Markets of Provence: Food, Antiques, Crafts, and More

Markets of Provence: Food, Antiques, Crafts, and More

by Marjorie R. Williams


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

Provence, France, is justly famous for its dazzling light, vibrant colors, rich history, and flavorful foods and wines. And its markets have been the beating heart of Provençal life since the Middle Ages. In Markets of Provence, Marjorie R. Williams whisks you away to 30 of the best. This pocketable guide, complete with detailed maps and organized by days of the week, gives you all the information you need for your visit to this Mediterranean region.

Included are: indispensable advice on timing, navigation, negotiation and payment; tips on etiquette while surveying vendors' produce; and even some French language lessons to help you brush up on your essential français. Complete with restaurant recommendations and other useful tips, this book will help you get the most out of the experience. Supplemented with beautiful full-color photographs and color-coded maps, Markets of Provence is a must-have for every traveler.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781250051271
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 05/03/2016
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 363,713
Product dimensions: 4.70(w) x 5.90(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

MARJORIE R. WILLIAMS is the coauthor of Markets of Paris. Her work has been featured in Afar, NPR's Travel with Rick Steves, The Huffington Post, France Today, and House Beautiful. She also blogs on travel, food, and markets around the world. Marjorie travels extensively and believes that exploring markets is one of the most rewarding ways of immersing oneself in the local culture. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Read an Excerpt

Markets of Provence

Food, Antiques, Crafts, and More

By Marjorie R. Williams, Dixon Long

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2016 Marjorie R. Williams
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-250-09163-5




WHEN: Sunday morning from April until December

WHERE: Route D900 in Coustellet

Local residents don't shy away from spirited debate, but one opinion that seems widely shared is that Coustellet's market is among the area's best. Sunday is the big day for this marché paysan (farmers' market).

Coustellet, Maubec, and Robion adjoin near the D900, creating a busy intersection by Provençal standards. The location lacks charm, but the bustling market more than makes up for its rather drab surroundings. Villagers flock here not only to shop but also to see friends and neighbors. Gossip gets traded as swiftly as the fishmonger's fresh catch passes into customers' hands. Near the market's entrance, cheerful pansies (called pensées, or "thoughts") greet customers like a throng of smiling faces.

The quality of this market is a big draw. If you're not sure where to go, follow people who look like they know where they are going. The largest section is dedicated to stalls run by farmers, many of whom have been coming to this market for decades. Their hands are calloused from working the land, and their faces are weathered by the elements.

Local cherries, goat cheeses, Muscat grapes, salad greens, olive oils, honeys, and fruit jams are just the beginning. One farmer displays eight varieties of potatoes which he sells by the kilo, but it's fine to buy them in smaller amounts. Bulbs of fresh garlic are piled into mountains; pumpkins and squashes could crush toes if they were to roll off the tables. Drinking glasses arranged in neat rows await a sample pour of local wine. Several women sell lavender sprigs tied together with purple satin ribbons known as quenouilles tressées.

Rolland Tranchimand's miniature vegetables attract a bevy of discerning shoppers. He picked the zucchini blossoms early this morning. Wrapping half a dozen like a delicate bouquet, he hands them to a customer who will stuff them with soft goat cheese and fry them lightly for an hors d'oeuvre. François Gregoire sells organic goat cheeses that he makes at his farm in Goult. Catherine Pisani grows more than 30 types of basil at La Ferme aux Basilics in Roussillon. When she runs out of the fresh harvest, she has other items that she makes with distilled essence of basil (see here).

Along the outer aisles, stands overflow with olive-wood kitchen utensils, clothing, jewelry, hats, baskets, fabrics, and sandals. Mouthwatering rotisserie chicken, golden paella, and a pizza truck offer quick ways of satisfying appetites that have been stoked by tantalizing aromas. At Poissonerie du Luberon, the seller wears a straw hat and nautical blue-and-white-striped jersey; he'll shuck oysters if you ask.

The old gare, still identified by the Maubec train station sign, is now a café. A musician strums his guitar and sings "Hallelujah." Everyone rejoices at the opportunity to spend a Sunday morning at the Coustellet market.


Provence conjures up images of lavender etching purple lines across the French countryside. If you're lucky enough to visit in summer, you can see fields carpeted with blooms.

The lavender-like plant grown at lower elevations is lavandin, a sterile hybrid form with a slight camphor-like scent. Pure lavender, or lavande fin, grows only at higher altitudes (600–2000 meters), such as around Sault. Since insects have become a big problem, growers are planting at higher elevations to avoid the pests. They're forbidden to use chemical pesticides in consideration of the bees. Fine lavender is becoming rare, and more fields are getting planted with the hardier lavandin. A way to tell the two apart is that each stem of lavande fin has a single flower, while lavandin has three flowers.

Lavender's growing season conveniently coincides with the peak of tourism. The Luberon valley begins lighting up with blue blooms in late June and continues until early August. The cycle runs about two weeks later in higher elevations, from July until mid-August. The lavender fields at Abbaye de Sénanque, near Gordes, are technically lavandin, but that doesn't make the sight any less spectacular to behold. Peak times are late June through July. I also recommend a visit to Sault (which holds a lavender festival on August 15) or follow the Lavender Route, a circuit that passes fields and distilleries. A lavender museum in Coustellet explains how the plants are cultivated and the distillation process.




WHEN: Sunday (Flea and Antiques Market open most of the day; Traditional Provençal Market open in the morning only)

WHERE: Flea and antiques vendors on Avenue des Quatre Otages. Antiques shops on Avenue des Quatre Otages and Avenue de la Libération. Food vendors in Place de la Liberté and throughout the old town.

OFFICE DE TOURISME: Place de la Liberté, 84800 L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. A local map and Guide des Antiquaires are indispensable if you're going to explore the antiques shops. Tel:

Entering L'isle-Sur-La-Sorgue, one of the prettiest towns in Provence, you may think you've stepped into the pages of a well-illustrated storybook. Canals encircle the old town like an emerald necklace. Moss-covered waterwheels dip wooden paddles into the fast-flowing streams. Ducks glide along, pausing to flutter their wings or warm themselves in the sun. The scenery is so magical that it wouldn't come as a shock to see an elf or fairy peek out from a curtain of leaves.

As its name suggests, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is an island on the Sorgue River. When the popes were based in Avignon during the 15th century, local fishermen were spared taxes in exchange for donating the best of their catch to the clergy. Years later, factories harnessed the river's power to grind grain or produce wool, paper, and silk products. Only one factory still operates: Brun de Vian-Tiran has been making luxurious wool items since 1808.

For a large and friendly market with a variety of attractions, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is hard to beat. If you're interested in antiques, Sunday is the day to go. There's also an open-air food market on Thursday, but with none of the antiques.

Navigating this market can be confusing for first-timers. Here's a rough overview: The island is the heart of the old city, and that's where you'll find a concentration of food and souvenir stalls. At the edge of the island, itinerant dealers display their antiques. Along Avenue des Quatre Otages and Avenue de la Libération, antiques shops and galleries cluster in "villages." Let's take a closer look.


L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is the biggest and best known of Provence's antiques markets. It's the second largest in France, after Le Marché aux Puces de Saint-Ouen in Paris (also known as Clignancourt), and third largest in Europe, after London. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue's reputation as an antiques center grew in 1966 after several dealers got together to host a fair. It was a success and eventually developed into a weekly affair, drawing more shopkeepers and roving vendors.

Flea and antiques vendors line the sidewalk along Avenue des Quatre Otages. Within the span of a single block, you might find an antique baby crib, handblown wine jugs, brass bed frames, vintage linens, and an oxen yoke. Should you set your heart on larger items, shipping can be arranged.

If you haven't found any treasures with your name on them at the roving vendors' stalls, don't despair. Plenty more antiques — 350 dealers and decorators, in fact — await in the shops and galleries in the direction of the train station. Ten antiques villages, or enclaves of dealers, are like small neighborhoods with restaurants and oddball flourishes. Look for signs indicating antiquaires, although the entrances aren't always well marked. Don't hesitate to amble into gravel courtyards. They often lead to more dealers.

Le Village des Antiquaires de la Gare, established in 1973, was the first antiques village in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. It contains about 80 shops. Styles range from classical to French country to modern. In the antiques village Le Quai de la Gare, Nicole Philibert specializes in fine antiques and paintings from the 18th and 19th centuries. La Maison de Viktor offers a contrasting style with items forged out of metal, such as a portemanteau with pétanque balls as a decorative element. Interspersed among the antiques shops are art galleries. Galerie Léoni, in Carré des Arts du Luberon, is owned by the grandson of the painter Auguste Chabaud.

The antiques shops and galleries offer a vast range of paintings, tapestries, furniture, old photographs, floor tiles, garden planters, and statuary. They are typically open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday but closed other days so that dealers can scour the countryside for inventory or fix up items for sale.

It's rare to find real bargains in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Many items, however, are one-of-a-kind and quintessentially Provençal. Even though prices are on the high side, if you enjoy antiques you won't want to miss this Sunday market.

L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue also hosts major antiques fairs every Easter weekend and the August 15 holiday, when the number of international dealers and shoppers quadruples.


If food stalls interest you, explore that part of the market first. Food vendors start closing around noon while antiques dealers stay open through the afternoon. Cross any footbridge over the canal and make your way toward the innermost part of the old town, Place de la Liberté.

The most established stands at Provençal markets are often near churches; the prized location goes to sellers who have been coming for years. That rule of thumb applies here, with vendors surrounding the old church Nôtre-Dame-des-Anges. (Peek inside for a look at its Baroque architecture and ornate decorations.) The Office de Tourisme, next to the church in a former granary, can provide shop listings and other useful information. It closes at 1 p.m.

An olive vendor garnishes bowls to call attention to the accent flavor in the marinade. A border of red peppers, for example, signals olives with a punch of piment d'Espelette. Saucisssons emit a whiff of fennel. Banon cheeses, wrapped in chestnut leaves, give off an earthy aroma. A bread vendor sells golden fougasses dotted with olives, onions, and anchovies. A man slices thick slabs of fruit jellies; the fig version pairs nicely with cheese. At Pluie de Senteurs, baskets brim with herbs, spices, and seasoning salts.

More vendors sell everything from straw hats to soaps to nougat. A man pedals a machine that sharpens knives, a process known as affûtage. He leans forward to position a blade on the strap. Once he's done, he slices pieces of newspaper or shaves a few hairs off his forearm to demonstrate how sharp it is.


To top off the outing to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue's market, it's worth checking out the notable shops or staying for a meal. (Restaurant suggestions are provided at the end of this book.) Leyris, an artisan boulanger on Rue Carnot, makes the kind of breads you might have dreamed of when you booked a trip to Provence. A few paces away at 2 Rue Louis Lopez is the exceptional chocolate shop La Cour aux Saveurs, owned by Florian Courreau, an artisan chocolatier. He creates a new flavor each month. Among the temptations are chocolates sprinkled with Camargue sea salt and Roches du Luberon nougat candies, colored like the red rocks around Roussillon and flavored with lavender and honey. At Lilamand, also on Rue Carnot, a specialty is fruits confits. Un Jour at 8 Place Ferdinand Buisson sells luxury items, including woolen items made by the local mill Brun de Vian-Tiran.

One of my favorite shops is La Manufacture, where 30 artists sell everything from raku pottery to whimsical decorations, lighting, furniture, and clothing. Outside the shop (on the walkway Hôtel de Palerme, off Rue de la République), there's usually an exhibit designed by one of the artists, such as tail-wagging dogs fashioned out of rubber boots. Florel en Provence, at 25 Avenue de la Libération, sells organic teas in pretty tins, as well as local sea salts, honeys, and perfumes that will evoke the scent of Provence long after you've departed.

A classic spot for soaking up the market ambience is Café de France in Place de la Liberté. Some restaurants and cafés offer a view of the canals, where waterwheels make a mesmerizing backdrop. Wine bars, such as Caveau de la Tour de L'Isle and Place aux Vins, offer a good selection in a relaxed setting where customers can nibble on cheese or charcuterie.

The first Sunday of August is celebrated with a special Floating Market. Flat-bottomed boats parade on the river and angle over to the docks to sell food and flowers. It's a festive scene with traditional costumes and music. If you hear strands of "La Coupo Santo," you might be tempted to join the chorus which praises Provence.

There are numerous excursions within easy range of L'lsle-sur-la-Sorgue. Biking and hiking trails lead to villages along the Sorgue's watery path, referred to collectively as the Pays des Sorgues. The Sorgue River begins at Fontaine de Vaucluse. The Fondation Poppy et Pierre Salinger in Le Thor has exhibitions, a sculpture garden, and a restaurant. The Musée de la Lavande is only a few kilometers away from L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Coustellet. The tour takes about 45 minutes, or skip the explanations and go directly to the boutique, where the walls are painted shades of lavender and every imaginable lavender product is for sale.

Shopping for Antiques

The term "French country," when scrawled on sales tags far outside of France, evokes dreamy associations even when it's stretching the truth. But in Provence, it's usually a fair description of the provenance of household and farming items that are passed down through generations. They might not be fancy, but there's beauty in their simple lines and sturdy craftsmanship. Rustic furnishings, linens, and tools make Provence a haven for antiques shoppers.

Where to Find Them

* Antiques and flea markets in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (see here), Villeneuve-lèz-Avignon (see here), Arles (see here), Carpentras (see here), and others described in this book.

* Antiques shops. L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has a dense concentration, but they're common along roadways. One of my favorites is Galerie de la Gare in Mollégès on Route D99 near Saint-Rémy, and several along the road connecting L'Isle to Le Thor.

* Major antiques fairs during Easter weekend and on August 15, especially in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

* Even the smallest villages host occasional brocantes and vide-greniers. Watch for roadside posters announcing them or inquire at Offices de Tourisme.

Other Tips

* Know what you're getting. Antique linens are folded to present the best side. A coat of dark brown shoe polish can make a drawer look like old wood when, in fact, it was cut and fitted only a few days ago. Inspect items carefully.

* Bargaining. It's fine to negotiate, but always do so courteously. If you start too low or demand a specific price, the dealer would rather turn you away than make a sale. I generally begin at 25–30 percent below asking and settle for 10–20 percent, if I can get it.

* Shipping. Established dealers work with shippers and can assist with arrangements. Know the options and prices before you seal the deal. Ask if large purchases can be exempt from VAT. Paperwork is involved, but the savings can be significant.

Shadowing Chef Cédric Brun at Les Halles d'Avignon

A theme that repeatedly comes up in conversations with Provençal chefs is how much they enjoy working with local ingredients. Cédric Brun, chef and owner of Le Carré d'Herbes in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, shops at the covered market Les Halles d'Avignon to select some items directly, supplementing the deliveries he receives. I ask if I can tag along. He consents, and I jump at the chance to shadow a professional chef.

I wasn't doing much jumping, however, when the alarm went off at 5 a.m. so I could meet him by 6, the time he normally begins. (He is long gone before the market opens to the general trade at 8.) It is pitch black outside, and I wonder if I'm still dreaming as men parade with sides of beef they're unloading from trucks. My senses jolt awake as soon as I step inside the market, abuzz with conversation and the rapid movement of shopkeepers stocking their stalls.


Excerpted from Markets of Provence by Marjorie R. Williams, Dixon Long. Copyright © 2016 Marjorie R. Williams. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Title Page,
Copyright Notice,
Types of Markets in Provence,
Insider Tips,
Sunday Markets,
Monday Markets,
Tuesday Markets,
Wednesday Markets,
Thursday Markets,
Friday Markets,
Saturday Markets,
More Options,
About the Author,

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