One might say, “Why visit only the Provence area of France when all of France has so much to offer?” The answer lies in the fact that the Provencal region of France makes ingrained marks on one’s memories like no other part of France.
Memories are made through Provence’s breathtaking scenery, her constant supply of sunshine and crystal blue waters, and her amazing cuisine. To better understand and appreciate Provence and her people, one must visit and shop her many outdoor markets (le Marché Française).
Outdoor markets have been the heart and soul of Provencal life since the middle ages. Records indicate that there has been an outdoor market in Paris in the same location as far back as the fifth century.
Throughout history, markets have continued to be an integral part of life in France. And every market, even when they share the same vendors and merchandise, has its own unique personality. In fact, they represent the character and the distinct needs of each village.
Every city and village will have the market arrive on the same day each week. Excitement is in the air on market day, creating a feeling like that of the carnival coming to town.
Early in the morning, usually before sunrise, a caravan of trucks and vans will come hauling products such as fresh produce, meats, cheeses, fish, and a selection of herbs and spices.
Other markets, also known as brocantes, might specialize in antiques, fabrics, and collectables. And finally, there are the “night” markets, Marché un de Nuit, selling fresh produce, cheese, and eggs still warm from the sun.
In fact, these products have been harvested by the local farmers or growers just an hour before they are displayed on the stall! Often, local residents will flock to the night markets held from 4:00-6:00 pm to purchase ingredients for their dinners.
Each village will typically have its covered market stalls, known as Marché Couverts, in the center of the town square. These structures are permanent. The stalls are passed down from generation to generation and are owned by the same families.
As you can imagine, the stalls are coveted by family members, and competition by vendors may become fierce if new vendors attempt to move into the neighborhood.
Often, there will be a cluster of restaurants, butchers, bakeries, and delicatessens surrounding the market, making for an exciting day of one-stop shopping.
Although French companies continue to build supermarkets, better known as hypermarkets, that can rival even the best American department stores, there will always be a need and a passion for outside markets in France.
So, why do people continue to brave the rain, cold, or hot weather to choose the perfect potato or pick out the finest cheese from a selection of 30 or more, or bring home the freshest baguettes, which have always been the heart of French foods and traditions?
The answer is quite simple, the French want to know where their foods are coming from and how many kilometers they have traveled.
Market days have always been a source of entertainment and social celebration in France. The fun of seeing your neighbors and catching up on how their weeks are going (a little gossip perhaps) or just comparing what you’ve purchased over a cup of coffee is a real treat.
A true Frenchman or Frenchwoman would never miss market day; it’s a true pleasure to do your own shopping (Faire son Marché) at these French institutions.
Once you’ve tasted and smelled fruits and vegetables from an open-air market, along with foods like bread, cheeses, wine, fruit, and chicken, traditional supermarket shopping somehow pales in comparison.
This unique, wonderful experience provided by the markets offers a true lens into the heart and soul of Provence and its people, and that’s a kind of adventure you will never forget.
Have you shopped at an open market? What do you think would be the greatest advantage of this type of shopping? Do you think you’d still prefer the supermarket to a local farmers’ market? Please share your thoughts and let’s have a discussion!
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