The Escargot Festival is an annual event in Digoin, bringing several thousand people to the area from the surrounding countryside. Amusement games are brought into the square for the children and small exhibits are mounted in the Salle des Fetes. The exhibits include an array of artwork by local children – snails in all of their infinite variety. The picture we liked best showed a snail beside a bottle of wine saying, “Ho-ho-ho, Ha-ha-ha”. The animation of the snails seems slightly out of place with the fact that we are all about to eat the cute little guys, but somehow that also seems part of the country charm of it all.
A long line stretches down the block to get into Sunday night’s meal. The smell of garlic reaches much further into the town. The festival offers meals at lunch and dinner on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and even though we arrive at 9:00 p.m., it takes almost an hour to go through the line to buy tickets. Thankfully, you can buy “Cocktail de l’Escargot” to sip while you wait. It’s a blend of Cremant and a burnt orange liquour that is slightly bittersweet and promises to inflame our taste buds (or something similar)
A 10 Euro ticket gets us each a meal that includes a few slices of salami, a slice of pate en croute, cole slaw, a piece of apple tart, cream (for the tart), a little pot of a soft cheese, bread, a gherkin hiding under the salami, and a hot tray of 12 escargots swimming in butter, parsley and garlic. We buy wine in bottles with specially designed labels, sporting one of the children’s snail drawings.
A confession. I have never eaten escargot. I think I have watched others eat them, but I don’t remember ever munching down on one. I had expected them served in shells that I would have to wrestle with, expected something slug-like that I would have to swallow with a smile on my face, all the while battling a rising gorge. However, the escargot are a delightful surprise, slightly chewy little nuggets that serve as vehicles for all of that garlic and butter. It is only at the sheer volume of animal fats that my stomach balks (salami, meat pate and all of that butter?! One craves a lettuce leaf or two!).
Even the vegetarians in the group are having a good time, although they fight over the treasured gherkins. The festive nature is infectious, especially when the fireworks begin. We are sitting in the best seats, on a bench right beside the canal where the fireworks are set off, and we are treated to a fabulous display of light and sound – our favourite being the swervy little lights that sound like screaming baby ghouls.
We end the evening with a bit of a dance to the accordion duet in the main tent, as we weave our way out to the street, walking back toward Bel Air under the stars, carrying the smell of garlic into the deep night air.