Vallabrègues, between Provence and Languedoc, the land of basket weavers

Vallabrègues, the only village in the Gard to be located in Provence, boasts a rich heritage and is renowned for its traditional craft of basketry.

Do you know Vallabrègues, a small Gardois village steeped in history, isolated on the right bank of the Rhône, whose whims have altered its geography over the centuries? Famous for its sausage and the fruit it produces, the village of Vallabrègues is the talk of the town every year, hosting the Festival Européen de la Vannerie (European Basketry Festival) on the second weekend of August. Here’s a look back at the festival and the basket-making trade in Vallabrègues.

Basketry has existed for centuries in Vallabrègues

At the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, Vallabrègues was considered the capital of basket-making, with some 450 basket-makers. Basket-making had been practiced in the region since the 13th century, but in Vallabrègues it was a sedentary craft.

Frédéric Mistral illustrated the craft of the basket-maker, choosing Vallabrègues as the birthplace of Vincent, the modest basket-maker whom Mirèio (Mireille) wants to marry in his eponymous work.

Vannerie, osier, Vallabrègues

Photo credit: Pixabay – caropat

The terrible recurrent flooding of the Rhône encouraged the production of fertile oseraies in the lowlands (« baïsses ») of the Camargue, the raw material for making baskets, banastes (baskets for harvesting fruit) of all shapes, very useful for the booming agricultural industry at the end of the 19th century, for harvesting and shipping fruit and vegetables to the large Provencal markets.

In winter, the basket-makers would cut wicker in the « baïsses » and live with their families in huts similar to those of the gardians. The wicker and reeds grown on this marshy land were harvested from All Saints’ Day to early May.

Basket-making, an art form in decline?

The First World War, modern materials such as plastic, and above all the development of the Rhône and its banks, led to the decline of this noble activity.

But until the late 80s, four factories remained in Vallabrègues. Today, only one basket-maker (Daniel Benibghi) remains in Vallabrègues, keeping alive a craft he describes as a « living heritage ».

If you’re interested in the history of the Vallabrègues basket-makers, take a look at Charles Galtier’s book « Entre Provence et Languedoc : Les vanniers de Vallabrègues ».

Un maître vannier de Vallabrègues et ses ouvriers vers 1890

A master basket-maker from Vallabrègues and his workers around 1890

Visit Vallabrègues today

Vallabrègues has retained its old-world charm and tranquility, while promoting its heritage and traditions. In summer, numerous bullfighting events (Camargue races) attract aficionados, notably during the annual Fête held on the second weekend in June.

Since 1989, to commemorate and celebrate the return of the « baïssiers », festivities have been organized every year on the second weekend of August, elevating the village of Vallabrègues to the rank of basket-making capital of Europe. Every year, the event attracts over 10,000 visitors to admire the work of some 50 exhibitors and basketmakers from all over Europe and beyond, proud to showcase their skills and ancestral techniques. In addition to the essential wicker basket, some of the pieces produced are veritable works of art. Of course, you can also buy wicker baskets and other objects made by local and foreign basket-makers.

Vallabrègues Basketry Festival August 11 and 12, 2018

In 2018, the basketry festival takes place on the weekend of August 11-12. The program of festivities includes a grand parade, musical entertainment, exhibitions, a chef’s meal, a pyrotechnics show on the lake and evening dances, all in a convivial and shared atmosphere. You can find the detailed program of the Basketry Festival on the Gard Tourist Office website.

Affiche de la Fête de la vannerie à Vallabregues, édition 2018

Wickerwork Festival poster, 2018 edition

Visit the Musée de la Vannerie in Vallabrègues

Improvised by « Les Amis du Vieux Vallabrègues », passionate about the history of their village, the museum was created in 1994. Here you’ll find a multitude of objects of all sizes, some of them unusual, all made from wicker, as well as tools. The museum helps to keep alive the memory of a craft that is coming back into fashion.

Open from 04/04/2018 to 13/10/2018 from 3pm to 7pm. Closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. (tel: 04 66 59 26 57)

Address: Musée la Vannerie et l’Artisanat de Vallabrègues, 4 rue Carnot 30300 Vallabrègues

Musée de la Vannerie à Vallabrègues

What to do in the Vallabrègues area

If you come to Vallabrègues during the Basketry Festival, you’ll certainly have the opportunity to visit the region, including a few must-see places:

– Tarascon and Beaucaire:

  • Tarascon and its medieval château built by King René, opposite Beaucaire on the right bank of the Rhône and its château, a powerful citadel from the time of St-Louis.
  • The troglodyte abbey of Saint Roman in Beaucaire.
  • Frigolet Abbey, where Alphonse Daudet, in his « Lettres de mon Moulin », set the plot for the eminent Reverend Père Gaucher, inventor of the famous elixir that bears his name.

– Boulbon, its medieval castle and the Bonnet mill.

Avignon, where the Popes found refuge in the 14th century and built the Cité des Papes, its famous Pont St Bénezet, and its ramparts.

– Villeneuve-lès-Avignon, with its citadel, its Carthusian monastery and the tower built by Philippe le Bel, which gave access to the St Bénezet bridge.

– The Pont du Gard, a Roman aqueduct dating back two millennia and still fascinatingly majestic, and the Grand Duchy of Uzès, its garrigues dotted with capitelles.

– Arles, the Roman city, its arena, its archaeological museum, and the Camargue Regional Nature Park.

Alpilles Regional Park:

  • Its hills and garrigues
  • Saint-Rémy-de-Provence with the excavation of the ancient city of Glanum.
  • Les Baux-de-Provence and the ruins of its medieval fortress.
  • Alphonse Daudet’s Mill in Fontvieille
  • Montmajour Abbey and Château d’Estoublon, setting for the legendary soap opera « Les gens de Mogador ».

Where to stay in Vallabrègues?

Numerous gites, guest houses and B&Bs are available to rent in and around Vallabrègues. You’ll find them on sites such asAirbnb or Booking.

Eating and drinking in Vallabrègues

Did you know about the Vallabrègues basketry festival?