Le Grand Prix Retro in Le Puy Notre Dame, Loire Valley

Yesterday was the day of Le Puy Notre Dames’ famous Fete, “Le Grand Prix Retro”.  grand prix, le puy notre dame

Always held on the last Sunday in July it is a rare opportunity for the owners of pre-1935 cars and pre-war motorbike and sidecar combinations, not just to parade through the narrow streets of the village, but actually to race them!  It is a sort of scaled down Monte Carlo Rally but minus the wall to wall millionaires, sea views and super yachts. The food and drink is a bit cheaper as well! 

The Saturday before the races is always a little stressful, particularly when our gite guests arrive. Having spent hours driving to the LoireValley they then have to spend another hour trying to negotiate the closed roads and straw bale barriers that keep appearing, with no apparent logic, here and there throughout the village.  I, on the other hand, play hide and seek, continually glimpsing the roofs of their cars behind some insurmountable barrier, before they disappear down another dead end.  We could instigate another fête on that day called, ‘The Fête of the Maze’! 

However, all is forgiven by the next day.  At 10.00am prompt – or at least as prompt as you are ever going to get in a French rural village, 132 vintage cars including Buggati, Morgan, Delahay, MG, etc. start their races, joined by 50 motorbike and sidecar combos. These include machines from manufacturers like:- BSA; Terrot; Gnome Rhone; Norton and Enfield.  These races continue until 7.00pm in the evening when the winners are announced and the prizes given.  I have to confess that I can never quite work out how the winners are chosen and, what’s more, I have a sneaking suspicion that neither can the organisers!

The normally sleepy village is inundated with visitors from all over Europe; most of them busy looking at the hidden courtyards which lie behind the impressive gates and which are so much a feature of Le Puy Notre Dame, and some are even watching the racing.

The drivers, (over 70% from the UK), are accommodated throughout the village, many return year after year and are greeted like long lost sons.  

The Buvettes, (tented refreshment areas), do a roaring trade and by nightfall most people are pleasantly contented and not a little sozzled.

About three years ago we started doing a BBQ on the day of the fête just for a few friends and neighbours. If I can recall it started at 8 people the first year, then about 15 last year and then, when Sheila and I had finally put our heads together on the Saturday morning, we realised with shock-horror that there were no less than 30 people due to descend on us at midday on Sunday plus the 6 guests who were renting our gite accommodation.  All to be fed from a relatively small domestic BBQ. 

After a few moments stunned silence we ran around in circles for a while and then discussed how we were going to do it. So, this was the plan:

1. Prepare sardines and marinated crévettes well before and keep them warm in the hostess trolley.

2. Poach the sausages and put them in the hostess trolley so that it would just take a few minutes to brown and flavour them on the BBQ.

3. Pray for divine assistance.

Anyway, we thought being as we have had no rain for six weeks with the temperatures in the 40’s, it will be no problem. We will just keep everyone content in the sunshine with copious amounts of wine.

So, the day arrived and, of course, the heavens just opened up – unbelievable!

Sun umbrellas were performing pretty patterns as they flew through the air with the wind and standing in front of the BBQ was rather like being tied to the mast of a sailing ship as it ploughed through the Bay of Biscay, but, nevertheless, with a few volunteers holding a couple of umbrellas over my head we got through it without too much delay and, more by accident than design, with more volunteers helping Sheila to transport the food, every course arrived on time and well prepared.

When it had become obvious that the rain was going to continue we decided to move the tables into the wine chais.  Thus, for the first time in its long history, it was used as a dining room. In fact everyone seemed to enjoy the ambiance tremendously, sitting in front of the huge old wooden barrels.

One slightly bizarre aspect of eating in the chais was that Robert Guyon, the retired winemaker who was the previous owner of Le Clos des Guyons said that his father would be turning in his grave if he knew what was going on.

When I asked why, was it because of the possibility of foodstuffs tainting the wine?  He replied that no, it was because there were many women present and that his father would not allow women in the chais because he believed that a woman at the wrong time of the month would adversely affect the taste of the wine.  I could not really think of much to say after this revelation so I just asked what about the numerous lady winemakers, to which Robert just responded with a perfect gallic shrug.  It is pretty unbelievable that anyone would believe this, I mean, it wasn’t that long ago, but, even so, if any male readers are finding their stored wine tastes a bit off!!!……………..?

Oh, and given the normal application of Sods’ Law the sun re-appeared as soon as I had finished cooking.  C’est la Vie!!!

We can honestly say that judging by the smiles on everyones faces at the end of the afternoon which, I am sure, was not just down to the many bottles of wine consumed, our Clos des Guyons Fete seemed to have been a big success -so victory on the day in spite of adversity!!

à plus

Brian,  gite accommodation in the Loire Valley         


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