In many countries like the USA and the UK, there has been a « revival » of farmer's markets. In France, they never went away! Everyone goes – whether they live in a stately château or a humble apartment – and they are all treated the same way!
There is something about shopping for local produce in a pretty market square that far surpasses the bland supermarket experience. The variety of fruits, vegetables, cheese, breads, pastries, meat, fish and flowers in most French markets is good and the products are usually a lot fresher!
Almost every French town has a market. Many operate only once or twice a week, but some are open every day. There are even covered markets in many cities that run year-round.
Ranking food markets is a subjective business, but here are some of our favorites:
Perigueux – this picturesque town lies along the Dordogne River in southwestern France. Its market functions on Wednesday and Saturday mornings and, alongside the fresh produce and cheeses, features regional fare like truffles, foie gras and pâte of duck and goose. The medieval architecture in this quaint town adds to the experience!
Carpentras – located near Arles, where Vincent van Gogh spent many years, this town is famous for its cantaloupe (or rock) melons, which are locally grown and the best we've tasted anywhere. In the winter, there is also an impressive selection of truffles.
Marseille – France's second largest city is a melting pot with large immigrant communities from Africa and the Mediterranean basin. Its diversity is evident in its markets. You can shop in Moroccan-style souks with exotic spices and flavors and a fantastic daily fish market near the old port. Be sure to go early to watch the fishermen and vendors haggle and set-up!
Isle sur Sorgue – this medieval Provençal town was erected on five islands on the Sorgue River. It has Venetian-style bridges and canals, moss-covered water wheels and a fantastic market that runs every Sunday. Local fare from Provence: lavendar, olives, tapenade, soaps, linens is available as well as produce, meats and cheese. The first Sunday in August they hold a floating market – a centuries-old tradition.
Nice – the daily flower market in the heart of the old town at Cours Saleya is the best in the country. Gorgeous bouquets are the main draw, but one can also find antiques on Mondays and fresh produce, food and soaps/linens from the region on other days.
Strasbourg – famous for its Christmas markets – the largest in the world and first held in 1570 – this Alsatian city has a distinctly German flavor.
You'll delight in the anise-flavored cookies, gingerbread, giant pretzels, Christmas ornaments and warm spice-wine featured in the little chalets all around town.
The street decorations are also noteworthy – often featuring crystal chandeliers from the region!
Saumur – home to the Cointreau distillery and one of the prettiest castles in the Loire Valley, this pretty town has a great market every Saturday. The Loire region is known for its fertile soil, great wines and fresh produce. The mushrooms are especially yummy.
Quiberon – famous for its oysters, this rugged Breton town has a daily great market where fresh seafood, including crab and lobster, abounds. Be sure to enjoy a delicious crêpe – a specialty of the region – as you shop!
In Paris, our favorite food markets are:
Marché d'Alligre (12e) – this Bastille market is dubbed the "Notre-Dame of markets" and has an authentic Parisian atmosphere. It is away from the tourist hustle and offers many exotic foods – that tourists buy at Fauchon – but at a fraction of the price. The best fare is in the covered market (Halle Beauveau). This is hands-down, the best market in the city.
Marché Richard Lenoir (11e) – every Thursday and Sunday, this market stretches along the tree-lined boulevard that separates the Marais from the Bastille. Sunday morning is the best time, when locals come to socialize as well as shop for foods such as fish, meat, bread and cheese. You'll also find some international fare – mainly from North Africa.
There are two good organic markets: at Batignolles (17e) on Saturdays and Raspail (6e) on Sundays that are popular with Parisians too.
If you're a foodie, then French markets are a must. Contact Globe Bleu for a variety of gastronomic and culinary adventures throughout France. Be sure to enquire about our programs that combine market visits with cooking classes in the homes of chefs – they're a lot more fun than the institutional cooking classes!