Tours Garlic & Basil Fair10th August 2015 • Stephanie's Blog • Stephanie Donaldson
I first read about this event in Jane Grigson’s Vegetable Book when she wrote that ‘The great event of our summer in France is the garlic and basil fair at Tours. It is always held on St.Anne’s day, July 26th.’ The description that followed was like a siren call to me, so it was inevitable that I would go there. It was every bit as wonderful as she had said, but that was twenty years ago and I felt it was time for a return visit. There is a danger in going back – things do change – and admittedly the mountain ponies, monkeys and dwarfs were no longer there selling rather nasty Alpine sweets (bad taste in every way) – but everything else was as I remembered.
There’s an entire square filled to overflowing with pots of basil in every possible variety, the side streets are lined with trestles laden with the new season garlic, as well as shallots and onions, there are stalls selling charcuterie and delicious street food to be consumed at communal tables, washed down with top quality local wine at 2 euros a glass. Who wouldn’t be happy?
It remains a local event with all the Tourangeaux (inhabitants of Tours) stocking up with garlic to last until next year’s fair and filling their bags with as many basil plants as they can carry. Torrential rain did little to dampen enthusiasm and if it all got too much there was always the option of eating at one of the cafes in the square, or sitting at one of the communal tables to eat some street food. Unlike many French markets, it did not finish at lunchtime, but lasted well into the evening, so there was time to linger round the stalls, watch what the locals were buying and follow their example. Despite travelling home by regional train and Eurostar, I did buy myself a plait of garlic, a pot of small-leaved basil and a kilo of fresh cornichons for pickling – wonderful mementoes of a very happy return.