Without a doubt one of the best things to do when in Provence is to visit the markets. It doesn’t matter whether they are big or small; the markets are where you can really experience an authentic French way of life.
The market at Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
One of the largest markets in Provence is held every Sunday at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. The epitome of the Provençal markets, it is as picturesque as it is lively. Held in the town center along the banks of the beautiful Sorgue River, it is bursting at the seams with vendors. Lining the streets are ccenturies old plane trees which provide much needed shade. The Sorgue River is so crystal clear and clean that you can see the deep green vegetation dancing to the flow of the river current; the images of buildings glisten on the surface.
Voices ring out as eager town’s people and tourists flock to the market for the best pick of the day. Stalls are piled high with fruits and vegetables; you can actually smell the strawberries before you see them. It’s quite a sight to see a table piled high with baskets of the biggest, juiciest, reddest strawberries, and they are oh-so-delicious. The same can be said for the Cavaillon melons, named for the only region they grow in. On the next table you find huge wheels of cheese being sliced for tasting by sellers dressed in crisp white aprons. Fresh black and green olives, homemade saucisson and meats of all kind, sizes and shapes tempt customers. You will find other vendors offering beautiful silk scarves, exquisite fabrics made into tablecloths, napkins, tea towels and bedding (that you will only find in France). Local artists are on hand with their creations. The antiques market is well known and is the second largest in all of France after Paris. Here you will find second-hand goods of all kinds – fine china to furniture and fine artwork.
The market of St Saturnin-les-Apt
The village of St. Saturnin-les-Apt holds a market each Tuesday. It is one of the smaller markets in the area, rather quaint; it provides a very different experience. The big white and yellow umbrellas of all shapes and sizes set up in the early morning along the main street and central square. Here you will find all the fresh food stands, fruits and vegetables, cheese, olives, bread, seafood and chickens. Every market has its own unique chicken guy. As the chicken cooks to a beautiful golden brown the potatoes on the bottom of the rotisserie are cooked to perfection in the dripping fat, filling the entire area with an aroma that no one can resist. At all of the markets in the area you will find the lavender vendors. If you happen to visit from mid June to mid-August you will see lavender in full bloom throughout the Luberon. The distinct purple color, the texture and scent are simply delicious. At the market buy fresh lavender (in season) or dried in sachets or even by the bag ready to make into soap and lotions.
The market at Bonnieux
Bonnieux, a quintessential French village of 1400, holds a market every Friday. It starts at the bottom of the hill by the “new” church, climbs up the hill and spills out into the big square above the church. Starting at the bottom of the hill and you’ll find the basket vendor with his colourful display. Imagine ten meters of vibrant bright yellows, greens, reds and purples, a sight to behold. Then there’s “the Hat Guy” who sells charming Panama hats for both men and women; handmade from natural fibers, they are exquisite. At the top of the hill are fruit and vegetable stalls, delectable strawberries, luscious melons, all picked fresh, and the most succulent vegetables imaginable. The display of purple garlic is quite a sight. There is a local farmer from outside Bonnieux who stands in his casquette with a huge smile and loud voice, greeting everyone who passes by. He sells whatever is in season be it the tastiest, biggest claret colored cherries ever or strawberries or courgettes. You will find him at several of the markets throughout the area as you will many of the other vendors.
The markets provide local residents with their provisions for the day or the week. They also provide a wonderful sense of camaraderie, a sense of pride and belonging. Local cafés fill to the brim as the residents and visitors gather to greet one another, swap stories and catch up on all the latest gossip. This is what the markets are all about…
Cheryl Warren is from Canada. She loves France and especially Provence.
More information on the markets of Provence: www.provenceguide.com