Carolyne Kauser-AbbottLifestyle: Art & CultureProvencal History & Traditions

Understanding Boules: Why The Game of Pétanque is Like Religion in Provence

A reason to gather in a central location, a place to rest, a circle of trust  and refreshments. It is not a huge stretch to think of pétanque, also known as boules, as a form of religion in Provence.

In most Provencal villages, there is a place where the townsfolk come together for the social connection and a bit of friendly (mostly) competition. All that boules players require is a patch of relatively flat, hard-packed, unpaved ground, and hopefully a bit of shade from platanes (plane trees) or fast-growing microcouliers. There may be a few benches or stones where participants and onlookers can sit. In wealthier villages, there may even be a clubhouse where tired players can quench their thirst.

Pétanque boules Provence Onlookers

Historical Roots

The word pétanque is Provencal its origins come from the word petanca, which means “feet anchored”. The game in its’ present day format started in La Ciotat (on the Mediterranean coast) in 1907. There are similar games in other countries such as bocce (Italy), lawn bowling (England), and curling (Canada).

Pétanque boules Provence

Understanding the Rules and Nuances

The concept of pétanque is straightforward; the player standing with both feet on the ground tosses hollow metal balls towards a smaller wooden or plastic ball called the cochonnet or piglet. The player closest to the little ball wins the point. The game can be played with two players or up to six players (two teams of three). Here are the  basic rules.

Pétanque boules Provence Players

The game of pétanque is remarkably accessible for everyone. There is no physical fitness requirement to play the game, so you see participants of all ages and abilities. In fact, there are many wheelchair-bound champions. However, not everyone is immediately welcome, it takes time to gain the skills and acceptance as Paul Shore writes in his book “Uncorked My Year in Provence.”

Pétanque boules Provence Players

The game starts with a coin toss. After that a small ball sometimes called the bouchon (or cork) is thrown a respectable distance away. A serious player will have their own set of balls, the size and weight are determined by their hand size. The players take turns tossing their metal balls, with the idea of getting closest to the cochonnet. That sounds easier than it is in reality, as the ground is uneven and the opposing player will strategically try to knock your balls out of the wayThe first player to reach 13 points wins the match. Although it sounds straightforward, some games have surprising upsets in the final minutes.

Previously published on Ginger and Nutmeg, read the original post here.

Pétanque Boules Provence Sign

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Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

Carolyne Kauser-Abbott

With her camera and laptop close at hand, Carolyne has traded in her business suits for the world of freelance writing and blogging. Her first airplane ride was at six-months old, her introduction to the exciting world of travel.

While in Provence, Carolyne can be found hiking with friends, riding the hills around the Alpilles or tackling Mont Ventoux. Her attachment to the region resonates in Perfectly Provence this digital magazine that she launched in 2014. This website is an opportunity to explore the best of the Mediterranean lifestyle (food & wine, places to stay, expat stories, books on the region, travel tips, real estate tips and more), through our contributors' articles.

Carolyne writes a food and travel blog Ginger and Nutmeg. Carolyne’s freelance articles can be found in Global Living Magazine, Avenue Magazine and City Palate (Published Travel Articles).

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