Nothing says ‘You live in the French countryside’ quite like experiencing the local fairs. If donkey racing at the Fête du Reblochon was not enough, last weekend’s fair in Thônes, the Foire de la Saint Maurice, topped it off. Now, just to give you a bit of background, the 22nd of September is the memorial day for this particular saint, who is the patron of many and varied things, including soldiers, weavers and, of all things, cramps. Thanks, St. M, but I still get terrible cramps in my right foot when surfing, so can you do something about that please?
Anyway, back to the fair. Thônes, pronounced ‘tone’, is a small village between Annecy and La Clusaz in the Aravis ranges of Haute Savoie. Highlights of Thônes are tours of a local small cheese factory (called, of all things, ‘Le Farto’), a steep rock climbing area, and a choice of two supermarkets. Parking is free: it’s not a busy place. But that all changes with the fair. The never-used car park at the end of town, that sometimes has a truck parked in it while the driver takes a sleep break, was completely full of cars, with fair-goers making full use of the free shuttle bus to town. The roads were lined with parked cars, but I decided, being more local than many of the visitors, that I should try my luck in the Lidl car park. This involved going through two ‘No entry’ gates, which others with the same thoughts as me had kindly left open. Anyway, the signs are more of a suggestion than an order. My luck was in and I parked my car.
The fair itself offered the usual regional French stands: sausages, cheese, cheap clothes and sweets. The rural aspect of the fair was reflected in the row of horses tethered outside the town hall. But three other things really made it stand out as a rural fair for me:
- tractors for sale;
- cows for sale; and,
- the hay bale competition.
Yes, that’s right, a hay bale competition. Sadly, I did not have my camera to capture the moment, but the competition was a bit like a pole vault competition, except instead of people vaulting themselves over the teetering horizontal pole, they were chucking over bales of hay. I think I must have arrived at the time when competition was fierce, as the pole was high and the bales were low: someone must have made some freak high bale throw and nobody else could attain the same height. The French commentator was going crazy. I couldn’t stand the tension in the crowd and opted for a crepe instead. Bring on the apple and donkey fête in Serraval next weekend!