The sunny days are here, it's the end of the afternoon, and under the plane trees all the squares in Provence are peppered with dozens of 'silver stars' clinking together at the sound of "Are you shooting or aiming?"
Whether you're on the bar terrace sipping a pastis, or standing with the players who are speaking loudly in their distinctive southern accent, this is one play - in several acts - you will not want to miss, and it is played out daily on all the squares in Provence. It is, of course, pétanque.
This sport, a symbol of holidays and of Provence, originated in Egypt (around 5,700 years ago) and it was apparently played in roughly the same way as today by the Romans, the Gauls and the Greeks. After a ban in 1629 (the game of boules being competition for real tennis) the game enjoyed a new boom in the south of France at the end of the 19th century.
At the beginning of the 20th century, it was being played all over Provence, and still over a distance of between 49 to 66 ft. The teams were made up of three players (shooter - middle ground - aimer), with three consecutive jumps made before launching the ball as close as possible to the jack. In June 1910, during a game at Ciotat, Mr Ernest Pitiot suggested to a friend suffering from rheumatism, Jules le Noir, that he play without jumping, and to throw his balls while standing still 6 to 10 ft from the jack. This way of playing, 'pieds tanqués' (feet together), heralded a new Provençal version of the game, as well as its name, 'pétanque'.
Whether as a sport or a leisure activity, 'pétanque' remains an institution whose motto is conviviality above all else, so do not hesitate to participate in some explosive sessions. Indeed, in Provence, taking part in a game of 'pétanque' is a great way to make new friends.
In Cassis: association La Boule Calendal Bar du XX ème Avenue Victor Hugo, France. Tel.: (+33) (0)4 42 01 70 76. To purchase equipment: La Boule Bleue - Montée de Saint-Menet, Z.I La Valentine, Marseille, France. Tel.: (+33) (0)4 91 43 27 20.
Created in 1904, this is the last remaining company still using traditional methods to produce made-to-measure boules. It is a fascinating place to visit, as much for the quality of the products as for the techniques used to make the boules.
Whether you play three against three, two against two, or one against one, the aim stays the same: to end the game with your 'boules' closest to the jack.© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession
Every July, the international 'La Marseillaise' pétanque competition is held here.© Doga Yusuf Dokdok / iStock
Patience, accuracy, and endurance are just some of the qualities a good pétanque player needs to display.© Peeter Viisimaa / iStock
The game has grown to become a symbol of Mediterranean culture and is now played all over the world.© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession
Metal balls, a jack, a bit of flat ground, and a few friends are all you need to get a friendly game underway.© Fotosearch / GraphicObsession