along the route. In the afternoon we’ll make our way to the coast, where the boats will be arriving to great celebrations! In the evening I’ve lined up a fantastic meal at a wonderful seafood restaurant overlooking the brilliant blue coast. Life doesn’t get much better than that…