GREAT ESCAPE: Northern California Renaissance Faire

A visit to Elizabethan England? Surely you joust.

If you’ve ever dreamed of living in days of old when knights were bold, it’s a sure bet that you’ll enjoy the Northern California Renaissance Faire, one of the largest events of its kind in the United States. This re-creation of a 1580s English village at Casa de Fruta includes jousting, jesting, stage shows, strolling entertainment, arts and crafts vendors, and of course, traditional English foods and libations, beginning this weekend and continuing Saturdays and Sundays through Oct. 16.

What to do here: The RenFaire offers a constant barrage of entertainment, most notably the Tournament of Champions, with jousting on horseback and armed combat to thrill the crowds. It’s offered each day at noon and 3 p.m. Music, dance, comedy and stunts fill seven stages — there’s even bawdy parodies of Shakespeare called “Fakespeare” — as well as the performers who populate the town, portraying washerwomen, peasants, maidens, pubkeepers, minstrels and more. Highlighting each day is a visit from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I and Sir Francis Drake, who hold court and greet visitors. A full schedule can be found here.

You can either get into the act, or be a tourist in the village of Willingtown, as the RenFaire folks call their temporary abode. Part of the fun of the event is dressing up in period garb — you can either wear your own or rent it at the faire’s costume shop. But if you’re not so inclined, then come as you are.

Visitors can try their hand at juggling, darts or archery, or shop among the many fine arts and crafts booths, many of which offer items for RenFaire attire or medieval fun, like armor and chain mail, swords, romantic clothing, leatherwork, and jewelry. A wide variety of food is for sale, everything from shepherd’s pie to banana crepes. And of course, ale, mead and wine will be flowing at the Dancing Pigge and other onsite pubs.

And even more to like: Most weekends of the RenFaire have a theme, such as Bacchanal-Masquerade on Sept. 24-25, Pirate Invasion Oct. 1-2, and Fantasy (think fairies and other magical creatures) Oct. 8-9. Closing ceremonies are held the last weekend, Oct. 15-16.

A Celtic rock concert series is also offered throughout the run of the faire, starting with Tempest this Saturday at 5:45 p.m. and continuing with Molly’s Revenge Sept. 24, Culann’s Hounds Oct. 1, Brother on Oct. 8 and Wicked Tinkers Oct. 15.

About the Renaissance Faire: The Northern California Renaissance Faire (first known as the Renaissance Pleasure Faire) is one of the oldest such events in the United States. It was launched in 1963 by lovers of history and medieval times as both education and entertainment, providing the feel of an old English village enhanced by street actors, stage shows, and swordplay.

Originally held in Novato, the RenFaire has moved around Northern California in the past few decades, finally coming to rest at Casa de Fruta in 2002. It is now a multi-weekend event held during September and October under the direction of Play Faire Productions.

Directions and phone: Take the exit for Highway 152 east; from there it’s about 14 miles to the Casa de Fruta ramp. Look for signs for the Renaissance Faire parking lot. Cost is $5 per car or $15 for closer VIP parking.

This Saturday and Sunday, general admission tickets are two for the price of one; download a coupon from the website and present it at the RenFaire box office. Regular one-day admission price is $25, with children 12 and under admitted free. Discounts are available for groups or for those who attend multiple days. Event hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Information: www.norcalrenfaire.com or (408) 847-FAIR.


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