Last updated on November 19th, 2023
The Secrets to French Food and Style Can be Found in its Markets
By Nancy McGee, Guest Writer
Isn’t it maddening how French women always look chic? Or how the French effortlessly produce delicious meals? What’s the secret? Do they spend a fortune? Pas du tout! They simply know how to shop. They don’t ‘shop til they drop’ like some westerners, they take their time until they find that ‘coup de coeur’, be it fashion or food. The French dress and eat like royalty without paying a king’s ransom. Less is more.
The secret to great French food is quite simple: fresh local products ideally bought on a daily basis from a specialty store – or at one of those famous farmer’s markets. Looking for the market? Just follow a parade of colourful bags, baskets, shopping trolleys filled with fruit, vegetables, cheese, charcuterie, meats, fish, olive oil….
When you arrive at the market, you may be surprised at the variety of goods: everything ranging from food and wine to clothes, flowers, vintage goods and housewares all at amazing prices. Indoor markets or halles in French– are usually open every day and can be slightly more upmarket. Some even serve dishes created by Michelin star chefs! Other French markets have floating stalls like those in the annual market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence.
But market day is by no means just about shopping. It’s also a social gathering occasion. People will be spilling out of local bars and brasseries, sitting at tables in the open air and chatting with friends over a coffee, a glass of wine, and even a plate of oysters. It’s the essence of the South of France.
To enjoy your French retail therapy and impress your French hosts, a few tips on etiquette. Never approach a merchant without saying a bonjour – nor an au revoir or ‘bonne journée’ (or both) upon leaving. Likewise, a s’il vous plait and merci are polite and absolutely essential.
A few words and phrases in French never hurt on a shopping spree
Please – S’il vous plait
Thank You – Merci
Hello – Bonjour
Goodbye – Au revoir
Have a nice day! – Bonne Journée
How much does it cost? – C’est combien?
Credit card – Une carte de crédit
I’m looking for – Je cherche
My Favourite Markets
Farmers’ markets are generally held mornings on specific days of the week 6h30 am to 1 pm
St Remy de Provence: Wednesday
Aix en Provence: Saturday
Flowers in Nice : daily
Anitques in Isle sur Sorgue : Sundays
Pottery and ceramics in St Quentin la Poterie : May 1st
Indoor markets or “Halles”
Sète, fish and seafood, every morning 7/7
Narbonne open daily from 6:30 am to 1 pm
A Few of My Favourite Things
Marseille is known for its soaps, so look out for those especially with at least 52% olive oil content. Some of the best are artisan-made using a strict centuries-old soapmaking tradition. They are often beautifully packaged and make great gifts.
Provence is known for its glorious purple lavender fields that turn the landscape into a vibrant impressionist painting. French markets offer plenty of lavender products to take home as gifts, such as lavender sachets, essential oils and soaps.
Textiles and Pottery
A wide range of textiles can be found in both the markets and stores, many with the distinctive Provençal design. Les Textiles Mistral, and Souleiado offer quality clothing and household textiles, sold in stores or online.
“Santons “ Nativity Figurines
If you’re in Provence in December you’ll notice the markets are full of small hand-painted terracotta nativity scene figurines. These figures represent characters from Provençal village life and are used to decorate the traditional mangers.
Nancy McGee has spent the past 30 years in France and is the founder of Absolutely Southern France, a fully licensed travel company founded in 2011 that provides customized arrangements for vacationers seeking unique gourmet, leisure and cultural experiences. For more visit absolutelysouthernfrance.com