If water jousting is the top traditional sport of the Languedoc region, then ‘Capelet’ probably comes in second. Certainly, it’s still hugely popular with the crowds here at the port of Marseillan. ‘Capelet’, also known as the ‘Race to the Pole’, tests the contestant’s high-flying balancing abilities and their agility at great heights. A long pole is suspended at an angle over water, with a smaller, vertical pole attached to the end with a hat balanced on it. To win, you have to walk up the first pole and grab the hat balancing on the second. Curved and slippery, the first pole gets gradually thinner as you walk up it, making falling ever more likely.
Concentration and balance are what’s needed from a good Capalet. The crowd, of course, roars with laughter when the Capalet tumbles from the pole into the water beneath. Equally, a huge cheer resounds across the harbour whenever the contestant manages to dislodge the hat, and returns down the pole with it safely. The suspense and hilarity of ‘Capalet’ goes back decades – this is truly one of the region’s oldest and most fun traditions, and something the owners and visitors at the new La Baraquette vineyard resort and spa will be invited to take part in once the project is completed.
The Capalet extravaganza is held twice yearly at Marseillan Port, on July 14 and August 16. An orchestra, sitting along the quay, ensures the proceedings have a festive feel. That said, Capelet actually has more serious roots. It started as a way of training young mariners to walk with confidence along masts on large boats – to ensure they didn’t fall overboard in bad weather. A third competition is likely to be added – hosted by the La Baraquette resort – with owners and guests invited as VIPs to watch an age-old tradition unfurl.