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Autumn is a wonderful time of year in Normandy, with the leaves taking on all shades of gold, the grass at its lushest, and apple harvests sweetening the air.

Apple and cider festivals are held throughout the region during the autumn months, but the best-known of all, and the biggest in terms of visitor numbers and commercial activity, is the annual Foire de la Pomme at Vimoutiers.

The town’s mayor, Guy Romain, says: “The Vimoutiers Foire de la Pomme is always held on the third weekend in October. It takes place over three days and attracts tremendous numbers of visitors to our town every year. Normandy is of course full of apple trees, and so the apple has become widely recognised as a symbol of our region. Vimoutiers’ Foire de la Pomme is part trade fair, part carnival, and every aspect of the Foire is a joyful celebration of the apple. There are sculptures constructed from apples; there are competitions for the best cider apples, eating apples, cooking apples, apple juice, cider, pommeau, calvados, apple pies ... all different guises in which apples are consumed and enjoyed.”

2010 will be Vimoutiers’ 68th Foire de la Pomme. Each year the festival has a different theme. Régis Coeurdoux, Commissaire Général des Foires, explains: “For the 23 years up to 2009, a theme was chosen by the committee. The municipality created a large showpiece motif of apples, and the carnival floats in the street procession also used this theme. For instance, in 2008 we chose ‘The Fire Brigade’ as our theme, and municipal employees created a lifesize fire engine out of apples.

“But in 2009, instead of creating one showpiece motif for the festival, we ran a competition and invited schools and associations to make their own apple motifs on the theme of ‘Horses’. There were nine entrants, and everyone who visited the exhibition hall was invited to vote for the motif they considered best. This variation was a great success, so we decided to repeat the competition in 2010 and we are expecting many more entries this time.

“The theme for the 2010 festival is ‘Sport’. This year for the first time the Committee asked the town’s Youth Council to propose a shortlist of themes, from which we made the final decision. We are trying to involve the town’s young people in the festival as much as possible. Our youngsters are the adults of tomorrow, and we are counting on them to carry on our traditions. If we encourage them to become part of the festival activities at an early age, they will grow up proud that they have a contribution to make.

“All the schools in Vimoutiers and some from the cantons, like Crouttes, take part in the street parade. Then, we have opened the competitions up to young people both as entrants and as judges. Our competitions include ‘junior’ categories, for instance for the best apple pie made by a junior, and where appropriate we also appoint a junior jury to taste products such as apple juice and camembert.”

Régis Coeurdoux estimates that a total of 20-25,000 apples went into creating the ‘Horse’ motifs for the 2009 Foire de la Pomme – and co-incidentally, around 20-25,000 people visit the Foire over the three days, so this equates to roughly one apple per visitor.

Entries for the apple motifs competition are on display throughout the weekend, whilst in a separate exhibition hall a wide array of gastronomic delights – many but not all apple-related – are available to sample and purchase. Outside, the streets are lined with market stalls, there’s a fun-fair in the main square and the whole town is a mass of colour and animation, with the municipal PA system broadcasting music punctuated by announcements to keep everyone in touch with what is happening across town. On Sunday afternoon the carnival procession (le défilé) winds its way round streets thronged with spectators. It’s a pleasure to join the happy crowds to watch the long parade of decorated floats, marching bands, dance troupes and maybe morris dancers. You can’t help being impressed by how much imagination, effort and careful rehearsal has been put into it all: designing the children’s costumes, arranging the tableaux, decking out the carts, choreographing the dancing, and generally making it a spectacle for everyone to enjoy.

Régis Coeurdoux has been in charge of the Festival Committee for six years now. How does he feel in the run-up to the Foire de la Pomme? “On Friday night I feel very anxious. I keep wondering what I might have forgotten. By midday on Saturday when the inauguration ceremony gets underway, I begin to breathe again. But I don’t relax completely until Sunday evening, when the parade has finished. Each year more than 200 children parade through the streets, and it’s my responsibility to ensure that traffic is diverted, no hazards arise and no adult or child is injured in any way.”

But he knows all the hard work is worthwhile. “The aim of the Festival Committee is, quite simply, to promote and develop our local products and to keep our traditions alive.”

A sentiment echoed by mayor Guy Romain: “Vimoutiers’ Foire de la Pomme is a fun weekend for everybody in the best Normandy tradition, with a carnival atmosphere and a chance to see and sample some of the very best hallmark products made in Normandy and our beautiful Pays d’Auge.”