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Our recent trip to France (April 2011) - part one of three

French events: tennis tournoi, antique fair, Easter and ANZAC day

While France is special enough without needing events to add to its attraction, planning a trip around them adds to the experience. Even more special is stumbling across events when in France.

Besides being a France freak I am also a big tennis fan - so how perfect for me to be in France for a tennis tournament. We were lucky enough to have had been to the French Open before at Roland Garros when they had a draw for tickets but to no other tournament. Given I was going early to spend some time in Provence before David arrived and this was a month before the clay Grand Slam, I checked hoping there would be a lead up tournament on at that time and there was - on the Cote d’Azur in Monte Carlo! So no holding me back I was going to be there. The ticket I booked was only 40 euro as I purposely booked up high in the stands so I could not only watch the tennis on the clay court but also look over the Mediterranean and Monte Carlo.

The day of the tournament did not disappoint: the views were as I envisaged, the sun was shining and the players I saw were the best in the world: the Fed (although he lost disappointingly), Rafa and Andy Murray. The only disappointment was the rude French and Italians around me who talked constantly through points and on their mobile phones. This does not happen at the Oz Open - there was a French Aussie fan nearby though who proudly displayed her large, real Australian map and kangaroo upper back tattoo. The views of the Mediterranean and Monte Carlo were also good. Around Monaco and the Cote d’Azur there were plenty of events coming up the following month in May with the Formula 1 motor car race in Monte Carlo as well as Cannes film festival.

With all of these major PACA events to watch out for, I had completely forgotten about the antiques fair that is held in April (and October) in our town of Isle sur la Sorgue. It happened to be on Easter weekend when we were there. This fair is the biggest in France for antiques outside of Paris with over 250 antique dealers attending. We didn’t go too crazy at the stalls but did buy an antique wooden ladder (more out of necessity to reach our apartment’s tall ceilings) and some late 19th century golden wall candle holders - not sure still where we are going to put them but after much stall studying, David declared them a bargain at only 50 euro compared to the 300 euro he had seen at other stalls. He watches Antiques Roadshow so is able to hold himself out, with me anyway, as an expert...I was ok with it as I had spent double that at the previous week’s normal ISLS markets!

There were a couple of other surprises we saw during the antique fair including some great old French cars on display, the local baton twirling girls walking through the streets and a fellow with his mates for his batchelor's party being made to plunge into the ISLS waterway in tutu and flippers

We soon discovered that Easter is a good time to be in France. I knew about the church bells stopping Thursday night (as they fly away to Rome and back for Easter Sunday) and chocolate fish in patisseries and of course there are similar rituals that we have like Palm Sunday (although the palms were much bigger ie large olive brances). However we were surprised by other proceedings.

On Good Friday we were in the Corsican coastal town of Calvi with its impressive citadel and snow capped mountains in the backdrop of its harbour. While exploring the streets inside the walled citadel after overlooking it from our hotel’s breakfast terrace, two young altar boys were walking the street beating planks of wood (because the church bells can’t ring to remind the townsfolk about a church service). We followed them to the St Antoinne oratorie where a singing procession followed Jesus on the cross to the eglise to pick up a life sized version of Mary draped in black who was they carried behind the cross down to the lower part of the old village to the cathedral. I guess it is like an animated Stations of the Cross, much more entertaining than the Good Friday services I remember as a child saying the Hail Mary multiple times.

Easter festivities seem to be fairly widespread if the region near our Provence place was any indication. Besides the Isle sur la Sorgue markets, Corsica had a magic festival in Porto-vecchio, Marseille and Avignon had activities for children (e.g. circuses, jumping castle parks) and Arles held live bull fights, usually only run  during summer.

There is always plenting happening in Isle sur la Sorgue, our place in Provence, especially in summer. Stay in our apartment with our last minute special - book by end of May for any 2011 summer stays (Jun-Sept) and pay only the low season price. This equates to a 20% saving paying only $795 a week: go to  


ANZAC day celebrations in France continue to grow every year. The biggest event is held at the Australian cemetery at Villers-Bretonneux in the Somme where over 4000 people, including us and many hooded Aussie 'Fanatics', attended dawn service. Kevin Rudd represented Australia there this year and we got to say g'day (and have a photo with him, see below) at a cafe in the town afterwards with our friends Wayne and Linda who we arranged to meet that day, along with a Parliamentary Secretary representing Victoria. Villers-Bretonneux still pays tribute year round to Australia for saving their town and the local orchestra staged a concert under green and gold flags – it was very moving to hear them play Waltzing Matilda but not as much as hearing the Last Post being bugled from the bell tower earlier that morning and the stiring renditions of the French and Australian national anthems.

While being at Villers-Bretonneux was touching, it was a little difficult for any private reflection with so many people around. The next morning we headed north to Fromelles, in Flanders Fields, the site of the latest Australian war graves to be found. In the newly constructed cemetery at the back of the town in the middle of a field, there were many unnamed headstones marked, ‘Known Unto God’ which brings a tear to the eye. We were the only ones there besides the local cows and another Australian politician, a Federal Senator this time who had been in Belgium for the ANZAC Day celebrations.


Apparently half a dozen Aussies were at the Fromelles cemetery at dawn the day before singing the national anthem - we saw the wreaths they left. It was a little sad that there weren’t more of us present to commemorate so many Australians who died in the fields nearby especially as these soldiers were only discovered a few years ago but as we drove out of town we saw an Australian battlefields tour bus pull up, so I felt more reassured that our fallen were still being acknowledged. My spirits actually lifted before we left by a local who showed us some special and little known war history in the area – more about this and another close by town we discovered something unique it contained in our June newsletter...
These events are just some of what happens in France every year that you might think about venturing over for. If you are going this summer, don’t forget the Tour de France then Bastille Day (but we have some events in Oz for this, including the French festival in Brisbane on 16 July); so don’t be too disappointed if you aren’t travelling this soon). There is also an Aussie housesitter based in Sydney who can mind your place June/July (see links). Read more about events in France.


To part 2 of 3 (with further link to part 3 of 3)

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