Southern France: Farmers Markets of Provence
Summer in Provence
Visiting Provence in the summer is not complete without taking a trip to the marchés paysans or farmers markets. These marvelous markets are held on different days of the week; they usually start very early in the morning and last until about noon or so. Almost every town in Provence has a farmers market! Some are small, others are bigger where hundreds of vendors set up stalls in the town square to sell anything and everything!
Shopping at a farmers market in Provence is an unforgettable experience! You will be amazed by the abundance of fresh local produce for sale, and other enticing saveurs de Provence specialties like olives, cheese, honey, and truffles! Besides the charming setting and relaxing atmosphere, Provence farmers markets also give you a wonderful opportunity to interact with local residents and get a real taste of the French countryside lifestyle. Parlez-vous Français?
This article features 5 Don't-Miss farmers markets of Provence: Apt, Coustellet, Bonnieux, Sault, and Aix-en-Provence. Each market has its own ambiance and charm, reflecting the unique characteristics of the hosting town.
An old tradition
Farmers markets are a way of life in Provence. It’s a vital part of the region’s rich agricultural heritage. It’s also an ancient tradition! For centuries, Provençal farmers have been selling and trading farm products in their village squares. Villagers have been getting meats and vegetables from these outdoor marchés long before the invention of supermarkets! Shopping at a Provence farmers market, you will have a chance to partake in this age-old ritual. Enjoy and immerse yourself in the local culture!
The pursuit of freshness
French people, in general, are passionate about fresh fruits and vegetables, along with wines and cheeses. They go shopping at the farmers market because they know they can get the freshest and most authentic goods – all locally grown or made. At the market, you will meet many farmers who sell the crops which they grow themselves! Take notice that many of the fruits and vegetables for sale - from peaches to prunes, haricots verts to heirloom tomatoes - are clearly marked with the name of the farm or orchard in the region. A lot of them are certified organic, or at least free of chemical pesticides and fertilizers!
A weekly social event
In Provence, market day is an anticipated community event where town folks put on their Sunday best to catch up and socialize with friends and neighbors. At the market, you will see a delightful mix of local residents, young and old, families with children – all having fun, shopping and visiting with one another, and enjoying a beautiful summer day.
Five fantastic farmers markets of Provence
With over 300 stalls, this market is a sight to behold! It’s considered to be the largest farmers market in the region and probably one of the oldest. According to French historians, this market has been going since the 12th century in this tiny sleepy town! The town practically comes alive every Saturday morning with the market! In addition to fresh fruits and vegetables, vendors also sell handwoven fabrics, bed and table linens, straw hats and baskets, herbs, spices, and an incredible assortment of Provençal pottery. Foodies and gourmet chefs flock to this market for local favorites like wines, cheeses, truffles, sausages, pâtés, and olives. It’s the ultimate farm-to-table experience!
This large market is held every Sunday in the farming town of Coustellet. The main road that runs through the town separates the market into 2 sections: one side is the farmers market, the other is a flea market. Huge selections of fruits and vegetables! Artisan bread, pastries, nougat (traditional Provençal treats made with egg white, almonds or pistachios, and lavender honey) are bountiful for both buying and sampling! Flowers and plants for the garden are also for sale. A plethora of handmade crafts, clothes, leather goods, houseware, books, and collectibles can also be found in the flea market section. After shopping at this market, walk over to the nearby Lavender Museum of Provence for a fascinating educational tour of the lavender farming and essential oil distilling process - from the past to the present day.
Listed as one of the “Les plus beaux villages perchés de France” (Most beautiful perched villages of France), Bonnieux hosts a farmers market every Friday morning. Stalls overflow with colorful summer fruits like fig, strawberry, apricot, melon, and baskets full of newly harvested vegetables like cabbage, pepper, zucchini, and eggplant. Much of this produce comes straight from the farm fields below the town. Fruit jams, olive tapenade, anchoïade (a classic Provençal spread made of anchovy, garlic and olive oil) are also for sale, as well as delectable food-to-go choices like poulet roti (rotisserie chicken) and jambonneau (smoked ham).
Another picturesque medieval town of Provence, Sault is home to the famous annual Fête de la lavande or Lavender Festival. The market takes place on Wednesdays in the town square where local merchants sell a variety of lavender-based products like essential oils, bar soaps, body lotions, candles, honey, tea, jams, baked goods, etc. Artists also set up stalls to sell stunning photographs and watercolor paintings of the lavender fields of Provence! During the lavender harvest season (July-August), heaps of freshly picked lavender, as well as dried lavender sachets, bouquets or wreaths of all sizes and shapes, are for sale at fabulous bargain prices!
This is one of the most popular markets in Provence and unlike others, it takes place 3 days a week: Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It’s actually a combo of several markets, including a lovely flower market and an antique market. In addition to locally-grown produce, this market also has butchers selling all sort of game meats (rabbit, quail, duck, wild boar, etc.) and fishmongers peddling fresh seafood brought in from nearby Mediterranean seaports. Due to its proximity to the bustling port city of Marseille, this market tends to be a bit touristy but still retains the idyllic Provençal charm.
- Best buy: Fruits and vegetables are as fresh as they can be, many are organic. (Look for the green “AB” label which stands for Agriculture Biologique or certified organic farm products.)
- Best buy: Cheeses, wines, honey, jams, and olive oils. Don’t forget the famous aromatic Herbes de Provence, for sale in burlap bags of various sizes!
- Best buy: handcrafted soaps, lavender essential oils, ceramics, leather goods (sandals, belts, wallets, etc.)
- Bring plenty of Euros (cash) because foreign credit cards are rarely accepted.
- Bring a couple of bags for shopping. You may borrow bags from your Airbnb or hotel, or better yet, buy one of those straw baskets for sale at the market.
- Many vendors speak English and are very friendly. No need to bargain, prices are clearly marked.
- Shop in style! Dress casual but nice as Provençal locals always strive to look très chic for market day. Remember it’s a social event!
- People watching at its best! Take a break from shopping at a sidewalk café, sip a cool pastis (a traditional Provençal drink made with anise-flavored liqueur) and enjoy the festive crowd parading by.
- Have an impromptu picnic lunch with goodies from the market: grapes, figs or cherry tomatoes, a crispy baguette, some cheese or sausage, and a bottle of wine. Spread out on a table cloth under an apple orchard by the roadside and enjoy a pique-nique à la campagne that you will never forget!
- Rent a bike and pedal leisurely to the market! Locals do it because they know how hectic it can be to find a parking space on market day. Provence is filled with many spectacular scenic countryside roads that are ideal for biking.
All photos were taken by the author with an Olympus Stylus TG-630 iHS digital camera and iPhone 6.
© 2017 Viet Doan