Lovin' the Loire

Boules anyone? In Amboise, it’s more than a club

Players at Amboise’s boulodrome usher in the spring with their first outdoor competition

The regulars at Amboise’s boulodrome are more than just boules enthusiasts. They belong to a close-knit community with a long tradition of bonhomie.

“It’s always lively, even on rainy days, when you’ll find folks playing cards in the clubhouse,” says Michel Richer, one of many volunteers at the boules grounds named after Marcel-Orillard, a soldier who was killed in World War II.

‘This club saved my life’

The first major outdoor event of the year at the club took place on a sunny afternoon in late April, a tournament for seniors who took eagerly to the 37 boules courts arrayed side by side at the facility, which is open seven days a week.

Among them was Christian Tapia, a loyal competitor since 1961, when he was just 12 years old. Under the blazing sun, the competitors took to the courts, with spectators seated on benches or folding chairs that they brought in anticipation of a large crowd.

Another, Dominique, was there with her partner, Éric. Having become a registered member just two years ago, she had been looking forward to her second chance to compete.

Although most people associate boules — also known as pétanque — with the Provence region in southeastern France, it has become popular in the Loire Valley as well, says Thierry Rognon, club president since 2016.

Events all year round

The club counts 140 members, 119 of whom are registered players. In the clubhouse, dozens of trophies are on display, won in tournaments all over France.

Michel Richer, the club’s events manager, juggles a full calendar of competitions year-round. “Boules is a game where you get to know a lot of people, because you can play just about anywhere,” he says. “Just for starters, every weekend there are qualifiers for the national championship.”

Richer, a former aeronautical engineer who has been playing boules since he was 10, ticked off the upcoming events: After the veterans tournament in Amboise, members were set to travel to nearby Monts for men’s and women’s triples, then farther west to Langeais for a men’s singles meeting, and to Chinon for women’s doubles.

But boules isn’t just about competition. Dominique Rogatien, a member for 60 years, recalls how the loss of his wife in 2006 plunged him into a depression and he turned to the club for solace. “This community saved my life,” said the 86-year-old widower, who can remember when the current court area was a vineyard.

“As for the Provençal origin of the sport, the members of the Amboise boulodrome pay homage to the game’s roots by indulging in pastis at large dinners,” smiles Rognon, referring to the emblematic aperitif of Provence.