Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Markets of Provence - Les marchés de Provence

A week from today we leave for France.  One of the things I'm most excited about is visiting the markets of Provence!

There are several types of markets in Provence.  The market , "le marché", is an integral part of life in virtually all French towns and large villages.  A town or village may have a market once or twice a week, or in larger towns they may be held daily.  The typical market offers everything from fresh fruits and vegetables, spices, olives, meats and cheeses, breads and pastries, and even jars of homemade tapenades and jams. The beauty of the market is that everything is fresh and items are often sold by the same local farmer that grew them. The markets are alive with energy and awash with vibrant colors and textures. All of your senses are heightened at the market - the sight of the fruits and vegetables beautifully displayed with care, the smell of fresh bread and pastries, the buzz of excitement and the underlying hum of conversation, the taste of fruits and cheeses - they all combine to make the market what I think of as a shopping "experience!"

Market in Nice France

Dried Fruits at Nice Market

Fish Vendor at Nice Market

Candy and Pastry Vendor at Nice Market

When it's market day in a town that I'm visiting, I always plan on eating breakfast and/or lunch at the market! Breakfast is typically a coffee and a warm croissant always served with butter and jam. (I NEVER even think of the word diet when I'm in France.) MH and I love to make a lunch of baguette, fresh goat cheese, homemade olive tapenade, fresh tomatoes and fruit. We travel these markets with plates, napkins, plastic "silverware" and a Swiss Army Knife that we pack in our suitcase to have at the ready for our first day at the markets! We make our own picnic and enjoy it as much as an expensive restaurant.  (O.k., o.k., maybe ALMOST as much as an expensive restaurant.)

The French shop these markets in the same way that we shop the supermarket or grocery store and have been shopping this way almost since they were born.  It is part of their everyday routine or way of life.  With a basket or woven bag on their arm, the French shop for staples such as bread and cheese or delicacies such as chocolates and truffles. Markets are also a social time where locals catch up on the latest news, gossip is exchanged and friends meet for conversation.  I always look forward to people watching at the market while enjoying a cup of coffee (Cafe Americana please! - 1/2 French coffee and 1/2 hot water!)

The largest markets in Provence are known as fairs (foires.) Fairs are traditional extended markets and often take place once or twice a year.  In a few places, they take place once a month. Today they are expanded versions of large weekly markets that attract the local vendors but also more vendors from a wider area. At a foire you'll usually find decorative iron work, clothes stalls, organic produce stalls, craft stalls, plus the typical fruit and vegetable sellers. 

Most French towns also have their own covered market, (marché couvert), which is a permanent structure filled with a variety of market stalls. In a "marché couvert", sometimes called "les Halles", most of the stalls will sell fresh fruit and vegetables. Other stalls carry meats, cheeses, fish, baked goods and olives.

There are also specialty markets to be found in Provence: antique, flea, book, flower, fine art, organic produce, wine, stamp, pottery and Christmas markets. Schedules for these can be found on-line or through local village notices and postings.

Flower Vendor at Nice Market

As an antique and junk hunter, the Brocante markets are my passion.  It's my equivalent of the the Super Bowl to a football fan. I can barely sleep the night before, afraid that I'll oversleep and not be one of the first hunters at the market and miss the treasures!

When you search for the local Brocante markets of Provence, please note there are different types of markets: 

Vide-greniers - Vide-grenier means "empty attic" in French. At this market you'll find that the locals have actually emptied out their attics and closets and are often selling their bits and pieces at bargain prices. As with any sale, the earlier you arrive, the better.  The hunt is the fun - you may find a small treasure! 

Brocante - At a Brocante you can find vintage junk, bric-a-brac, "almost antiques", and if you are incredibly lucky, real antiques. (Brocantes are also known as flea markets)  As with the fruit and vegetable markets, there is a Brocante somewhere in Provence every day of the week.  Typically the larger villages hold their Brocante Markets on Saturday and/or Sunday and usually have the larger number of vendor tables at their markets.  Smaller Brocantes can be found throughout the week in smaller towns and villages.

Antique - There are also several well known antique festivals held annually in France.  These are wonderful in that they bring a large number of Antique Dealers together in one venue over a specified period of time. It would be wonderful as an antique lover to travel during dates that would incorporate one of these just for the opportunity to see authentic and beautiful French antiques. I tried to make it to one of these this year but I had to change our travel dates (originally we were going to Provence specifically for the L'Isle sur la Sorgue Antique Festival.) These festivals typically showcase the more expensive, "authenticated" antiques.  If you are a purest and have the budget, (No and No for me!), you can find pedigreed antique pieces throughout France at these annual markets. Examples of these antique markets are: L'Isle sur la Sorgue Antique Festival, Bordeaux Salon des Antiquaires, and, believe it or not, the "National Festival of Antiques and Ham." 

Just to give you an idea of how many Brocante Markets there are to be enjoyed in Provence, tomorrow I'll post my tentative schedule for you to see!  So many markets...................so little time!

Au revoir, Mitty

1 comment:

  1. Take me with you MittyBleu.............