wild boar smallAt the Les Baumes farm, deep in wild woodlands just north-east of Aix, you can meet baby wild boars and hear all about them from the friendly family that raises them.

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A tour here, followed by a tasting, might take up to two hours (the owners like to chat!) and you could easily combine it with a picnic or hike through the surrounding countryside to make this an attractive half - or even full - day excursion.



Here's the story behind it: in 1979 Patrick Gaymard had had just about enough of spending all day in his office in Marseille and, with his wife, Anne, decided to move to Les Baumes, a family inheritance.

Formerly used as a hunting reserve, this 300 hectare / 740 acre estate was in a terribly overgrown and neglected state when they arrived. After starting to clear the land, Patrick began to wonder what on earth he might do there.

The issue was how to irrigate the high, hilly land. Crop yields would, Patrick realized, be low, and all the wild pigs in the area would come and feast on them at night.

wild boar with babiesPigs… now, there was a thought! The Gaymards decided to set up a boar farm. They started with three animals and now, nature having taken its course, have between 250 and 300.

Their females have between three and four babies, called marcassins in French. These will be born from February onwards and so the best time to see them at their cutest is, unsurprisingly, in the spring (the new-borns have stripey markings which later fade).

When we visited in November they were still quite small: it takes the baby boars (which it's illegal to slaughter in France) about 18 months to grow to their full size. An adult male can weigh 50 kg / 110 lbs and you wouldn't want to mess with him.

The boars are kept in enclosures but they're inquisitive creatures and will come up close for you - and them - to have a jolly good look. They eat wheat and barley, chomping their way through 500 kg / 1,100 lbs a day. The feed is grown on the farm and ground up for the boars.

It's unarguably hard work for just three people (Patrick and Anne were joined in 2010 by their daughter, Sophie, who had become similarly fed up with her banking job).

Unlike their own boars, the Gaymards belong to a dying breed: three decades ago there were 19 boar farms in Southern Provence. Now this is the only one, and there are only half a dozen or so in the whole of France.

patrick gaymard farmerPatrick, pictured, says he never goes on holiday. But no-one's complaining and you can see just why. It's a remote, peaceful and idyllic spot, and yet just a 15 minute drive from the bustle of Aix en Provence.

Boars are very different beasts from pigs, the Gaymards explain. For a start, they have 36 chromosomes, whereas domestic pigs have 38.

In recent years farmers in France have developed cross-breeds known as "cochongliers" or "sanglochons" : these words are themselves a hybrid, of cochon (pig) and sanglier (boar).

Cochongliers have 37 chromosones, are fertile and can interbreed further. But - unless some amorous pig breaks through the enclosure for some wild mating - all Patrick's animals are strictly pedigree.

The Gaymards admit to having raised three orphaned babies themselves with a bottle, but then they can become too tame and farmers can't allow themselves to be sentimental. Small children might find this sad fact of life upsetting, but the eventual fate of the boar is the slaughterhouse.

The Gaymards don't perform the dreadful deed themselves, though, but use a contractor for this and for the preparation of their meat products.

farmhouse les baumes wild boarsYou can usually sample these, either in a room in the Gaymard's 18th century farmhouse, pictured, or, in summer, outdoors on the terrace. Expect saucisson, a range of terrines (coarse pâtés) and other cooked meats.

Patrick describes the taste as "phenomenal": somewhere between pig and mutton, gamey but also very tender, since the boars aren't running around all day.

The tasting might be accompanied by a glass of local wine or even kirsch liqueur and soft drinks for the juniors, of course. It's free but it would, of course, be courteous to buy something (bring cash with you).

If you really like what you try, you can order up more later on the Les Baumes website. And do phone ahead to arrange your visit.

You should bring warm clothing unless visiting in midsummer as the high altitude (400 metres / 1,300 feet) can make it feel chilly here, even in the sun: in winter temperatures can drop as low as -15 degrees Celsius / 5 degrees Fahrenheit. At all times of year, wear sturdy shoes as it's likely to be muddy.

Where: SCEA Les Baumes, 875 route de la Campane, chemin des Baumes, 13770 Venelles. Tel: (+33) 4 42 54 03 91.

 

How to get there: Take the A51 north of Aix en Provence in the direction of Manosque. Leave the motorway at Venelles (exit 13) along the D13a (rue des Michelons). Shortly after crossing the canal, turn left along the D636 (route de la Campane).

After about 800 metres / half a mile, the road curves around, after which there is a poorly indicated dirt track leading off to the right. Take this stony unmade road uphill for 1.5km / one mile.

On the way back to Aix (when you're less likely to get lost!) you can take a nice alternative route along country backroads via the D63B or D63C.

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Photo credits: all images © SJ for Marvellous Provence

 

 

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