The Violet Festival, Fête de la violette
At the Violet Festival in Tourrettes sur Loup, you can learn how to add flavor to a champagne or a fruit salad. In the little shop with belly-shaped bottles full of colorful liqueurs I felt like Harry Potter in potion class
In early March, there is another spring feast in Provence. They organize it in Tourrettes sur Loup, a small village perched on a rocky hilltop which has been devoted to the cultivation of violets since 1880.
These beautiful flowers grow either in natural rocky terraces in the olive gardens, inaccessible to a mechanical system or in the modern greenhouses - vertically on pillars or in hanging baskets. The amazingly smelling fields are open to visits but it is necessary to book in advance an appointment with one of the families who own them.
In the small permanent museum Bastide de Violettes you can learn about the history of the violet industry and purchase some interesting products. Nowadays, only the simple petalled Victoria variety with a strong fragrance is cultivated here.
The Violet Festival was created in March 1952 by Parisian of English origin Victor Linton, who fell in love with Tourrettes and bought the house here. As the costume jewellery maker tried to attract the customers with exhibitions and painting classes in his gallery, later he convinced the mayor and violet growers to organize a unique event to boost tourism. It had such great success that since then the Violet festival takes place every year, together with a traditional farmer's market, parade of floral floats, concerts and dancing.
Celebrating the end of the violet season, charming medieval Tourrettes was full of the sweet scent of early spring and all decorated with flowers. There were paper versions of them glued on the cobblestones, beautiful freshly picked bouquets on the restaurant tables, but also in the butchery next to the sausages. The banister was wrapped with daffodils and carnations; and the fence of the restaurant with dazzling mimosa. The walls were embellished with collages in which the yellow gerberas underlined the beauty of violets. Above the narrow streets, the violet garlands, floral animals and wicker decorations hung. Even the dog had a violet ribbon around his neck.
There is no festival in Provence without a market which brings together local and regional producers. The stalls brimmed over with the delicacies such as olive oil, gingerbread, nougat, cheeses, hams, sausages, herbs and wine. I was amazed by small round cakes macarons, meringue cookies filled with a thick layer of filling (at least at the Provençal market it is half a centimeter thick). They smelt as if they were perfumed after baking. They really tasted like fruits they were made from and melted easily in the mouth... In the big cities, you can find them in some ,,noble” sweet shops, they are elegant, thin, pastel colored and expensive - but here they make them with love and are generous with cream. They use everything that grows in their garden, so you can also find currant, strawberry, nutty and, of course, violet macarons. They are unforgettable!
The girl who was selling them willingly offered us to taste: she gave everybody a half of macaron, even to those who had already decided to buy them. Though I took a large box, I am sure I ate more free of charge than I paid for. However, for the locals it is maybe less important to earn money than to boast and explain their own specific cooking practices and small secrets.
The violet was the queen of the day, so there were also violet lollipops, ice cream, jelly, chocolate, jam, syrup, perfumes and soaps. I loved crystalised flowers which can be used as an elegant garnish on desserts. You can suck them like a candy or drop in a cup of champagne - the sugar dissolves and a flower remains on the bottom of a glass. To produce one kilogram of this delicacy, it takes up to 8000 flowers!
There are plenty of art galleries and small shops with sweets hidden in the stone lanes of Tourrettes. I entered one of them and admired round bulky bottles with colorful liquids; it was like being in the Middle Age store. The owner with a smile and pleasure immediately took care of me and started to explain what kind of mysterious spirits she offered there. I felt like Harry Potter in potion class. Eventually, she stopped by the dark violet extract. I didn’t feel like tasting a suspect fluid but surprisingly, the liqueur wasn’t too sweet and I liked it.
The lady smiled happily, then knowingly as an alchemist dropped a few drops of concentrate into the glass and then poured onto a white wine: "This gives it a fine violet scent and flavor. You can add it also to champagne or to a fruit salad.''
Reading these advises in a magazine is different from hearing them personally from somebody who knows the tricks. At least for me. I left with a lighter wallet, but satisfied :)
On Sunday afternoon, there was the Flower Parade on the busy square Place de la Libération. The mayor walked as the first one, holding a hand of a small ,,violet”, a girl with a basket of tender flowers. The allegorical floats followed and as they were a bit of local significance, nobody understood, but nobody cared. When a carnation tower came through, a Japanese girl in the dandy hat with a violet bouquet behind the brim took at least twenty pictures.
The procession went around the square for the second time and this time people on the carriages threw flowers to the crowd and didn’t stop until they sat in the middle of the bare construction. We all left with an armful of flowers.
Provence is really a great place to escape a dreary grey winter...
The Mimosa Festival, Mandelieu la Napoule
The Lemon Festival, Menton