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MAIN Arrow to Winter Sports Sports Arrow to Petanque Petanque

Petanque is a traditional favorite of amateur sportsman in France. But it's only when you travel around French towns and villages that will you pick up on the fact often missing from French tourism guidebooks.

villagers playing petanque
In St. Paul Vence, near Nice, players
compete in a game of petanque
in the village square.

So what is petanque and how do you play?

Petanque (or with the correct French accent, Pétanque), is pronounced "pay-tahnk" and is one of Europe's most popular outdoor games.

The sport is quickly gaining an international following and growing in popularity as more people are introduced to the simplicity and fun of playing.

The game is extremely easy to learn — but challenging to master.

Anyone who can roll a relatively small steel ball (called a boule) can enjoy the sport. Preschoolers and their grandparents have an equal chance to win a match. Families and friends can play together, almost anywhere, without having to invest in expensive equipment, special uniforms or sports club membership fees.

Throwing or rolling a steel ball at a smaller wooden ball (called a cochonnet) — or at an opponent's steel ball to knock it away from the cochonnet — is the basic action in the game. The simple toss is just the beginning of the technique behind a good petanque match or in fierce competition in the International Championships.

Whichever team has the boule closest to the cochonnet when all the players have finished throwing wins. Take a look at the video for a more complete explanation of scoring.

The origins of the game go back at least as far as the Greeks and Romans The Greeks used round stones as the boules and the Romans used wooden balls covered with iron. During the Middle Ages, boules players were called "bouleurs".

Like golf in Scotland, Petanque was banned in France during the 14th century. Both Charles IV and Charles V outlawed the sport which had become such a popular leisure activity for knights and their ladies that it interfered with training in archery and other more warlike, useful exercises.

By the 16th century the game prevailed. Pope Julius II brought together the first recorded international Petanque competitions. Whether through superior skills, divine intervention or the inability of anyone to tell the Pope he was wrong... his team, made up of the top Italian boulers, won in play against the French, the Venetians and the Spanish!

In Italian, boules translates to bocce or boccia. There are two types of Italian bocce, Volo and Rafa. Volo Bocce is exactly the same as Petanque. Although the games are very similar, the more popular Rafa Bocce uses composite balls, throws the ball overhand and has other differences in play and rules.

Learn more about Petanque, one of the favorite worldwide recreational activities and a very serious sport, with additional info on competitions, organizations, the sport's origins, the rules, tactics, tips from the pros, how to buy the best equipment for your game and other little known facts...

More about petanque around the Web:
- Not affiliated with any group, this community site has been up and running for a decade and is chock full of all sorts of goodies on how to play, how to win, pictures, videos, links... you name it...

La Boule Bleue - Tips from the pros - The site is the home page of a company that sells equipment for Petanque. The French version works fine, but some of the English pages are missing. The advice from the pros tips are really helpful with animated illustrations for shooting and much more. The create your own boule pages walk you through customizing your own steel balls. Check out the entire site for great info and resources on the game and it's traditions.

BOULES (Pétanque) - Discover France offers a great primer on how to play the game, what equipment you'll need and how to choose the boules that fit your playing style.

Devon Petanque - a region of the English Petanque Association - The calendar, results and photo gallery may not interest anyone outside the local UK region, but the rest of the site is a worldwide resource for anyone interested in the sport...

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