Fête des violettes

If you read anything about the history of Provence, you soon realise that until the 1960s, everywhere beyond the coastal strip was very rural, little known and rather impoverished . Making a living in these upland regions was pretty difficult. One industry in the area between Grasse and Vence was perfume production, something that goes back to the late sixteenth century but which expanded enormously in the nineteenth. This created a market for plants and fruits with strong aromatic scents. These crops, which could be command high prices for small quantities , were well suited for the rather rocky and barren slopes which cover much of the area.

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Instead of being planted out on the ground, these days the violets are grown in columns.

The village of Tourrettes-sur-Loup, which is an hour’s walk down from Courmettes, specialised in violets. From these people made all sorts of things – not just perfumes, but food flavourings, drinks and colourings. Although only four families now make a living from growing violets, the village still celebrates an annual Violet Festival. Being in Courmettes for the weekend, we went down on Sunday to visit it. From some of the historical photographs, the festival is now a shadow of its former self; Tourrettes seems to make most of its money these days from tourism and selling properties to holiday makers. Nevertheless, with a traditional Provencal pipe and drum band and dancers in costume, it was an interesting evocation of an age that is still just within living memory, but will not be for much longer.

Traditional Provencal band

Processing out of church with flowers

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThere were lots of floral decorations, not simply using violets, and a procession from the church, carrying flowers. There were children’s bikes and pushchairs dressed up with flowers, and even some of the dogs sported violet. Unfortunately, this being the France of 2017, there was also quite a lot of blue in the crowd, with a heavy police presence, and automatic weapons. Curious times…

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