a french garden

Une Nuit Blanche

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Une nuit blanche is a French expression for having passed a night without sleep.  This could have a good or bad connotation depending on what you were doing during the night!

This expression has been taken by the region of Grand Champagne (one of the most prestigious cognac producing regions) and for the past twenty years, every Friday night in July and August anyone can join in “Les Nuits Blanches” presented by the local people.  Organised by the Office of Tourism you book your car and follow a mystery tour through the beautiful countryside.  The event is well-organised with marshals holding back the traffic to allow the line of cars which passes in a follow-my-leader style from stop to stop.

bees in Mallaville

The evening started in Malaville outside its 13th. Century church.  My husband was quick to spot some honey bees that had built a hive with an opening  just above the front door.  They were still busy in the late evening sunshine and I chuckled at the thought of sneaking bees into this post.

For the previous two weeks the Nuits Blanches had been cancelled as the French weather forecast had declared an orange warning predicting thunderstorms.  As this year the theme of the evening was – Auprès de mon arbre, it was not deemed wise to take people into the woods with violent thunderstorms predicted.

celtic start

We made our way on foot to our first “saynète”,  or little scene, which was waiting for us to arrive.  There was a rumble and a crack and some rain, thankfully held back by the trees.

covered speaker

Someone rushed to cover the speakers with plastic.  I think the Celtic priestess had words with the spirits of the forest because the rain soon stopped and the weather was fine for the rest of the evening.

Druids

Our Celtic priestess explained to us that they appreciated the forest and the trees but their customs and traditions are forgotten compared to those of the Romans and Greeks.

Obélix and Idéfix

Obélix and Idéfix

There is more to the Celts, she tells the children, than you read in Asterix and Obelix.

Commune

Now we are off in the car into the woods, listening to the CD which is provided, and starts with Georges Brassens singing the first few lines of his song ” Auprès De Mon Arbre”.  The CD talks of trees, their origins, their importance and the first part finishes  just as you reach the first stop.

This scene talks of the lives of the people who lived in the woods in communities or family groups, rarely going into towns but living in the woods which provide them with their livelihood chopping wood, gathering herbs or making charcoal.

We paused in the dark to listen to the trees talk of their different properties and uses and were warned that there used to be wolves in the woods.

Wolves

When one little girl saw these fierce wolves creep from the edges of the clearing she quickly demanded to be taken off her father’s shoulders to take shelter in the safety of his arms!

Wolves were a threat to the villagers in France at one time but the fear of wolves and other mythical creatures of the woods was also played on by thieves and army deserters.

On the car again and off to the next stop.

making barrels

This is the region famous for Cognac.  Oak barrels play a pivotal role in the production of cognac and some are still made in the traditional way in this area.  The oak used, however, is not local as it grows too quickly in the Charente and must be brought from cooler areas of France.  It is fascinating watching a barrel being made from planks of oak by binding them with metal hoops and heating them from the inside so they seal together forming a water tight container.

Chateau

The next stop was in the grounds of this beautiful house and it took a light-hearted look at the fairy book characters whose dramas took place in the woods.

We finished the evening being offered a glass of cognac and tonic or a non-alcoholic orange drink courtesy of the area’s cognac producers and admiring the distillation equipment of a local producer of cognac who welcomed us onto his property.  He was the fifth generation of his family to be producing cognac on their lands.

I thoroughly enjoyed my Nuit Blanche and want to applaud again all the actors (who are unpaid volunteers) that told the story of their region so well.  In fact, there are about 200 actors and technicians who give their time freely to show with pride the beauty and traditions of their countryside.

 

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Author: afrenchgarden

Born in Scotland I have lived in England, Iran, USA and Greece. The house and land was bought twelve years ago in fulfilment of the dream of living in France that my Francophile husband nurtured. We had spent frequent holidays in France touring the more northerly parts and enjoying the food, scenery, architecture and of course gardens. However, we felt that to retire in France and enjoy a more clement climate than we currently had in Aberdeen we would need to find somewhere south of the river Loire but not too south to make returning to visit the UK onerous. The year 2000 saw us buying our house and setting it up to receive us and the family on holidays. The garden was more a field and we were helped by my son to remove the fencing that had separated the previous owners’ goats, sheep and chickens. We did inherit some lovely old trees and decided to plant more fruit trees that would survive and mature with the minimum of care until we took up permanent residence. The move took place in 2006 and the love hate relation with the “garden” started. There was so much to do in the house that there was little energy left for the hard tasks in the garden. It was very much a slow process and a steep learning curve. Expenditures have been kept to a minimum. The majority of the plants have been cuttings and I try to gather seeds wherever I can. The fruit trees have all been bought but we have tender hearts and cannot resist the little unloved shrub at a discount price and take it as a matter of honour to nurse it back to health. This year I have launched my Blog hoping to reach out to other gardeners in other countries. My aim is to make a garden for people to enjoy, providing shady and sunny spots with plants that enjoy living in this area with its limestone based subsoil and low rainfall in a warm summer. Exchanging ideas and exploring mutual problems will enrich my experience trying to form my French garden.

24 thoughts on “Une Nuit Blanche

  1. What a fun night. Is the actor playing Obelix a little reluctant do you think? D

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  2. What a wonderful event. I would love to see the oak barrels being made.

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  3. what a magnificent oak tree!

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  4. A fascinating record of what sounds like a really fun and interesting event. I wonder if they are mainly locals who join the tours, and whether there is quite a local population of ex pat. Brits nearby?
    Best wishes
    Julian

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    • There are quite a lot of British throughout the Poitou Charente area, some part-time, some full time residents but not all choose to learn to speak French. I would guess it would be mainly locals but also tourists from other parts of France. Amelia

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  5. What an unusual tradition. It sounds like it would be a fun way to learn the history of the region.

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    • It is exactly that! You pick up lots of interesting facts but it is presented in such an entertaining way. We are planning to revisit the route with the friends we shared the car with but do it during the day time and take a picnic. Amelia

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  6. Wow! . . . very interesting.

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    • In July and August there is a lot of excellent outdoor entertainment here that is provided free by the region because we are in a tourist area. However, the artists are professional and paid. This is the only one I know performed by volunteers. Amelia

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  7. What a lovely night. I’d love to do something like that although I fear my French might not be up to it. 🙂

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  8. Sounds like good fun. Whenever I see Obelix I cant help thinking of Gerard Depardieu in the film version! Philip

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  9. That’s a terrific way to spend une nuit blanche. Far better than, in desperation, returning to the fat book where you previously got stuck at chapter 3… Sounds wonderful. RH

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  10. How fun, in Italy notte bianche are nights when everything (almost everything) stays open and there is music, museums are open and it can be quite fun.

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  11. What a wonderful experience and definitely one to go on my wish list. Glad to hear about the bees over the church door too, I can almost imagine them about their bee business and welcoming the congregation and visitors.

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  12. This is a delightful story. Thank you.

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    • There is a lot of entertainment here (for the tourists really, and mostly free) in July and August but much less in the other months. It’s difficult to take advantage of it as there is more to do in the summer months but this is one event I would not like to miss. Amelia

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