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MARKETS IN PROVENCE
Markets are a way of life in France...and nowhere more so than in Provence. Strolling around and browsing the delicious local produce and traditional French wares is one of life’s simple pleasures. Most of the fruit, vegetables, meat and fresh fish have been locally sourced or passionately grown by its producers, and vendors are extremely proud of what they’re selling. To ask to sample before you buy is expected, and again, one of the joys in visiting a Provencal market. Picking up a sun-drenched tomato or a juicy peach and devouring it whilst strolling around is another. But it’s not just food, you’ll find hand-sewn clothes, antiques, traditional crafts and of course scrumptious picnic fare – baguettes, croissants, mouthwatering pickles and delicious wines.
L’Isle Sur La Sorgue Floating Market
If you’re thinking of visiting the beautiful island city of L’Isle Sur La Sorgue in August you may just witness one of the most spectacular events on the first Sunday of the month: the floating market. Here on the many streams that criss-cross the island, flat-bottomed boats, known as Nego-Chins, make their way from bank to bank selling their wares. With boats festooned in colourful flowers and filled with local produce, sold by farmers in Provencal costume, the sight is simply wonderful. Only on for one morning, it’s worth sticking around until the end when the boats form a line and the sellers sing the ‘Coupo Santo’ – Provence’s traditional celebratory song – a jolly end to the morning. Following this, treat yourself to a sumptuous lunch overlooking the emerald-green river, go for an afternoon bike ride alongside
The pretty town of Aix-en-Provence, birthplace of painter Cezanne, is a must-see on the tour of ‘most beautiful villages in France,’ and is the perfect setting for a Provencal market. Apart from Sundays, every day is market day in Aix-en-Provence, and the atmosphere is almost carnival-like as the stall-holders chatter excitedly about their wares. The main event is in downtown Aix - a typical farmers market under the shady trees of Place Richelme. Here you’ll find an abundance of vivid colours in every fruit and vegetable imaginable – sensational peppers, tomatoes, beans, red currant, figs and apricots. And then there’s the cheeses matured to perfection, lovingly-aged hams and freshly baked baguettes for a heavenly lunch. After all that shopping, treat yourself to a coffee or something slightly stronger in one of the many pavement cafes and enjoy the hustle and bustle of market day from afar…
Aside from the main farmers market, which is on every day, Aix-en-Provence offers so much more. Looking for antiques and collectibles – head for Place de Verdun on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, or what about clothing? Visit Cours Mirabeau on a Tuesday and Thursday and peruse the Provençal style tablecloths, napkins and baskets alongside a wonderful collection of garments. And that’s not all, at the Place de l’Hotel de Ville you’ll find flower at stalls on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, and a lovely old antiquarian book stall on the first Sunday of each month. There really is something for every day of the week in this delightful picturesque town. If you enjoy shopping you won’t be disappointed.
Sunday in Isle sur la Sorgue, a charming riverside town renowned for its antiques galleries and especially the morning bric a brac and produce market held along the river quays. L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Held on a Sunday morning, this is by far the largest outdoor market in the Luberon region – a food market, flea market and antiques all in one pretty place. As home to so many antique shops, it seems the perfect place to hold a market and many come here to browse the shops and market, and along the way take refuge in one of the sidewalk cafes that line the picturesque streets.
Starting at 9am, it’s best to get there as early as possible, if not just for an early look at the stalls, to get a good parking space. Vendors sell anything from appetizing fruit and vegetables to cheeses, flowers, clothing, antiques, and collectables. You name it, you’ll find it here. The atmosphere is jovial and it’s not unusual to see the stalls buzzing with professional buyers from Paris and London, sourcing items for their clients. All in all, it’s a delightful island experience, even if you are just looking…
As the largest city in France, Arles, as you can imagine holds a fantastic market. This is another Provencal town that should be seen, but as you walk around its attractive sun-drenched houses you may feel like you’ve been there before, having graced so many of Vincent Van Gogh’s paintings. An artist’s paradise as well as a thriving city, it’s the perfect place for a traditional Provence market.
Held on Wednesdays and Saturdays, it is Saturday that sees a bigger crowd as the weekend visitors flood in. With stallholders lining the Boulevard des Lices, the town bursts into life as vendors invite you in to sample their produce they’ve lovingly grown, made or locally sourced – everything from fresh fish to laid-this-morning eggs to plump, juicy tomatoes. And it’s not just French produce, here you’ll see an array of Mediterranean influences too – chorizo from Spain, pasta from Italy. It’s an astonishing selection on offer.
Making your way around the market is a special experience, and it’s not just the food that’s tempting. The waft of lavender lingering in the breeze will reach you before you reach it. Yes, blocks of Provencal lavender soaps, hand-tied bouquets and oils are available, and who can resist that?
Whilst you’re walking around, grab one of the light-as-air pastries, unless you’ve already gorged yourself on too many samples of cheese and herby rotisserie chicken of course. There are other items on offer. Again, here you will see anything from lovely French children’s clothes to bags and kitchen utensils, but it is definitely the atmosphere that’s the real pull of Arles market. A hive of activity, gossip and excitement against a medieval city backdrop – it really doesn’t get much better.
Truffle Market, Carpentras, Avignon
Lover of all things truffle? Then you can’t go wrong visiting the lovely Provencal town of Carpentras during winter. Home to one of the region’s best truffle markets, every Friday, farmers and food vendors come together to sell this precious fungus – weighing it on scales, and wrapping and bagging it for locals, visitors and some serious foodies.
Harvested on the slopes of Mont Ventoux, the Vaucluse is one of France’s main truffle-producing regions, producing what is known as ‘black gold.’ Although the market opens at 9 o’clock in the morning, half an hour before it opens, smaller truffle producers sell their pickings to private buyers, so it might be wise to make an early appearance. You never know what you might get!
To add to the truffle fun, there's a Carpentras Truffle Festival in February featuring a brouillade party, gourmet workshops and excursions.
For a truly luxury gourmet experience, visit Les Halles in Avignon – the covered indoor market where you’ll find delicious local cheeses, breads, meats and fresh fish.
Place de l'Horlougue,the largest square in Avignon and heart of the city. Here you’ll find numerous cafes, bars and restaurants where you can enjoy a glass of local Provencal wine and marvel at some of the striking buildings all around. You won’t have any problems finding somewhere to eat in Avignon. Whether it’s at a vintage-style café, fine dining, an organic restaurant or a simple café for a sumptuous snack, the food is outstanding.
Nimes - Stop off at one of the delicious little cafes or restaurants dotted around the city. Noailles, a patisserie next to the Maison Caree, comes highly recommended. Or visit Les Halles, the central food market where you can enjoy local specialities such as brandade de morue – a puree of salt cod and olive oil. And finally, for something special – the rooftop restaurant on the Carre d’art, a striking glass and steel building, is a real treat.
Orange: If you’d rather eat out there are many little restaurants and cafes to visit. Try The Forum – a little French restaurant with no more than 20 spaces. Serving traditional, freshly-cooked cuisine, it’s worth booking early to nab one of the coveted tables. For a local dish, try and taste the Poulet à la Provençal while in the area.
Buy olives and ripe melons from Provence, grown in particular in the region surrounding Cavaillon.
There are many very good local vineyards producing excellent Côtes de Ventoux and Côtes du Lubéron, with tastings available at all the small domains.
For wine connoisseurs, the celebrated vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape await you.