In 2009, newly arrived in France and knowing no-one, we consulted our guide books regularly for ideas on what to do and see. At the time, the name Evian made me think only of bottled water. I had no idea that Evian-les-Bains was a sizeable village (approx. 9000) on the Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) and very close to where we were living. Funnily enough, it was not rated highly in our guide book and was even considered particularly dull in winter. Prompted by an ad on a bread wrapper, similar to the one below, we went anyway.
It was a cold winter's day, so cold that the spray from the lake had set solid on benches and around the tyres of cars and created dramatic temporary sculptures. It was definitely the sort of day where sitting by a fire or inside a café would have been more comfortable than strolling outdoors. Except that we were not just in Evian, we were in the Village des Flottins in Evian, where we encountered live elves and mystical (human) beings hanging out with enormous inanimate driftwood creatures. Legend has it that these warm and hospitable creatures, who arrive each year and set up their village in Evian, rescued Father Christmas and his reindeer after an altercation amongst the reindeer on a training run meant an urgent landing for Le Père Noël and his party in the waters of the Lake. He now stops in to see them annually as he is passing by.
These photos are from this year's festival, the tenth, which now includes old-fashioned games for the children such as the ones that you can see in the photos below; the closest is a recycled dancing marionette; the second, made of wood has a pull-back lever which when released propels a ball up an inclined wooden chute and where the aim of the game is to get the ball high enough for it to fall through a hole in the chute.
The parent-powered merry-go-round was popular with the young children. They sat in metal bucket seats and circled in a slow, leisurely fashion: a far-cry from the roller-coasters and mechanical fairground rides of today.
Ten years ago, there were twenty sculptures. Now, there are more than 650. These days, the festival mobilises the whole community. They gather the driftwood from the lake shore, dream up the ideas for the sculptures and then help with the fabrication. Schoolchildren and their teachers compete to invent creative sayings to write on the shopwindows in the village. All is done with the most pure of ecological intentions.
Happy to have ignored the advice of our guidebook the first year, it has now become a must-do on our Christmas calendar. If you happen to be in or near Evian in winter, pop past to enjoy this event, which proudly differentiates itself by not being a Christmas market.
"Ici, rien n'est à vendre. Tout est à rêver et à imaginer".
Bye friendly flottins.
Until next year...