Once upon a time, when Scotland was Catholic and England was Protestant, a pact was sworn between nations; a solemn alliance.
It was signed in 1295 by the Scot, John Balliol, and Philip IV of France to ratify an agreement that the two nations would band together to defend themselves against ‘Perfidious Albion’.
And 728 years later, the ‘Auld Alliance’ between Scotland and France still endures.
There are outcrops of tartan all across the Hexagon, if ye but look to see them!
Large associations including the ‘Caledonian Society of France’, the Association France Grande-Bretagne in Paris, and Auld Alliance – le Lien Franco-Ecossaise in Orléans, celebrate Burns Night and St Andrew’s Day, run exhibitions and talks, give demonstrations, organise social events, and run Scottish dance and music classes.
They make historical costumes, re-enact scenes, research genealogy, organise exchange visits and clan meetings.
They also post events being held by numerous other local associations.
After the rugby Trophée Auld Alliance which was founded in 2018, one of the biggest Scottish sporting events in France is the bi-annual Highland Games held in Bressuire (Deux-Sèvres), between Poitiers and Nantes.
Organised in mid-June by the AJEF (Association sportive des Jeux D’Ecosse en France) the weekend event includes tossing the caber, throwing the hammer, shot put, and tug o’war.
Kilts are de rigueur.
Read more: France’s own kilt-maker
Competitors come from all over the world.
The games will be held next year on June 15-16, 2024, and are expected to attract upwards of 12,000 people.
Alongside traditional sports, expect to see pipers, dancing, whisky tasting and haggis.
“We will also be running the first International Championship for the best mixed team,” says organiser Alain Rousselot.
“This will be a unique event in 2024.”
The Highland Games are the result of firm links being forged between the two nations, because Bressuire is twinned with Fraserburgh in Scotland.
“We are lucky because we are twinned with cities in eight different countries, and all of the associations are very strong. It’s such a cultural richness. Also, the medieval Château de Bressuire is a beautiful setting for the games.
You’d think you were in Scotland.”
If you are in the area, do not miss the fortified Château Saint Mesmin in Saint-André-sur-Sèvre.
Built in the 14th century, an imposing donjon was added in the 15th century, almost doubling the size of the construction.
It offers medieval-style activities and workshops for adults and children daily in July and August, and is a favourite with local families.
The Highland Games in Luzarches (Val-d’Oise) just north of Paris will be held over the last weekend of September (September 30 to October 1, 2023) along with a traditional ceilidh.
Teams from all over Europe will take part in traditional sports, including tossing the caber.
There will be categories for the over 40s, those under 90 kilos, and women.
There will also be pipe bands, Scottish dancing, and a concert. Stalls will sell kilts, kilt pins, brooches, whisky, Irish coffee, and cakes.
Another fixture is Celtiron, a Scottish festival held over the Whitsun weekend (which was from May 26-28 in 2023), and hosted at the Domaine de l’Abbaye de Thiron-Gardais (between Chartres and Le Mans in Eure-et-Loir).
As well as traditional games, there was Celtic music, harp players, a medieval village, a crafts market, activities for children, plus a bar and food trucks.
The planning has already started for 2024, and although the dates have not yet been announced, it is expected to be over the Whitsun holiday, May 18-19, 2024.
An event to attend is Melting Kilts in Dinard (Brittany), usually held over the first weekend of October.
Organised by the Mouvement Associatif du Tartan, pipe bands and parades, swirling kilts and twirling dancers, clan representatives and gatherings are all expected to be on the programme along with food and dancing.
Another town with exceptionally strong Scottish connections is Aubigny-sur-Nère (Cher).
The mairie’s website even features tartan wallpaper.
Twinned with Haddington in Scotland, the Château des Stuarts is slap-bang in the middle of the historic centre with its cobbled streets and half-timbered buildings.
The estate was first gifted to Sir John Stewart of Darnley (1380-1429), as a reward for having commanded his forces on the French side against the English during the Hundred Years War.
The castle was built by Robert Stuart de Lennox at the start of the 16th century, and remained in the family’s hands until the line died out in 1672, when it reverted to the French crown.
It has been well-maintained and now houses offices and a museum, the Centre d’Interprétation de l’Auld Alliance which traces the history of the Stuarts in Aubigny.
There is even an escape game!
The facade of the chateau still features the Stuart coat of arms, which faces a monument to the Auld Alliance in the form of a massive sword surrounded by rocks and water.
Wander round the town and you will find a Scottish bar, and a distillery maturing the first batches of its own whisky.
There is even a kilt-maker in town; Lady Chrystel handcrafts traditional kilts in any tartan required.
“I get orders from all over France; I even get orders from Scotland,” she says.
She also makes historical costumes using tartan.
“People bring sketches and we discuss the ideas and then I make whatever they want.”
The town holds its Fêtes Franco-Ecossaises every year in mid-July and this year marks the 600th anniversary of the town being gifted to Sir John Stewart of Darnley.
The festival will run from July 13-16, 2023, with whisky and haggis to consume, free concerts, a medieval market, a Scottish market, traditional Scottish encampments, re-enactments, a kilt race, processions through the town, ceilidhs, pipe bands, a show, a ‘village of the Clans’, and parades, all of it topped off by a firework display on the Sunday evening. If you are based further south, do not miss the new and glorious Festival Ecossais 1782, which will be held on July 1-2, 2023 in the extensive grounds of the Château de Saint Andiol, near Avignon.
Festival Ecossais 1782 is organised by Marie-Nadège Barthazon and Erik Lopez, both dedicated Caledonophiles.
Love story between France and Scotland
“We are proud of the long love story between France and Scotland, and wanted to introduce that to the south of France,” explains Marie-Nadège Barthazon.
“Last year was the first festival, and we started from zero but it was amazing.
So many people came, and we saw how many other people love Scotland, too.
We are delighted to have the Highland games and real Highland cows.”
‘Act of Proscription’
The festival is named to commemorate 1782, the date when the infamous ‘Act of Proscription’ was finally repealed.
Imposed by the English after the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the law was designed to stamp out Scottish culture by banning, amongst other things, wearing tartan, allegiance to a clan, and owning arms, even for hunting.
The festival offers a programme of pipers and concerts, dancing, Highland games, a cattle show, and demonstrations of Border Collies working with Scottish Blackface sheep.
There will be Highland ponies, and an open competition to find the most elegant man wearing a kilt.
Activities will include demonstrations of ‘handfasting’, the tradition of knotting ribbons for a wedding (tying the knot!) and for anyone wishing to tie the knot, there will be a blacksmith with an anvil at the ready, just like in Gretna Green.
There will be guided visits to the haunted chateau, a historic reconstruction of the Clan Mannaheim Jacobite encampment, a mechanical bucking (Highland) cow, archery, a Scottish market, axe throwing, sword fighting, a Scottish pub selling Le Loch’Beer, and lots to eat.
There are some good Scottish pubs and bars in France.
Many are in Paris, but there is the Bar Ecossais in Brest, the Hopscotch pub in Toulouse, Au Chardon d’Ecosse in Annecy, the Loch Ness in Marseille, the Kiltin’ Brewpub in Grenoble, and in Angers the Black Peat.
All of them are worth checking out. If you want an authentic haggis, however, you will have to go online, research your local area carefully, or else contact Monty Butcher in St-Barbant, Haute-Vienne.
Using meat from their own farm, they make fabulous Lorne sausage, black pudding, bacon, gammon, Scotch pies, pork pies and of course haggis, which is in great demand locally.
Or, head north to Pont-l’Abbé in Brittany, and investigate Céline Pochat’s Scottish shop, La Sirène Ecossaise.
“I just love Scotland and everything Scottish,” she says.
Her shop is stocked with gifts, souvenirs, tartan ties, scarves and cushions, Scottish shortbread, sweets, cards, jams, and even tins of haggis.
“I’d love to sell fresh haggis,” says Céline, “but it’s really difficult to import it since Brexit.”
If that leaves ye thirsting for a wee dram, there is no shortage of whisky distilleries or specialist whisky bars in France.
In Lyon, the Whisky Lodge (established in 1968) offers an extensive selection of Scotch and French-made whiskies, with some very rare bottles.
You can even order whisky from their online boutique.
They organise an annual whisky festival every March in Lyon’s Palais de la Bourse.
The Toulouse Whisky Festival is held every May, and the Whisky Live Paris festival runs from October 21 to 23, 2023.
For inspiration on how to add a little Celtic flair to your cooking at home, grab a copy of Ecosse by Sarah Lachhab from Alsace, with photography by Aurélie Bellaccico from Paris.
The authors say that having lived in Scotland for years, they wanted to change French preconceptions of Scottish cuisine.
Written in French, it has wonderful recipes for all the traditional Scottish favourites, including cock-a-leekie soup, cranachan (whipped cream, whisky, porridge oats, honey, and raspberries), and their own vegetarian version of haggis. www.editionsdelamartiniere.fr