France: The Markets of Provence

The delights of a Provencal market start with a fresh baguette.
The delights of a Provencal market start with a fresh baguette.

Going to the Market: Finding the best food, crafts antiques and more in Provence

Travelers with the South of France on their “must visit” bucket list will want to pack Marjorie R. Williams’s new travel guide Markets of Provence: Food, Antiques, Crafts and More Food, Antiques, Crafts and More  a curated selection of the region’s best markets.

Markets of Provence cover
Markets of Provence– a guide to daily shopping in southern France.

Co-author of the widely acclaimed Markets of Paris, Williams spent months exploring the small villages and large towns of Provence—sizing up the markets, browsing the cobbled streets, and seeking out local specialties—in a quest to share her favorite discoveries with others.

Organized by days of the week, Markets of Provence describes which markets are the best options on each day, their hours of operation, and what to look for once there. It includes practical advice about how to bargain effectively, getting around, restaurant recommendations, and much more.

Whether visitors long for freshly baked bread, a round of the local specialty Banon cheese, or rustic garden furniture, Markets of Provence points them in the right direction. Complete with full color photo illustrations and easy to read maps that make trip planning easier, this pocket-sized guide is small enough to tuck inside a backpack. Sidebars feature interviews with local chefs and farmers whose insights provide an intimate look at this region.

Excerpt from the book:

Bédoin Traditional Provençal Market 

When: Monday mornings

Where: Along Avenue Barral des Baux in the village center
office de tourisme : 1 Route de Malaucène,
84410 Bédoin. Tel: 04.90.65.63.95. www.bedoin.org

Bédoin lies at the foot of Mont Ventoux, nicknamed theGiant of Provence and legendary as one of the most gruelingclimbs in the Tour de France. The top of Mont Ventoux appears from a distance as a snowy peak but is actually a bald crown of limestone. The mountain keeps watch over this festive market like a benevolent deity.

Bedoin traditional Provencal market.
Bedoin traditional Provencal market.

It slopes into vineyards, orchards, and dense cedar forests. The church of Saint-Antonin looms over the village with Spanish-style architecture, but the wrought-iron belfry couldn’t be more typical of Provence. The closer one gets, roads become narrow and some are cordoned off on market day. If driving, park in one of the municipal lots (often large fields) a short walk away.

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The treasures of the market.
The treasures of the market.

Bédoin is a magnet for bicyclists, who begin their steep ascent to the summit from here. Some have just returned from the invigorating downhill ride, sporting helmet-flattened hair and bringing ravenous appetites. At one entrance a vendor sells soaps in vanilla, honey, lavender, and verbena. You can mix and match your favorite combinations.

Cotton clothing and Provençal fabrics practically beg to be touched. Conversations could be a soundtrack from the Tower of Babel: French, Dutch, German, Flemish, Japanese, and English (in British, Australian, American, and Canadian accents). The delights keep changing as one advances through the market: olives marinated in fennel, chewy nougat with almonds or pistachios, cheeses with soft, creamy innards that begin to ooze from the rind as the morning warms them up.


A Grand Marche

The Bédoin market is a grand marché, which means it offers everything one might hope for at a Provençal market. It occurs year-round, though there are more vendors from Easter to the end of September, as with other open-air markets. Gaiety fills Avenue Barral des Baux and spills into the wide plazas of Place de la Vigneronne and Place de la République. Dogs pause longingly next to charcuterie stands. Children dance in front of a guitarist who strums lively tunes.

Market baskets are one of my favorite souvenirs. Most are made in North Africa, but they evoke the local landscape and its bounty: deep purples of aubergine, oranges of abricot, and blues of lavande. Pottery also comes in Provençal colors. Many pieces have a flourish of olives, cherries, or cicadas as part of their design. Wooden toys, olive-wood utensils, herbes de Provence, and spiced salts make pleasing and inexpensive gifts.Among the area’s specialties are Muscat du Ventoux (dark table grapes), fruit preserves, nougat, saffron, and wines that have earned their own appellation (AOC Ventoux). At poissonnerie Le Relais des Mers, a fishmonger hands shucked oysters to three women.They laugh as the briny juices drip onto their clothing. Local producteurs sell fresh figs, cheeses, rustic breads, olives, tapenades, and saucissons—ample provisions for a picnic in the countryside.

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Take a short side trip to Crillon-le-Brave, a secluded village with a rocky promontory that’s ideal for viewing the mountains. Its population dipped low in the 1960s, but it’s experiencing a renaissance. At the top of the hill, Hôtel Crillon le Brave (a Relais & Château luxury hotel) has a casual bistro, Le Petit Crillon, which offers moderately priced lunch in a pleasant setting near a fountain.

Excerpted from  Markets of Provence: Food, Antiques, Crafts and More Food, Antiques, Crafts and More by Marjorie R. Williams.

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