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Autumn in the Pyrénées-Oriéntales

It’s very difficult to describe a typical ‘Autumn’ when I am sitting looking at clear blue skies and enjoying a temperature of 30° at midday – but here in the Pyrénées-Oriéntales, nothing is ever ‘typical’!  The days are definitely getting shorter and the evenings and mornings can feel a bit ‘fresh’ (18°) but it is by no means unusual to leave the house in the morning wearing a light jacket and to have peeled down to a t-shirt by mid-day.

One way of telling what season it is here is by checking the roads – in Spring you will find tractors everywhere as it is fruit-picking time, in Summer the roads are full of tourists enjoying touring the region and now it must be Autumn as it is time for the ‘Vendange’ (grape-harvest).  The evidence is everywhere; enormous machines can be seen pulling in and out of the vineyards that favour automatic picking, and trailers over-flowing with grapes bounce their way along the country roads to deliver their loads.  Obviously all of this activity comes to a complete halt at ‘midi’ when it is impossible to navigate through the narrow village streets as the drivers park their tractors and trailers outside their houses while they go home for a well-deserved lunch!

One great aspect of Autumn here is the amount of seasonal Fetes and Festivals around the region.  A ‘Fete des Vendanges’ is held in many villages but the most notable one takes place at Banyuls-sur-Mer where the wine harvest is brought to the beach in boats, ‘blessed’, and then the celebrations continue with ‘grillades’, entertainments and dancing.  Food and wine are regularly the theme of ‘festivals’ so it comes as no surprise that there are many ‘harvest’ related celebrations.  Look out for several ‘Chestnut’ festivals (in Casteil, Amelie-les-Bains and Montferrer, to name but a few) where you will have the chance to taste the traditional ‘Castagnada’ (roast chestnuts catalan-style).  I also spotted a ‘Fete de Potato’ in Matemale and a ‘Fete de la Pomme’ in Fuilla.  There are also a multitude of ‘Fetes de produits locales’ which are farmers’ markets where local producers showcase their specialities such as honey, vegetables, wine and charcuterie.  The ideal opportunity to sample new tastes and flavours.

And we mustn’t forget one of the most important festivals of the season at the end of this month – no I’m not talking about Halloween (which has only in recent years been adopted from the Americans) but ‘Toussaints’ (All Saints Day) or The Festival of the Dead.  In the days (and weeks) leading up to November 1st you will see pots of Chrysanthemums (both fake and real) on sale everywhere – don’t be tempted to buy these as a ‘hostess’ gift next time you attend a soirée as these are the traditional flowers to take to the cemetery on this special day to pay tribute to the dearly departed.

Autumn is one of my favourite times of the year here – the beaches are empty, parking is free again, the waiters stop trying to speak English, and the food and weather continue to be wonderful.  Come and see for yourselves!