Celebrating the oyster in Brittany
Towns and villages throughout France are renowned for their fetes, occasions when locals and tourists come together to celebrate whatever it is the area is famed for.
From onions to oysters, Brittany can boast more than its fair share of these events, among them the Grande Fete de l’Huitre which takes place every August in Locmariaquer, South Brittany.
Since the late-19th century, this attractive south Breton port has been a major player in the oyster-rearing business, supplying both home and foreign markets. Historically, its location close to the mouth of the Golfe du Morbihan, a sheltered inland sea, made it ideally suited to the purpose.
Approaching Locmariaquer by boat – pleasure trips abound here – the visitor is struck by a forest of poles which appear to grow out of the water. These mark the location of oyster beds, where the shellfish are reared in crates for three, sometimes four, years before harvesting.
The fruits of all this labour are celebrated on the third Sunday in August (this year it will be the 23rd) when a food marquee and stage are erected on the quayside.
Organised by a committee of local residents and businesses, the event features live music, dance, a fiercely contested oyster-shucking competition and – most important of all – the chance to sample oysters, accompanied by bread and a slice of home-cooked far (traditional Breton cake) washed down, of course, with a glass or two of Muscadet.
Starting around noon, the entertainment is free featuring a blend of traditional folk and contemporary live bands. It continues virtually non-stop until fireworks bring proceedings to a close just before midnight.
With side stalls offering a variety of food and drink besides oysters and – providing the tide is in – free guided tours of the local lifeboat, it’s a great family day out with proceeds going towards the local community.
I stumbled across this event quite by chance some ten years ago, when it proved an ideal way to while away a wet Sunday with children and grandparents. So I was delighted to be in the area at oyster festival time again last year – it certainly didn’t disappoint.