Last summer, my family was fortunate to vacation in Paris. It was an incredible experience that allowed us to enjoy new places, traditions, holidays, foods - and sports too. On our very first day in the City of Lights we stumbled upon Paris Plages, an annual summertime festival that turns the banks of the Seine River into a sand-covered beach paradise full of seasonal games, festivities and libations. We were immediately drawn to the petanque courts set up on one end of the river bank, and enviously watched as experienced players pitched their boules in hopes of victory. At that moment, we were smitten with the sport and couldn't wait to try our hand at it.
For those of you not familiar with the sport, petanque traces its origins to Provence and is said to be similar to horseshoes. Players try to toss or roll hollow steel balls as close as possible to a cochonnet (or wooden target), taking turns into one of the teams ends up nearest to the cochonnet. You can find the complete rules on the Petanque America website.
Lucky for us, we had our chance to take a novice turn on a petanque court on a quiet weekday morning before it was time for us to bring our vacation to a close. With our "boules" in hand, we headed out to our designated court and quietly learned the game under the Parisian summer sun. In less than an hour, we felt like more accomplished novices and pledged to find a way to continue to build our skills - and burgeoning passion - for the sport at home in Chicago.
A Petanque Club in Chicago - Who Knew?
We were excited to find out that there is a dedicated petanque club located right in the Chicago area. Headquartered in the western suburbs, the Chicago Petanque Club brings together people of all ages, backgrounds and skill levels together to play the French sporting pastime at various courts and fields around Chicago.
The club was started by Dan Danielson, who got hooked on the game during a previous vacation to France. While on a sightseeing tour, Dan's guide introduced the group to petanque. Dan, like my family, was immediately drawn to the sport and looked for local resources when he returned home to the Chicago area. On a whim, Dan started the Chicago Petanque Club blog and in no time, he started hearing from other local enthusiats that were interested in playing the French sport right here in the Windy City.
Slowly a core group started coming together to play petanque at Memorial Park in west suburban Wheaton. Today, the club has about 12 regular members to who regularly head to the Wheaton park on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9 a.m. Players also hit the petanque courts in Forest Park Community Park in Forest Park and McGuane Park in Chicago.
The club also participates in special events, including the Petanque Picnic with the Alliance Francaise of DuPage County. The event, the third of which to be held this summer, will take place at Memorial Park in Wheaton on Sunday, August 25 from 12 - 3 p.m. As with all Chicago Petanque Club events, all are welcome to come and try their hand at petanque.
Fueling Our International Sporting Passion with Bocce, Too
Petanque is often confused with the Italian sport of bocce. While petanque players toss their boules like horseshoes, bocce players bowl their balls down the court aiming to get their ball closest to the jack (or boccino). Petanque balls are hollow, about the size of an orange, and tossed palm down, while bocce balls are larger and solid, about the size of a grapefruit, and usually rolled palm up. Bocce needs to be played on smooth, flat courts, while petanque can be played on almost any terrain.
I am thrilled that fans of bocce can also try their hand at the sport at several places in Chicago. As I recently mentioned in a post on exploring Chicago's Little Italy with your family, two public bocce ball courts are nestled into between storefronts and apartment buildings across from Conte di Savoia (1438 W. Taylor St.) on a quiet stretch of Taylor Street.
Earlier this month, the newly formed Wicker Park Bocce Club, founded by Alicia Harvey, Alex P. Gara and Ben Tudor, celebrated the grand opening of its first pair of bocce courts in what used to be an empty lot at 1944 W. Crystal Street. Bocce players can stop into nearby Small Bar (2047 W. Division Street) to rent a set of bocce balls (free with identification) and get in a few games.
Later this month, you also can head to an unlikely local to play bocce - Chicago's Union Station (225 S. Canal St.). Thanks to a winning idea submitted to the Activate Union Station 2013 Placemaking Chicago Contest, people can stop by the station from Saturday, August 24 through Monday, September 2 to pitch some "stones," play tetherball and enjoy other fun activities not often seen or experienced in the busy Chicago transit hub.
Of course, anyone looking to play bocce year round can head to one of the indoor courts at Pinstripes in Oakbrook, Northbrook or South Barrington. Be sure to try to visit on a Sunday through Thursday from open to close or Friday and Saturday from open until 5 p.m. for bocce for $5 per person for hour - a better deal for families. You can find the hours and prices for each location on the Pinstripes website.
Fall Fun with Petanque and Bocce in Chicago
With the summer sun beginning to wane and school starting up soon, we're aiming to spend our fall weekends getting in as many rounds of petanque and bocce as possible.
With all of these options right here in Chicago, I'm more glad than ever to be the proud owner of a brand new set of petanque boules gifted to me by my wonderful and thoughtful husband. Let the games begin!
Do you enjoy playing petanque and bocce? Where do you play the popular French and Italian sports in Chicago? Please share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.