There’s a tiny village in this corner of southwest France called Espinas. Perched on a hilltop amid glorious rolling countryside, it appears to be the typical sleepy French hamlet as you drive through. The dog lying in the road barely lifts its head as you navigate around it. But stop a minute and you’ll find this place is far from moribund.
We have found that it is the smallest villages round here that are often the liveliest. The larger ones are not big enough to have a lot going on but not small enough for everyone to know one another and feel part of a community. A big generalisation, I know, and some of the small ones are teetering on the brink of oblivion. Frequently, it’s because of the efforts of a few stalwarts that they stay alive.
Espinas describes itself as ‘Un tout petit village au grand coeur’ (a tiny village with a big heart). With only 185 souls (2006 figures) living there all year round (swelled in the summer by second home-owners and holidaymakers), this flower-bedecked village manages to organise:
- Nature days on a theme throughout the year.
- Star-gazing evenings – this is an excellent place to see the night skies owing to the lack of light pollution.
- Summer walks in July and August, led by local people, highlighting historical and architectural features of interest and flora and fauna of note. Once a month, a meal takes place after the walk for a reasonable price.
- A fête at the end of August, featuring displays of harvesting à l’ancienne with oxen, traditional crafts and a tractor rally.
- A meal associated with the fête, held outside the salle des fêtes, which attracts 600-700 people. All you can eat and drink plus traditional entertainment.
- A host of other events all year round, such as plays, concerts, films, talks, etc.
Much of this is owing to the indefatigable efforts of Marie-Bernadette and René, both retired teachers, who have done a lot to keep Espinas on the map. Nadette was an English teacher – just as well, since there are so many of us Brits in the area. Always good-humoured and helpful, their enthusiasm for the place is infectious.
Coming soon are two nature days – Saturday 22 May (insect theme, but much more too) and Saturday 29 May (biodiversity), followed by a nature outing on Wednesday 2 June.
If you are anywhere nearby on those dates (45 km NE of Montauban, near St Antonin-noble-Val) make a detour. The countryside alone is worth the visit. Find out more on their site – Festival Nature Espinas – in French but not difficult.