Since it’s officially spring and the time when Provençal markets are at their finest, I thought it would be a great idea to share a few ideas for getting the most out of your market experience. The following are a few tips I’ve collected over the years, and I hope you’ll share your own market “must-do’s” in the comment section.
The Provençal market is a feast for the senses and a chance to savor a lot of the best of the region. Whether you’d like to pick up some picnic treats, sample artisan jams & tapenades, or grab a few homemade sausages, there’s no place better than your local marché. You can even get outfitted with a straw hat (some funky, some chic), leather sandals, and some cool shades to perfect your Southern style. Here’s a few tips to keep in mind before you hit those gorgeous stalls.
1. Arrive at the market early.
Weekly markets, like the one I went to yesterday at Sanary-sur-Mer, tend to be huge, sprawling affairs which line the main boulevard of the town and can become quite crowded. If it’s a popular market, the general rule-of-thumb is to arrive early and preferably on foot, or if you’re sporty enough, via bicycle. Since Sanary is about 20 minutes from us by car, so I took my chances & thankfully found a parking spot about a 10-minute walk from the market. Unfortunately, I haven’t been so lucky at other markets, and since vacation time is always precious, it’s a good idea to set those alarm clocks for an early start.
2. Don’t be afraid to chat with the locals or market sellers.
The markets always have a fun & lively atmosphere where you can mingle with other shoppers and you’ll probably find a few fellow tourists to chat-up. I would also suggest taking a bit of a risk and start a conversation with the locals (I say risk because it can be quite difficult to “put yourself out there” in another language). Even when my French was terrible (not very long ago!) I found that vendors were more than happy to answer my questions. A few will even try to speak in English which I’ve always felt is a nice sign of goodwill. I once had a very lively conversation about US politics with a fruit vendor in Toulon – between 1/3 English, my limited French, and a lot of wild hand gestures, we had a very memorable exchange.
3. Check prices carefully and watch your measurements.
I have to say that I’ve never heard any haggling over prices at the market. That might be more the territory of the antiques world, and higher prices for some items definitely reflect quality or craftsmanship. I’m thinking particularly of the seasoned olives, confitures, and various spreads which usually start at about €4 or €5 per 100 grams. I bought a particularly amazing artichoke spread yesterday, but it was a little bit more than I wanted to spend, so it’s also a good idea to have an idea of European (metric) measurements or be prepared to say: un peu plus or un peu moins (a little more or a little less) s’il vous plait (please).
4. Bring (or purchase) a large straw bag or basket.
Yesterday was the first time I bought one of the big, straw bags to carry my purchases in. I wasn’t sure how much they would cost, because they all look so very well-made, so I was a bit nervous of approaching. Well, it turns out that these bags are a bargain. You can get a quality bag, in your choice of color, for starting at €8. There are slightly more expensive ones that are a bit sturdier, but not the best if you’re thinking of throwing them over your shoulder. They do make really great “baskets” & are ideal if you’re planning to buy a lot of fruits & vegetables. Plus, they’re just pretty to look at – a nice idea for souvenirs for the folks back home.
5. Leave time to soak up the atmosphere by taking a break at a market-side café.
Since the weekly markets are usually in the center of the town, it can be great fun to take a break at a café for some good old-fashioned, people-watching. Usually, I’m feeling a bit tired at this point, and like to sit and have a chilled class of Rosé. You’ll find many people doing the same, and it’s a great way to really “make a whole day” out of your market experience. And of course, there’s always the lunch option too. In a seaside town like Sanary, a large order of moules-frites along the sunny port is a must-do.
And now over to you les amis…
What are your favorite markets in Provence? And what makes a perfect day at the market for you?
10 thoughts on “How to Shop at a Provençal Market”
Very good and helpful post for visitors who are new to shopping at our markets in Provence. I don’t ever see bargaining about prices for fruits, vegetables, meats, fish, cheese, etc., but we find they are willing to negotiate about the price for linens, soaps, pottery, and artwork, especially towards the end of the market if they have not sold much. The best piece of advice from your post is to get there early.
I think the best market for stuff other than food is definitely in St Remy on a Saturday. It’s really difficult to part in the centre of town, but you can generally find somewhere on the outskirts and walk for 10 minutes or so to get to the market. It’s well worth it!!
Carpentras market is good and I also love the stores there…….but parking is horrific. Just have to get lucky. Saint Remy’s Wednesday market has just gotten too crowded so I avoid it. Lorgues is probably my favorite market for weekly shopping…..easy to maneuver and Table du Pol is a good lunch place…make reservations. As for bargaining, I tell people never on food and really never on new goods. The vendors usually have special pricing when more than one item is being bought….and they love to throw in a ‘cadeau’ (gift) if you have bought alot. These people work really hard and I tell our groups to cool it on the bargaining….You are absolutely right about the antiques and Isle sur la Sorgue….always bargain there. Love your blog.
I forgot the Tues. or Sat. Saint-Tropez market…outstanding for goods….
Vaison la Romain market on Tuesdays is not to be missed if you are in the area, one of the best in Provence and Vaison is a gorgeous town. Pop over the roman bridge to the old part of town and stop for lunch at La Belle Etoile, a cute café with lovely outdoor tables. Look out for the gorgeous Annie at Vaison and Isle sur la Sorgue markets and her fabulous thick French linens, cream’s, taupes and greens edged in white. Superb tablecloths and napkins.
Sitting here in Melbourne – beam me up Scotty!
Hi Tuula, Great post – and very helpful! My favorites are Vaison la Romaine on Tuesday, Carpentras on Friday (after an early tour of our petit marche in Sablet), and of course, Isle sur la Sorgue on Sunday. Although I do love visiting towns and villages that I would like to tour on their market days – having fun at the market then lunch as a picnic or in a nice local restaurant, which leaves the afternoon for a nice long walk, touring and walking off lunch! (Oops! almost forgot – love St. Remy de Provence on Wednesday and Ste. Cecile les Vignes (near Sablet) has a nice little market on Saturdays).
Hi Tuula – aah Provençal markets! The best in France! IMHO! When we were living on the vineyard near Vidauban, we loved visiting St Tropez market. Best visited when it takes place on Tuesdays and Saturdays in the atmospheric, plane tree filled Place des Lices rather than the large car park by the harbour where it moves for the summer months. Love the fact that they still sell swimwear in the winter – only in St Trop!
We also liked Lorgues and little Les Arcs markets. Lorgues on Tuesdays and Les Arcs on Thursdays – just in time for the weekend!
Also love St Remy de Provence market – my favourite of all time! It takes place right in the centre of the old town with a backdrop of ancient townhouses and unusual shops. Fabulous!
Enjoyed your post as always, Tuula. Great photos as ever. So glad I’ve ‘discovered’ Belle Provence Travels!
You have the big market in Brignoles (inner Provence) on saturday morning ! Where you can buy the “authentic” bread cooked in wood oven by Régis of the fournil ! And you can drop to their lunch pizza table at “La domaine du fouloir à draps” and have a nice trip to “La petite Provence” pottery shop on the way to Saint Maximin la Sainte Baume ! Claire from http://www.provencehandmade.com
I want to plan a trip now…but don’t think can afford it. Those “basket-purses” are very nice. You should see what I carry here in Brazil. Since I don’t drive, I use one of those old-ladies bags with wheels. LOL. Cuando hay necesidad hay valentia. I can’t believe I walk on the streets with it. Sanary-sur-mer…good memories. Love you tons.
So many markets, so little time. I loved this post. It made me think of my favorite market in Cassis. The fresh fruit, fish and vegetables are always enticing…and I can never resist fresh figs, which they had in abundance the last time I was there. I enjoyed the bit about the baskets. I definitely need to invest in a panier – I can definitely use it for my market runs – even though our Dutch markets don’t quite compare to those in Provence…