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      May 2012 > Join the gold rush, way out Ouest

Join the gold rush, way out Ouest

Hidden way, deep within the rolling hills that delineate the three great rivers of France’s beautiful south-west, a dignified and sedate gold ‘rush’ is slowly taking place (or does that make it a gold 'dawdle’?)

For the past ten years, an increasing number of farmers in the Lot, Célé and Aveyron valleys have been cultivating their land to grow a crop that was once integral to the prosperity of the region, particularly between the 15th and 18th centuries, when it was exported throughout Europe. It is now making a comeback as farmers look for ways to diversify and in late summer, many fields glow with a lilac hue as millions of delicate crocuses burst into flower.

Enjoy a leisurely walking holiday in France, based at the sleepy hamlet of Bez de Naussac in late September or early October and you will witness the colourful transformation of the landscape. Better still, be there on Saturday 26 October and you can make the short drive to nearby Cajarc to take part in the traditional Saffron Festival. The festival takes place in the medieval heart of Cajarc, with stallholders selling all things saffron-related, from syrup, jams, cheeses and pâtés to other local products flavoured with saffron.

Saffron festival, walking holidays in FranceProducing saffron is a labour intensive job. Drive or walk through the region in early autumn, and you will see farmworkers engaged in the backbreaking task of harvesting the crop by hand. It takes about 250 crocus sativus flowers to make just 1 gram of saffron, after the orange-red pistils are carefully and painstakingly removed from the individual heads. They are then dried before a strict quality check at the Cajarc Cooperative – the only body allowed to produce and sell genuine Quercy Saffron.

Prior to the festival, a number of saffron producers open for visits, though tours are mostly conducted in French. After all, this traditional festival is organised by and for local people and is not aimed at tourists. At time of writing, the going rate for this ‘red gold’ (the most expensive spice in the world) was around 30€/gm.

Saffron festival, walking holidays in FranceAlternatively, if you wish to travel to this picturesque region earlier in the year, you may come across a far noisier, even more colourful affair – the Africajarc music festival, which takes place over the last weekend in July (26-29).

Incongruous as it may seem, this medieval town comes alive to the rhythms of African music while exotic aromas drift across the River Lot, tempting you to sample real African delicacies from the many food stalls. Now in its 13th year, the festival attracts artists from all over Africa to celebrate their distinctive music and culture, including Salif Keita from Mali and Les Go de Koteba from the Côte d’Ivoire – and many others.

Whatever your preference, each festival gives an added dimension to your walking holiday in the Lot, allowing you the chance to experience the sometimes surprising contrasts that the region has to offer.

Saffron festival, walking holidays in France

Posted: 14/05/2012 15:25:05 by | with 0 comments
Filed under: festivals, France, gastronomy, heritage

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