For three days every year in early April the lovely village of Biot (pronounced Bi-otte not Bi-oh as you may think if you know anything about French pronunciation) goes back in time to the 13th century. The setting couldn’t be more perfect as the old centre of Biot is a fortified medieval hill village, perched just a couple of kilometres inland from the Mediterranean sea, commanding sweeping views out to sea one way and over to the mountains the other, creating the perfect backdrop for this historical event.
Biot has a rich and turbulent past, with historical remains dating from as early as the Roman times. Evidence of olive oil production has been found from the 3rd century though the village really started to flourish in the middle ages. From the 12th to the beginning of the 14th century the Knights Templar bought up the best land in the area and founded one of the most important religious establishments in the region, located in the old castle, still visible today as the building which separates the Place de l’Eglise and the Place aux Arcades. It is this period that the annual festival Biot et les Templiers celebrates. However, just to continue a little with the history of Biot, the Knights Templar’s dominance didn’t last and they were imprisoned and their wealth redistributed on Papal orders in 1307. By the middle of the 14th century the area was ravaged by the Plague, like most of Provence, and succumbed to bandit warfare.
The 15th to 18th centuries were dominated by wars with the village ransacked and pillaged several times. However thanks to a rich clay soil, despite its ongoing struggles, Biot became a centre for pottery production between the 16th century and 18th centuries. By the middle of the 20th century, it once again became famous for its decorative pottery and glasswork, creating a particular bubble glass for which it is now well-known worldwide.
So getting back to its yearly medieval fête, the shindig kicks off on the Friday night with a Son et Lumière show, using the village as a back drop for spectacular fireworks.
The rest of the weekend is taken up with reenactments of medieval combats, jousting tournaments, fencing and archery set in authentic camps. There are falconry displays, horse shows, artisans and a giant market full of local and “medieval” produce, such as leather goods, cosmetics, wooden toys and food. You’ll find minstrels playing medieval music and dancers entertaining in the streets as well as farcical theatre and concerts. There are conferences and workshops both for adults and children and it’s all free. Kids can play with traditional wooden games and learn fencing or calligraphy (amongst other things). In the evenings there is a parade by torch light with mulled wine and bread cooked in the communal wood oven. Many people dress up, not just the entertainers but the spectators too, and the Tourist Office rents out costumes for a reasonable rate.
Whether you’re a history buff or not this is a fun weekend for the whole family in a beautiful location, that doesn’t cost a penny. Biot is 20 minutes from us at Lou Messugo and worthy of a visit even when the festival isn’t on. Have you been? Or have you been to a similar event? Do you enjoy this sort of occasion? I’d love to hear from you.