It was the last Sunday in October and the clocks had gone back making us feel refreshed, and as we had time on our hands we decided to venture to Montreuil-sur-Mer for the famous local soup festival. The guidebook for what to do in Nord Pas de Calais says that its an “all you can eat bread and soup festival” – a terrific idea for a bright autumn day! Starting at 10.00 a.m. and finishing at 18.00 p.m. we arrived at around 11.30 – amazed to find it was absolutely mobbed, there were thousands of people!
We found a very lively atmosphere with plenty of stalls selling regional produce and gourmet food items, lots of people in medieval costume, scenes of medieval cooking and food preparation and for some reason an area dedicated to the history of Agincourt. The scene of the famous battle at which France lost to the English is not far away but its not really relevant to Montreuil – that doesn’t seem to matter much though and the French are clearly not bad losers as Agincourt scenes pop up at many of the local events!
The real star of the day though is the soup! The festival takes place at the stunning Citadelle and, for 5 euros each you can tour the ancient fortress, try any and all of the soups as many times as you like and visit the craft and artisan stalls that are there. We did find that contrary to the guide book you do have to pay for a loaf of bread to go with the soup but the variations of bread made by local bakeries is amazing and well worth the money – the artisan baguette we bought was so good we bought another! It may also be that with so many people attending – they simply ran out of bread by the time we got there – we’ll find out next year!
This year there were more than 50 different types of broth of all types to try at the soup festival and if you can bear to queue up (and let me tell you French people don’t queue well, they have a tendency to push in and they are passionate about it!) – it is definitely worth going for a day out. Soups are prepared by chefs from local restaurants and by local farmers. Visitors are encouraged to fill in a form to rate the soups in terms of taste – the winner gets great kudos apparently. Being a child of London my experience of soup tends to be tomato, oxtail or vegetable and it was amazing to see the different receipes the chefs had come up with from Potiron panais chataignes en éclat to good old minestrone!
If you’ve got kids – its great for them too, there’s a jester on hand with a quite scary costume but he made the kids laugh a lot – tweaking their noses and jumping around and its great to see old traditions maintained. There were ancient games to play – all devoted to the use of wood, everyone is encouraged to have a go and though most people didn’t seem to have much of a clue how to play, the setting of a stunning medieval castle hall more than made up for my feeble attempts to get a ball in a hole and never quite achieving it – okay not achieving it at all! There was a band, traditional French singing, impromptu dancing broke out and it really was a nice atmosphere – a lot of fun. If you do go though and its been raining, wear wellies – there’s a lot of mud and straw involved at this event!
If you want to go outside the Citadelle and enjoy a meal in one of the local restaurants, many of which were open for the day, simply keep hold of your ticket and you can leave and re-enter the festival as many times as you like through the day .
All in all – a souper day out! (NOTE Sadly, the event has been postponed a few years running so check in advance to see if its on)