The mascot of Creme de Marrons, manufactured in the Ardeche department.

The mascot of Crème de Marrons, manufactured in the Ardèche department.

I took the bus last Saturday to Privas, in the Ardèche department bordering Drôme (where Valence is located). I got to hang out with some of the awesome assistants working over there and went to a chestnut festival. The festival, called Castagnades d’Automne, celebrated chestnuts grown in the Ardèche. I don’t think I have ever seen a single item celebrated in such an over the top fashion.

The giant rotating chestnut roaster set up in the middle of town.

The giant rotating chestnut roaster set up in the middle of town.

After I had been there a little while and we’d gotten coffee and walked through the Saturday market, we saw that this giant chestnut roaster had been set up outside the Hotel de Ville. It was basically a rotating cage above a fire, full of chestnuts. Later in the day, it was opened up and free chestnuts and wine were distributed to all while a band played. It was amazing! And I ate too many chestnuts. Actually, following the free chestnuts we had a chestnut themed meal at a local restaurant. It consisted of a chestnut kir, a chestnut and cheese tartine, and a chestnut cake. On Sunday I also had a chestnut crepe and sampled chestnut spice bread at the market. If I had wanted to, I could have eaten chestnut pasta, bought chestnut flour, or (if I ditched my vegetarianism) chestnut sausage. It was ridiculous.

Bicyclists are honored for some reason. Its hard to understand French when its coming out of a subpar soundsystem.

Bicyclists are honored for some reason. It's hard to understand French when it's coming out of a fuzzy sound system.

Above, you can see that the local bicyclists even wear chestnuts on their jerseys. Behind them, town elders, or something like that, wear robes in the shades of chestnuts. Before, I thought that one of my assistant friends in Privas had overstated the importance of the chestnut. But I was oh so wrong. And I have to admit that the chestnuts were delicious. I had never had one before (the ones in the states are a little different), although I think I will wait a little while before eating more.

The chestnut festival band. They played for the whole thing and somehow stayed energetic.

The chestnut festival band. They played for the whole thing and somehow stayed energetic.

There was also music. The above band, complete with chestnut leaves in their outfits (sorry, I had to point it out), played songs that were somewhat familiar, but most stayed obscured enough that I couldn’t pinpoint them. They did play the Israeli national anthem, for some reason. Maybe they find it more festive than the  la Marseillaise? Anyway, their music was dirge-like at times, but that man playing the drum on the back row had a fantastic moustache and the woman playing the maracas in this picture had endless energy.

The Privas waiters and watresses race from cafe to cafe.

The Privas waiters and waitresses "race" from cafe to cafe.

In addition to the gluttonous gorging of chestnuts, there were other events. Like the “garcons” from the cafes that ran a “race” from cafe to cafe where they picked up drinks and tried not to break them. I saw them later in the day and it seemed like a lot of them had drank all their drinks and were breaking them on purpose.



There was also the Rallye de Régularité de l’Ardèche. It had the appearance of a car race, with each of the over 100 tiny classic cars having numbers, but they just drove through town. Anyway, it was on Sunday morning and there was free coffee and tubes of creme de marrons. I loved seeing all the European sports cars, random American imports, and cars that looked like their owners had just put some racing stickers over the pealing paint.

Each more bizarre than the last.

Each more bizarre than the last.

I don’t think I can make this post without showing a couple of the weird owl sculptures that were at the Sunday market. I have no explanation. There were no prices or information, just 20 owl sculptures set up on a table. It would be hard to pick the most bizarre, but they were all incredibly insane in their own way.

Houses on the valley around the river by Privas.

Houses on the valley around the river by Privas.

I’ll post one more picture, (although you can find more on my flickr). This is of some of the buildings seen from the big bridge over the river in Privas. I had an absolutely fun and enjoyable time in Privas and it reminded me that I don’t have to spend ridiculous amounts of money to have fun in France. There are always random festivals going on and little towns/big cities (Privas is in between) to explore. A big school break, Toussaint (All Saint’s), is coming up and I’m going to go to Bordeaux on Saturday and getting back to Valence on Wednesday. I think I will spend some more time exploring my region of France.

3 thoughts on “Privas

  1. m says:

    I want to go to a chestnut festival!

  2. […] one looked a little like an open chestnut. I guess it is chestnut season. They would love this in Privas. Log suspended on […]

  3. Tess says:

    A friend and I found the same thing when it came to our Roulade as well a few years back. Sounds like not much has changed since 2009, which is sad because this could EASILY be a prmieere dessert!

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