Our first full week in the South of France and we’ve been busy little bees getting out and about enjoying all that this region has to offer – beautiful rolling hills, vineyards and medieval towns.
Our first outing was to the Sommières weekly market on Saturday. Markets have been held here for centuries and the tradition continues with everything from Brocante (bric a brac), clothing, handicrafts and of course food – all types of cheeses, meats, sausages, seafood and French pastries and bread. The market basically takes over the various main streets of the entire town and is packed with locals.
Sommières is a very pretty town, with Roman origins, on the banks of the Vidourle River. The historic centre is now officially designated as a ‘secteur sauvegardé’ – that is, it is protected from further development to ensure it retains its medieval character. It is one of the few rare European towns whose bridge was/is built on (others being in Bath, UK and the Ponte Vecchio in Florence, Italy). Only seven of the original twenty-one arches are still visible with the others now ‘underneath’ the main street Rue Marx Dormoy.
After wandering the market we met up with some local expats that are members of BritsNimes. This is an expat organisation that meet every Saturday under the vaults of the Place Des Docteurs Dax market square and enjoy a drink, chat and sharing the local produce they have purchased at the market (including huge oysters). We met expats from the UK, Denmark, the Netherlands and Australia there – the only requirement for joining is that you speak English! They have many activities and interest groups and are well worth contacting if you’re in this region.
Course Camarguise – French Bullfighting
Sunday afternoon we returned to Sommières and the Arenes de Sommieres to attend the local bull fighting. We have stayed away from the Spanish bull fights when we have been house sitting in Spain as the bulls meet an unsavoury end. We were told that French bullfighting was totally different and that the bulls are not harmed. We were excited to see this and arrived more than an hour before the scheduled start of 4.00pm as we were told that it would be packed. We found some seats (terraced concrete benches) under the shade of the mature playne trees that surrounded the arena and waited – and waited. French time must be like Spanish time which means any time!!!! Proceedings commenced about 4.30pm and it WAS very different. The ‘bull fighters’ enter the arena first and comprise a group of guys (probably about 14) wearing white. Maybe 6 of them have their names on the back printed in black – these are the razateurs, and the others have their names printed in red – these are the tourneurs.
The men then retreat from the ring, a fanfare is played and the bull enters the arena. After patrolling the arena for a minute the action starts. The tourneurs work like rodeo clowns and get the bulls attention. Meanwhile the razateurs try to pick the best time to run past the bull and remove threads that have been tied to the bulls horns!!! (They have special hooks attached to their hands to assist in removing the threads). It is quite insane and of course the bull isn’t particularly co-operative so he chases both the tourneurs and razateurs who ‘leap’ for safety over the fence and up into the crowd. Some feisty bulls aren’t happy with this and jump the fence to chase their protagonists further!!! Many spectators sit with their legs hanging over the edge of the arena and when a bull jumps the fence they very quickly bring their legs up for safety. When a razateur successfully removes a thread he proudly holds it up to the crowd and receives a resounding cheer. Each bull is in the ring for 15 minutes and there are four rounds before an intermission. The second half saw us seeing another 5 bulls do their stuff before the end of the event.
We had an enjoyable couple of hours and experienced some local culture that was different to anything else we have seen before. The razateurs and tourneurs are extremely brave and we did see one of them slightly injured when the bull got a little too close to him. Local competitions are held and then the best razateurs all compete at a big tournament in one of the bigger cities.
I hope to do a separate blog post about this sport in the future with some video footage – keep tuned.
We also visited some other fantastic places – Grau de Roi, Aigues Mortes, Nimes and Uzes and I’ll post separate blogs about these in the coming days