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Families love it !!!

February 22, 2011

It is no small coincidence that the Salon d’Agriculture is timed for the school holidays as it is simply a great day out for all the family!

Held at the Porte de Versailles exhibition centre on the southern edge of Paris, it is one of the few shows that takes over the entire complex, such is its vast size. It felt like I whizzed around the 7 pavilions and yet it I was there for over 4 hours yesterday (and had a great time incidentally!)

As I did, many make a beeline for the animals first. Lots and lots of them in every direction!! As soon as you enter the giant Hall 1, the smell hits you – rows and rows of sheep, then pigs then cows amongst lots of golden straw, not forgetting the small caged birds and giant lop-eared rabbits. (horses and donkeys are in another building) Despite the signs of “no touching” every child in sight has his or her fingers through the railings giving a little stroke or two or offering a few stalks of hay. I have to admit to patting a few heads myself…

With almost alarming simplicity you find the animals alongside their related products, what a contrast to sterile supermarket conditions: pigs next to stalls slicing hams; sheep mixed with stalls of woolly booties and jackets; cows next to their cheese. There’s no mistaking the proud origins of these products. There are good quality stamps everywhere and those people tucking into the food look very content.

Even in the buildings with no animals to pet, children are well catered for – every few metres someone is organising a game, a quiz or showing a little boy how to use a fishing rod. Dressed as ladybirds or other creatures their target audience is obvious!

2011 being UN Year of the Forest there are many stands consecrated to this theme with lots of information, most of it unfortunately only in French. There are some fun stands on bio-fuel too: beetroot power anyone?

The last Hall has a section for each French region: the food smells waft around irresistibly as you go between alpine fondues, mountain saucisson, oyster bars and the wonderfully flavoursome creations from France Outre-Mer (overseas départements such as Guadeloupe or Guyana). To wash it all down have a glass or two of champagne or red burgundy, one of the few products definitely not designed for the kids but rather for their happy parents…

The French are famous for their farmers (although often due to their blockades or other such political protests it must be said!) as well as the idealised view of their rural way of life. This is not actually so true these days as many farmers have had to give up or turn to supplemental incomes in order to keep going, despite their famous subventions (grants). Phenomenon such as globalisation, have contributed to this collapse. Luckily for us as tourists, one way to combat this downturn and which has really taken off, is that of rural tourism driven by those wanting to relive childhood visits to grandparents farms or indeed the whole green movement and its obvious affinity with farmers in terms of organic farming (agriculture biologique) or return to nature and traditional ways. Institutions such as Bienvenue à la Ferme (a network of farmhouse B&Bs www.bienvenue-a-la-ferme.com) are well represented and each region has takeaway pamphlets on where to stay & what to do when you get there. Such claims as “France’s no.1 organic department” are made (by the Drome in the Rhone-Alpes region incidentally) and reveal what every farmer hopes, that they can replace their traditional livelihoods by encouraging those townies amongst us to visit and support their green way of life.

 

So if your kids are driving you crazy during half term, how about a late trip over on Eurostar? The show runs until 27th February 2011, there is still time to come and mingle with the animals and plan those summer holidays. (cost 12 Euros for adults, 6 Euros for kids)

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