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Thursday, September 9, 2010

5 Tips for Navigating the Provençal Market

[Daily market in Toulon on Cours Lafayette]

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 & olive 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 stylish), leather sandals, and some cool shades to put-together the perfect South of France outfit.  Here's a few tips to keep in mind to get the most out of your Provençal market experience.

[Fun & funky hats at Sanary sur Mer market]

[Tropézienne sandals on sale, Sanary sur Mer]

1. Try to 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, like the one at Sanary, the general rule-of-thumb is to arrive early and preferably on foot, or if you're sporty enough, via bicycle.  This lovely seaside towns happens to be 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.  The Sanary market happens to be my favorite in the area, so I don't really mind the wait on the drive in.

[Cars headed to market, Sanary sur Mer]

2. Don't be afraid to chat with the locals or market sellers.
The markets always have a fun & lively atmosphere, and when you're approaching the market, you can mingle with the rest of the local shoppers toting their over-sized straw bags or wheeling their shopping trolleys. I've had a few conversations on the way in, and surprisingly people tend to be very chatty during their shopping. Well, usually being blessed with plenty of sunshine seems to bring out the best in folks here. And I love to "listen in" on the lively discussions surrounding the quality of the fruits & vegetables or the origin of the roasted chickens as shoppers make their way through the stalls.

[Choosing the best fruits & vegetables]

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).

[Artichoke spreads, tapenades, & deciding on just the right amount]

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.

[Colorful straw-bags starting at €8, Sanary sur Mer]

5. Take time to "smell the roses" by taking a break at a market-side café.
Since the weekly markets are usually in the center of the town, it can be 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 coffee or a glass of wine.  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. The Sanary market is along the sea, so there are plenty of places to set up a picnic at a park or along the beach.  

[Enjoying a bit of the cafe life, Cassis]

Additional Resources for Provençal Markets


  1. Tuula: Oh yes, I love all the baskets! I usually end up buying one or two to transport goodies back now have quite a collection back in the States! I take them to farmers markets there and invariably am asked where did I buy it!

  2. Ah Tuula...good post. I could do with some tapenade right now.

    We bought a straw basket before our first trip to the market and it's the ideal bag for the fruits and veggies!

  3. On my very first trip to a market last year I bought a red straw panier. I am now on my third. My dog keeps eating them!

  4. Yes, love the baskets too! Had such a hard time deciding on a color...went with a light purple one(a la Provence of course) but now think I'd like to buy a few more..can feel a collection coming on, lol. But really they're too pretty (& cheap) to pass up.
    Thanks for the great comments ladies, xx

  5. SUCH good tips, Tuula! I'm LOVING your tips posts so much. :-) The one thing that makes me nervous when I travel is not knowing what the culturally acceptable behaviors are. You're easing my silly fears tremendously. :-)

  6. This is lovely. Makes me want to put up a chair after shopping an enjoy a pastis in the sun!

  7. Thanks Krista & Corinne, there is really so much to enjoy about the markets & thankfully I think we still have at least a few more weeks of sun to enjoy a nice after-shopping pastis!