I get excited about Provençal markets the way other people get excited about Louboutin and Chanel. While they gasp over the perfect jacket or shoes with a shiny red-lacquered sole, I swoon at the sight of pumpkins, sheep cheese and cabbage plants. I’m missing out on haute couture and they’re missing nature’s bounty while our fragile planet can still deliver it. Unless they totter off to market in killer stilettos. It’s France so you never know, right?
France, Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece all place great emphasis on fresh ingredients in cooking, and shopping for them regularly. Forget shrink-wrapped veges and canned stuff. Ties to the land are quintessential characteristics of these cultures, as they are in Africa and Asia. It almost seems the easiest way to get to know a country. Markets are for everyone – locals, travellers and tourists. They’re time-honoured meeting places at the heart of communities. Studies have shown that being part of a community raises our happiness IQ. Even if you’re just passing through, visiting markets like these gives you a lovely taste of this connectedness which will linger on your tastebuds and in your heart long afterwards.
Why do I love markets? Colour, texture, smells, tastes, being outdoors and connecting to people instead of a checkout chick at the supermarket, although I’m sure she’s a lovely person if she ever had a second longer than to say hellohowareyou, without making eye contact. I like talking to people about what they produce because they’re always passionate about it – whether it’s artisan breads, organic lavender honey or potatoes. That passion is infectious. It’s life on a holistic level and delicious for young and old. A feast for all the senses. Provençal life is rooted in its countryside, towns and villages and these weekly gatherings of commerce which date back many centuries. The Apt market has been going for 900 years.
Provence is a melting pot of cultures – it is French and Mediterranean – and nowhere is it more obvious than at the markets. At the Arles market, particularly, you’ll find Tunisian and Moroccan spices (pictured above), Spanish saffron and fresh Italian pasta. I particularly love the abundant Aix-en-Provence markets, which also include books, bric a brac and who knows what.
Take a sturdy shopping basket or a shopping trolley bag. Unlike Greece where everyone picks up produce to examine the quality, in France it’s not the done thing. Please point to what you want to buy. But you will be given a sample to try, if you ask. If you’re having trouble finding the right change, hold out handful of coins and the vendor will take what is the correct price. They’re almost always honest. Bon appetit!
Travel Guide Tips for Provençal markets:
- Place des Prêcheurs: fruit and vegetables Tues, Thurs, Sat; flowers Mon, Wed, Fri, Sun.
- Place de Verdun, in front of the Law Courts: collectibles, antiques and crafts, and new and second-hand clothes. Tues, Thurs, Sat
- Place Richelme: a farmers’ market selling local produce (daily)
- Place de l’Hôtel de Ville (front of Town Hall): flowers Tues, Thurs, Sat and antiquarian and second-hand books on first Sunday of the month
- Cours Mirabeau: clothes and textiles Tues, Thurs
- Sat mornings. Has a 900-year history! Apt also has a farmer’s market every Tues evening, April – December in the cours Lauze de Perret
- Mid-week market with fresh produce on Émile Combes Boulevard
- The Saturday market (live animals and all!) is huge – the biggest in Provence – and stretches over 2km from the Boulevard des Lices to the Boulevard Clemenceau
- A flea market is held every first Wed of the month on the Boulevard des Lices
- Mon mornings
- Gargas, Merindol, Pertuis, St Martin de Castillon, Sault
- All held on Weds
- Tues morning. Get there by 8am to avoid the crowds
- Sun mornings, a fab food marché with a flea market and good selection of antiques.
- Wed 9am – 2 pm
- Tues, Thurs, Sat and Sun all day at the lavoir (washhouse)
- Saint Rémy-de-Provence:
- Wed the major market day with a smaller one on Sat. The market spreads across parking areas and squares around the northern and western parts of the Boulevards ringing the old town of St Rémy