The markets of France are known the world over for their fabulous, fresh produce and lively atmosphere. Buying your vegetables, fruit, cheese, bread and other food stuffs from a market adds another level to the whole shopping experience and is a great way to really feel the culture of France. French gastronomy is UNESCO listed and no wonder, it’s such an important part of French daily life.
In the north of France there are hundreds of street markets and for those visiting Calais on a day trip, here are five of my favourite markets:
1 Etaples-sur-Mer Market
Held on a Friday morning in Place du Général de Gaulle, this is the housewives favourite! Veg, fish, meat and all manner of lovely foods are here, plus household goods and clothes. It stands out for its very French atmosphere. Set in the main square and surrounding streets in an authentic fishing village where you’ll find plenty of terrific cafés and restaurants. Fancy fish and chips? Pop to SoFish (16 Boulevard de l’Impératrice), it’s tiny but they make the best fish and chips in northern France according to Elle Magazine and Paris Match. I have of course tried it for myself (several times) and can confirm they’re right! Delicious batter, the freshest fish, crunchy chips and piquant tartar sauce make this place an absolute winner. Head to BiboVino (13 Place du Général de Gaulle) for a glass of wine or a beer in a friendly atmosphere and some of the best wine you’ll ever have the opportunity to try. It’s a new concept where you buy by the glass, served with nibbles and you can buy a box of the wine you like to take home. It’s way cheaper than buying by the bottle and just as good (and lasts longer).
2 Le Touquet Market
The Saturday morning listed art deco market is brilliant (the fish market is open daily). This place is a hive of activity and there are some great stalls selling such diverse items as wicker baskets and very good second hand hotel linen. The shops in Le Touquet are terrific, selling specialities like china at a crazy cheap price, marshmallows, chocolate and some of the best boulangeries you’ll ever find in France. There are loads of places to eat out – some are expensive, this is after all Paris on Sea and much loved by Parisians who head here for weekends in their fabulous villas. Head to Chez Perard (67 Rue de Metz) for the best fish soup in France, it’s exported to some of the best restaurants in the country. In fact they’re so proud of it here that if you order it from the menu – you can have a top up! They also have a tiny and very special oyster bar where the locals stop for a glass of wine and a fresh fish snack.
3 St Omer Market
Saturday morning, lovely market in front of the Renaissance style town hall. This market has a great atmosphere and the best vegetables anywhere in the area – straight from the marshes where they’re grown close by. Friendly, colourful, vibrant and all in a fabulous, authentic, architecturally beautiful setting. Watch the bakers make fresh meringue in the bakery and visit some of the best cake shops this side of Paris in this lovely town. There’s plenty to do and see here and lots of restaurants but don’t miss De Drie Kalders (18 Place du Maréchal Foch), upstairs is like a French granny’s parlour, downstairs is quirky and filled with authentic artefacts and bits n pieces hang from the ceiling. It’s a great menu and the food is delicious.
4. Boulogne-sur-Mer Markets
Wednesday and Saturday morning, Place Dalton. Fish market daily May to October. Sunday morning Place Vignon. The big market at Place Dalton is bustling and full of character. Grab your basket and fill it with goodies to enjoy later. Don’t miss a visit to the nearby shop of Philippe Olivier (43 Rue Adolphe Thiers), one of the top cheese affineurs (someone who matures cheese) in France – you’ll smell his shop before you see it! An absolute must-see is the Old Town, perched on a hill, enclosed by ramparts, it looks like a film set with its beautiful architecture. Wander the rue de Lille and enjoy a delicious meal at one of the many cafes or restaurants and squeeze into the Vole Hole, a tiny pub right by the incredible Basilica de Notre Dame.
5. Hesdin Market
Thursday morning in the main square and the streets around. This lovely market town has a great atmosphere and lures locals from miles around. In the summer there are free evening concerts in the square and there are enough bars, cafes and restaurants to keep everyone happy. Head to the Belle Epoque (30 Rue Daniel Lereuil) for a French brasserie experience and the friendliest staff ever, or buy your lunch at the market and head to the forest on the outskirts of town for a fab al fresco picnic.
From time to time, markets are closed for annual fairs so do check the tourist offices websites to ensure the market you want to visit is open.