Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Medieval French fun at Fêtes Historiques in Vannes.

A couple of days ago, whilst on holiday with my family in Southern Brittany, we decided to go and visit the medieval town of Vannes, famous for, well… Actually I’m not sure it is famous. I hadn’t heard of it beforehand anyway.

After parking the car and walking the dogs, we strolled towards the town centre. A couple in medieval fancy dress walked past. Um, weirdos, thought I. And on we went through the city walls and into the old town.

As we wandered down the well-preserved medieval streets (think cobble stones, exposed beams and a general Shakespearian vibe) I noticed the town was somewhat buzzing with life. Well, it is the day before Bastille Day and Vannes is popular with tourists, so that must be why.

Mmm Kouigns Amanns

There were stall selling local delicacies and food trucks selling candy floss, but even they couldn’t hold my attention when these ladies tottered past me…

Um, what!?

A little further on we noticed a large crowd of people gathered round in a circle. Just what were they watching in the middle? There was ye olde style music playing and I craned my neck to peer over the heads of those in front of me.

Inside the circle were a massive group of peasants. Yes, peasants. And this is not just me being terribly snobby, they were legit old-fashioned peasants. Like the characters of Merlin. And there were even a couple of court jesters too.

They entertained the crowd dancing, singing and clapping along to traditional folk songs, and I thoroughly enjoyed the show. Were they a local theatre group? we wondered.

The fam and I walked on up a pretty, narrow cobbled street and soon met another crowd watching a man apparently about to be beheaded. Right. OK, something is definitely going on today.

A little further up the street two terribly dapper young men were having a casual sword fight.

This noble chap vanquished his competitor and won the hand of his fair maiden (I imagine.)

Is it bad that I kinda wish guys were this dramatic about getting girls these days? Maybe minus the death part but you know what I mean.

Around the corner we chanced upon a large folk band blasting out medieval beats on their lutes, pipes and recorders. And we still hadn’t a clue what was going on.

Sitting down in a café, we pondered what we’d seen over coffees and glasses of the local Breton cola (it’s seriously tasty). Was this something that happened every Sunday in Vannes?

Um, no. After a brief chat with the waitress and a spot of post-trip research,we found out that it was Vannes' four-day annual Fêtes Historiques celebrations. Every year, the town re-enacts a different period of its history, and has been doing so since 1986. And we just happened to be there for the 2014 Fêtes.

This year’s theme was Anne of Brittany, to mark the 500th anniversary of her death. Anne was not only the last independent Breton ruler, but also Duchess of Brittany, Countess of Nantes, Montfort, and Richmond, Viscountess of Limoges, and Queen of France. Twice. All before she died at the age of 37. (Some people are just over-achievers, aren’t they?) She was the richest European woman of her time. YOU GO GIRL!

From that discovery, everything suddenly made a lot more sense.

Later that afternoon we ventured out of the old city walls and found some gorgeous gardens filled not only with flowers but also medieval stalls, where people were showcasing their old tricks, trades, crafts and skills. The tourists were lapping it all up like a thirsty cat stumbling upon a puddle of spilt milk. 

There were going to be a concert and fireworks that night, but alas, we couldn’t stay.

Before leaving Vannes, however, the Shrimp (my sister) and I decided to treat ourselves to something sweet, carby and entirely devoid of nutritional value. OK, when I say we treated ourselves, I really mean my parents treated us. Perks of a family holiday, eh fellow poor students?

The treats in question were chichis.

Although they’re effectively churros (yes, Spanish churros), chichis seem to be ubiquitous round these parts.

Basically, doughnut dough is fried in long sticks... 

...then tossed in sugar, straight out of the pan while still warm.

Then you need to get yourself a cup of warm, silky, melted chocolate.

Give your chichi a generous dunk into the chocolate.

Aaaand devour. But be careful not to dribble chocolate down your top now! 

That, ma dears, is easier said than done. I emerged from our chichi-fest with chocolate all round my mouth, down my (Breton-striped) top, and on my camera. But hey, if a camera covered in food and sticky finger marks isn’t the sign of a food blogger I don’t know what is!

Sure, they may not be traditional medieval grub, but they sure were tasty. As we rolled ourselves back to the car, the sun was shining down beautifully on the boats along the harbour.

Whether you go during Fêtes Historiques or not, I certainly think Vannes is a town worth visiting for its medieval charm (as well as its chichis!)

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  1. Wow, whoever is holding those chichis and pot of chocolate should seriously think about a future in hand modelling. The potential of a star right there. #justsayin

    1. I think this could be their big break.


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