Market days are an especially big deal throughout France, and nowhere more so than in Provence.
Market day: no single event better symbolizes the French preoccupation with fresh products and their strong ties to the farmer than the weekly market. And in no other region is it more celebrated than in Provence.
The importance of market days in France
Market days are an especially big deal throughout France. No single event better symbolizes the French preoccupation with fresh products and their strong ties to the farmer than the weekly market. And in no other region is it more celebrated than in Provence.You can find an endless array of products at Provençal markets, from clothing to crafts, art to antiques, pâtés to picnic fare (produce, meats, cheeses, crusty golden baguettes, and pastries).
The best of all market worlds may rest in the picturesque town of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, where, on Sunday mornings, a brilliant food marché tangles with an active flea market and a good selection of antiques. I like to sip a coffee at a sidewalk table at Café de France and enjoy the carnival-like scene.
French market traditions
Markets typically begin at about 8:00 in the morning and end by 1:00 in the afternoon. Set-up commences in the pre-dawn hours — a good reason not to stay in a main-square hotel the night before market day. Bigger towns may have two weekly markets, one a bit larger than the other, with more nonperishable goods. The biggest market days are usually on weekends, so that everyone can partake.
Perishable items are sold directly from the producers — no middlemen, no Visa cards — just really delicious, fresh produce. Samples are usually free, including small cups of locally produced wines or ciders. You’ll find different items throughout the season. In April and May, shop for asparagus (green, purple, or the prized white — after being cooked, these are hand-dipped in vinegar or homemade mayonnaise). In late spring, find strawberries, cherries, and stone fruits. From July through September, eggplant, tomatoes, zucchinis, and peppers come straight from the open fields. In the fall, stands sell game birds, other beasts of the hunt, and a glorious array of wild mushrooms. After November and throughout the winter, look for little (or big, depending on your wallet size) black truffles.
At the root of every good market experience is a sturdy shopping basket or bag. Most baskets are inexpensive, make for fun and colorful souvenirs, and come in handy for odd-shaped or breakable carry-ons for the plane trip home. With basket in hand, shop for your heaviest items first. You don’t want to put a kilo of fresh apples on top of your bread.