Cow's butts are just the beginning! There's so much to see and do at the Salon de l'Agriculture - check our insider tips to make the most of your visit.
Choose the right time to visit
The Salon is a fantastic opportunity for the city kids of Paris to pet farm animals (interdit, by the way, though nobody seems to mind) and this is a huge event on the cultural calendar. If you possibly can, avoid the weekend. Also be aware that school is out on Wednesday afternoons (although we visited on a Wednesday afternoon and it wasn't too crowded – however that may have been due to the storm that was battering Paris at the time. Lucky the show held indoors!)
The Salon is traditionally a must-do event for politicians of all stripes, and in election season, that means they’re taking it in turns to descend on Porte de Versailles with their sizable entourages. Marine Le Pen was here earlier in the week and it was a full-blown media circus. Admittedly this will apply only for the exact area of the Salon they’re in at the time – but Le Pen reportedly spent 10 hours here so as big as the event is, she would have been hard to avoid!
Buy your ticket online to minimise queuing at the gate.
Have a game plan
The Salon is big. To see everything, you’ll need all day. Prioritise what you really want to see and tick off your most important items first. Although closing time is 7pm, things start to wind down a little around 6pm. That’s fine if you’re at a bar in Pavillon 3, but by the time we got to Pavillon 8 to see the dogs (after spending too long in Pavillon 3), they had all gone home.
There are restaurants and bars everywhere, so you won’t go hungry or thirsty, and they’re a good place to sit down and rest a little. Bring your own water to keep hydrated. Toilets are relatively plentiful but it can be tricky to find them in amongst all the stalls and signage, which brings us to…
You need a map
For forward planning, you can download the map; you’ll also find detailed maps of each pavillon so you can plan your sortie with military precision.
When you arrive, pick up a full-sized map from an information stand – there’s one in each pavillon, including at the entrance to the biggest, Pavillon 3, where you’ll find the stars of the show.
See the cows (and pigs, sheep, goats…)
Even if they’re not high priority on your list, stop by and see the animals in Pavillon 1. It’s a reminder of the importance of agriculture (and particularly livestock farming) in French culture to see the ranks of beasts and the people standing around admiring them. Some of the cows are almost elephant-sized – hunt down the famed Charolais beef cows and the rare Bretonne Pie-Noir (a rare little dairy cow – one of their number, Fine, is the ‘muse’ of the Salon this year). These are some pampered bovines – don’t be surprised to see their handlers cleaning their bums and covering them with glitter as they approach the show ring, neck bells clanging. It can be disconcerting to see pigs peacefully snoozing while mere steps away, stalls sell cornets overflowing with charcuterie. But it’s good to see (and smell) where all that cheese you’re consuming originates.
Allow plenty of time to eat and drink
Pavillon 3 is a veritable tour of France by tastebud. It’s organised by region; one moment you’re surrounded by Breton cider and crepes and salted caramel gourmandises, the next, you realise that everyone around you is sitting at a little bar holding a Champagne flute (this map shows you which region is where). You notice the cheese count rise when you hit Normandy; cross over to Aveyron and there’s saucisson everywhere; in the Alsace section we noted a higher likelihood of groups of drunken singers.
Many stallholders hold their plates of goodies to taste just behind the bar, which means you have an excuse to engage them in chat about their products – a great chance to practise your French and discover things you didn’t know. Our never-seen-before finds of the day were a delicacy that consists of a dried magret de canard stuffed with foie gras, and this arresting little chevre-based cake, torteau fromagé, from Poitou-Charentes.
Cheese and wine are constant themes through all the 13 regions, and this is a great opportunity to seek out varieties you haven’t tried or unknown producers of your established favourites. As beer lovers, we were also pleased to see a strong turnout from France’s many small brewers. It’s worth hunting out the Brasserie du Mont Blanc (in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region) to taste their beer brewed with génépi – an Alpine botanical from the same family used to make absinthe – a gold-medal winner this year.
The big tips for foodies: don’t underestimate how long you’ll need to see and taste your way through this section – it’s huge. And consider bringing a trolley. You’ll want to buy, and for heavy things (like wine) you don’t want to be constrained by how much you can carry in two hands. And remember – Pavillon 5 is devoted to food from France’s overseas territories and the rest of the world, so conserve some of your appetite for that!