Forget Paris in the springtime – for the first time, we’ve ventured into the Haute Garonne in the high summertime. We’ve never made it down in August before, partly because we thought it would be too busy and partly as we feared the heat. On the other hand, we’re keen to see the sunflowers in full bloom – so we pack the factor 50 sunscreen and set off.
The roads are indeed much busier than normal, and the journey a little slower, but once we reach our destination things seem much as usual. It’s been a very wet spring, and many of the sunflower seeds have been washed away and fields replanted, with the result that there seem to be far fewer splashes of yellow in the landscape than usual. The rest of the countryside, though, is a vibrant, unseasonal green by contrast. Temperatures are in the high twenties, and Monty copes by stretching out on the cool, tiled floor of the kitchen and refusing to move.
I love to go to these festivals, as they’re quirky, lively and give a real flavour of village life – they normally conclude with a communal meal and dancing to a DJ with a name like ‘Mister Fever’, but I’ve never been brave enough to stay for that.
During our visit, the nearby village of Boussan is holding its fête, a twice-yearly event. The agenda includes a farmers’ market, rides in a carriage and a vide grenier. I go a bit mad for vide greniers – the French equivalent of a car boot sale – which is odd, because I don’t go to UK car boot sales. The French ones just seem so much more glamorous, somehow – the sunshine, the lack of cagoules, the chance to find nice bits of enamelware and the shortage of chip vans.
Boussan’s fête has a flavour all its own – the street is decorated with lifesize figures, wearing traditional clothes and pursuing suitably rural occupations such as raking hay. As well as these eccentric but delightful decorations, the more normal bunting is strung from every elevated point, and traditional fête music (a random mixture of urgent techno and Take That songs) blares from overhead speakers.
A nutbrown, sun wrinkled farmer is doing a brisk trade with the last of the season’s strawberries, and there’s even a stall selling tins of escargots. I stop to buy a brioche, a lovely misshaped pain aux raisins and some bottles of homemade cordial before ending up at the fruit stall, where the farmer briskly sells me twice the amount of strawberries I’d originally wanted, without stopping to draw breath.
Laden down, I head for the vide grenier at the back. Browsing junk stalls is one of my favourite ways of passing an hour, and I quickly add a pretty enamel jug to my haul. I’m briefly tempted by a big gilt mirror, but remember in time that my antique mirror collection is quickly outstripping the amount of bare wall space available.
As I head back to the car, swollen carrier bags bumping uncomfortably against my knees, I realise I’ve forgotten to take a photo of the vide grenier in full swing. Retracing my steps, I’m accosted at the gate by a man who’s urging everyone to fill slips for a free tombola. As I write down my French address, I notice that the prize is live chickens…and resolve not to answer the phone for the rest of the trip.