It was gorgeous and sunny out today, so I went to the Saint-Pourçain en Seine, a “Marché du terroir festif!” according to the poster I saw on my local café’s wall. And since it was right on the Quai St-Bernard (Square Tino Rossi, 5th), I took along Lena and Pedro, too, so they could stretch their legs.
If you haven’t been to a “marché du terroir”, it’s basically a bunch of tents selling local wines, cheeses, meats, honeys, pastries, and other regional specialities from, in this case, the Allier départment of France.
I like to think I know France pretty well, but I had to look this one up on the map It’s basically right in the center of the country, in the Auvergne region. It’s known for its Saint-Pourçain wines, its Charolais cows (the cute ones), and a sort of potato cake called Paté aux pommes de terre. It’s also the home of the Ducs de Bourbon.
When I arrived the musical entertainment was in full swing, with men and women dressed in (rather hot looking) traditional costumes doing some square-dance style traditional dances. After the dancing was a bit of open-air theatre featuring the Musketeers. For those of you who like to see how stuff is made, there are wooden barrel makers and rope makers on site, as well as some cooking and baking demonstrations (such as tarte tatin).
The main fun, of course, is to try all of the wines. I think I must have had about six little plastic cups of the St-Pourçain, and I can’t say I’m a convert, but I really like the pastries by Philosophie Gormande. I went home with a fabulous dry cake called Trésor de Gianduja (a “gateau de voyage” meant for traveling, it keeps for two weeks) with a gooey chocolate-hazelnut cream in the center. Heaven! And with all those seeds and nuts it convinces me I’m eating something that’s healthy.
Chef Patissier Philippe Robert posing with his creations. He doesn’t sell them in Paris, but he can mail them within 48 hours anywhere in France. If you’re not doing anything Sunday the 11th, it’s worth the trek down to the Quai St-Bernard for these cakes alone!
The famous Charolais du Bourbonnais. There’s also artisan smoked salmon, and free-range organic chicken. My guide Philippe (in the photo below), whose job it is to promote the Produits d’Allier, told me that there are more organic and free-range farms in that region than anywhere else in France, and invited me to come down to see the baby cows (aka veal) which get to run around loose with their mothers.
In fact, everyone at the festival was so friendly, I found myself taking home a whole pile of brochures from the local tourism office. Just two and a half hours from Paris, with plenty of chateaux to visit (many are also hotels), historic little villages, world-famous spas (Vichy is in the Allier), and the highly regarded Centre National du Costume de Scène, with over 9000 costumes from the French theatre and ballet. There’s currently an exhibition on the costumes from the Comédie Française. And like most places outside Paris, the Allier is quite an affordable weekend trip. Even the nicest hotels with gourmet restaurants don’t cost over €150, and most of the cute little inns and B&Bs I found while browsing the internet are well under €100 per night. The train from Paris goes to Moulins, where it’s probably best to rent a car if you want to really explore the area (but the nice woman from the tourism office said that Moulins is quite nice on its own if you want to stay there).
At 10:30am and 3pm this Sunday is the arrival of the barrels of wine on boats in the traditional fashion, followed by a theatre piece called “Le Secret des Montmorency”. There are plenty of places to sit and watch, and tables for enjoying the local meal of grilled Charolais steaks.
Saint-Pourçain en Seine
Quai St Bernard (Square Tino Rossi, 5th)
Free entry, September 10-11 from 10:30am-7pm