Marine jousting It's a summer Sunday, the band is tooting folk tunes to, well, beat the band and the jousting is about to begin. There's not a horse in sight though: this is the not-so-gentle art of marine jousting (joute marine). logoClick here to book a hotel in Provence

These knights wear wooden armour and their steeds are long barges. Perched on a high platform at the back of the boat behind a team of rowers, the two players attempt to tip each other into the water as they cross.

The liveries of the rival boats and teams are always blue and red. According to tradition, the blues are bachelors while the reds are married men.

First, though, an elaborate ritual is involved: each jouster straps on an elaborate protective wooden breastplate, and carries a small box - called a témoin.

Its purpose is to prevent him from using that hand, rather than the lance, to topple his opponent. It's not as dangerous as it looks - or so they claim.

Some players are built like sumo wrestlers. But what counts is their skill in judging the perfect moment at which to lunge.

The loser has the additional humiliation of having to swim to the shore, while elderly men in straw hats row out to collect the fallen lances and small boys, brown as berries after a summer in the Mediterranean sun, bob around in the water ready and eager to help them out.

Marine jousting in SeteWater jousting was practised in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome. Today it's no heritage sport (the tournaments are attended enthusiastically by locals) and is played all over Europe.

The rules vary depending on the region. But there is a special passion for it in the South of France.

We go to see jousting in L'Estaque, on the edge of Marseille, where La Fine Lance Estaquéenne, meets twice weekly.

Marseille's only major jousting club, it unites men, women and children, ranging in age from 8 to 62. "It's a passion," beams its eldest member. Click here for how to get to L'Estaque by train.

For those who prefer to remain on dry land, the most famous place to watch water jousting is Sète, near Montpellier, whose annual tournament was first established to mark the founding of the port in 1666. It takes place in mid-August around the Fête de la Saint Louis.

The joutes in Sète are a major tourist attraction and you will really need to battle the crowds there. But many towns in Provence host smaller, more informal events throughout the summer.

You'll find them both along the coast: not only in L'Estaque but in towns such as Cassis, La Ciotat and Martigues, as well as inland on the river at L'Isle sur la Sorgue.

At these boisterous tournaments you can mingle with the players and relax on the waterfront with a pastis and a bag of frites (chips / French fries). There can be few more pleasurable ways to while away a blistering hot provençal afternoon.

And, if you can't make it down to Provence but love movies, try buying or renting La Pointe Courteimage!, the 1955 debut film of the revered French director Agnès Varda. Set in a small fishing community on the edge of Sète, it includes a long scene of the town's jousting tournament.


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