We all love strolling through a good market.
The market, as a source of fresh food as well as other products, is an integral part of France's culture, history and tradition.
Most towns and large villages hold markets once a week; but in larger towns, markets may take place twice a week, or even every day.
Typical French market stalls offer local produce often straight from the farm including fruit and vegetables, cheeses and other local produce/products. Even in Paris, fruit and vegetable markets can be found in every district of the city.
Other speciality markets include antique or brocante markets as well as flee markets many of which are found in Paris.
Markets are usually open and outdoor in the town square; however, most French towns also have covered markets (marché couvert often called Les Halles), which are a permanent structure, occupied by an array of market stalls.
A few markets, notably specialised markets, are very well known including the flea market at the Porte de Clignancourt in Paris, the flower market in Nice, the Christmas markets in Strasbourg, the olive markets in Provence, the fish market round the old port in Marseille, wine markets in Bordeaux, truffle markets in the Perigord and gastronomic markets in Perigueux.
The largest markets in provincial France are often known as fairs (foires) and are usually held once or twice a year eg the international antique foire (largest outside Paris) held in Isle sur la Sorgue at Easter and mid August.
For a lot of people, visiting a French food market is one of the greatest pleasures of being in France. Here's our selection of things to know about them before you go, including how to find out where they are and why you should make the trip at all.
Rows of stalls packed with seasonable vegetables, delicious meat and cheeses, French markets are a great way to sample French lifestyle at its best.
About Market Days in Provence
Market days are a way of life in Provence. They originated in the 12th century, when farmers and craftsmen would come to nearest market town to sell their wares, or engage in bartering agreements.
Not much has changed since those days - the market is still the place to come for locally grown produce of all shapes & sizes. Check out on line to find out specific dates and times of markets and other events throughout the year.
Types of market
You can expect to find two types of market - the farmers market and the Provencal market.
The farmers market is where you'll find the fruit and vegetable of the local region on sale, plus meat from the butcher, bread and cakes from the baker, cheeses, herbs & spices. Anything to do with food really! This is the kind of market that all the larger villages offer. Prices tend to be higher than you would find in the supermarket, but the taste and the quality of market-bought goods simply does not compare to the mass produced, anemic fruit & veg in the local Super U. The climate in Provence lends itself so beautifully to farming that much of the produce in the market is organically grown and likely to have been picked the day before.
The Provencal market (Marche Provencal) tends to be much larger, with all the fresh produce described above, with the addition of clothing, fabrics (napkins & tablecloths are most popular), ceramics and other local crafts, costume jewellery, leather goods - the list goes on...
Flea markets are also popular - they are known as Marche aux Puces or La Brocante (secondhand goods). They tend to occur once a month at selected locations, usually on a Sunday.
Provence is a well known destination amongst antiques hunters, with people coming from all over the world to find their special piece of history to take home with them. From antique furniture, to jewellery and mirrors, there is a grand selection available - including some genuine antiques!
L'Isle sur la Sorgue is the best known town for antiques - it has many serious antiques shops along with international fairs & markets. There are several antiques arcades open throughout the week. The dealers here are more likely to converse with you in English and can arrange international shipping, but don't expect to find many bargains here. For a wider selection in terms of goods & price, try the weekly flea market held every Sunday morning. The stalls line the series of canals that run through Isle sur la Sorgue - it makes for lovely day out for the occasional browser, but be prepared to mix with the hundreds of other day trippers visiting the market.
If you are looking for something slightly cheaper but still Provencal in style, look out for 'Brocantes' (flea markets). The bigger ones tend to be in the main cities. Avignon hosts a flea market on Sunday mornings in Place des Carmes (starts at 6.30am and it's worth getting there early!). Across the river in Villeneuve-les-Avignon, the flea market is held every Saturday morning in Place du Marche & Avenue de Verdun, and offers probably better value than it's neighbour.
Aix en Provence holds antiques & bric-a-brac markets on Tuesdays, Thursdays & Saturdays on Place Verdun. During July & August, antiques dealers and artisans show their wares on the Place Jeanne d'Arc & Cours Sextius. In addition, you will find a number of antique boutiques in the city, with a cluster to be found on Rue Manuel & Rue Emeric David, just to the west of Boulevard Carnot in the centre.
In Bouches du Rhone, Arles has a flea market on the first Wednesday of every month on the Boulevard des Lices.
Of course, many of the villages that you will pass through in Provence will have an antiques shop, so keep your eyes peeled as you pass down the main street. Something else to look out for are the Vide Greniers - these are more like car boot sales than professional sellers. Vide Greniers translates as 'empty attic' so you never know what you may find - a pile of tat or a hidden gem!
Here's a list of things to know to help you navigate them like an expert :
A hundred new markets are born every year in France with communities using them to revitalise city centres.
And while there was a period of time when consumers were being lured away by big supermarkets, the popularity of traditional markets is once again one the rise.
There are lots (and lots) of them.
There are 10,683 food markers in France. So you are never really that far from one if you do your research.
You won't get everything in one place.
Of course, French markets are wonderful but they aren't convenience stores where you can get it all in one go. And that is one of the reasons they're so attractive, after all.
At most markets, especially the best ones, specialty food from the local area will be on sale so go with an open mind about what you're having for dinner that night.
When to arrive ?
The stalls usually open from 8am-9am in the morning and if you're driving, the earlier you arrive the more likely you are to get a good parking spot.
But as the morning wears on the market will get more lively so you might find you want to stick around for a few hours.
Sunday is (sometimes) a day of rest...and Monday might be too.
It's not a hard and fast rule but food markets don't always happen on a Sunday.
This was originally down to religious reasons but even as people go to church less and less, it has remained a tradition.
For others, Monday might be the day off so if you're relying on markets to eat, it may be wise to stock up on enough food to last you from Saturday through until Tuesday.
Don't haggle ....
A French market isn't really the setting for a good haggle, with prices already set.
And it's a good idea to bring as many small notes and change as you can - paying with the right money will be appreciated.
Market halls versus outdoor markets
There is a distinction between the markets that take place in covered halls and those that happen outside. While indoor markets are often open every weekday, outdoor markets usually happen two or three times a week, depending on the size of the village, town or city.
Follow the locals
Don't be put off by a big crowd around a stall, this probably means the quality of the produce is top notch. Especially if the crowd is mostly made up of local French people.
One of the reasons it can be hard to keep track of when and where the markets are taking place is that some will only happen at certain times of the year...which brings us on to our next point...
The most reliable source to get practical information about markets is still the town hall itself (or the town's website).
That's because it's the Mayor and the City Council who have jurisdiction over the organization of the markets.
But French markets have caught up with the times and you'll also find an interactive map online.
They can be difficult to navigate...even once you've arrived
French markets can be happen on a large scale so it's usually a good idea to plan your route around them, if possible.
Look at how people are moving through them and see if it's a case of navigating a series of small alleys or moving around public square. Either way, keep in mind the essentials you are looking to buy.
There are lots of good reasons to visit them
Choosing to shop at food markets in France rather than getting everything from a supermarket gives you the chance to eat fresh, seasonal produce, contribute to the local economy and learn a bit more about what you're buying and where it comes from.
It's also a way to take back control of what you eat because if you cook you're own food from ingredients bought from a farmer down the road, you don't have to worry about what else might have gone in there like you do with pre-prepared food.
And once you become a familiar face, it's a chance to do your shopping with a bit of socialising thrown in.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions
It's not a good idea to touch the fruit and vegetables (just imagine if everyone was doing it!) but you are welcome to point to or tell them which ones you'd like.
Similarly, if you're buying a rotisserie chicken, don't be afraid to ask for some of the juices to to go with it or ask the fishmonger to clean and gut the fish for you.
Oh, and remember that most vendors will be more than happy to let you have a taste of the produce before you buy.
You will need to keep an eye on your place in the line as queuing isn't observed as much in France as it is in other countries like the UK.
Make sure you know who was in front of you and make eye contact with the vendor to let them know that you're there to buy.
Discover the charm of French markets first hand on the 3 May 2020 'Country Roads France in Style' tour.