Wherever you are in Provence, you’re never far from a market. There are literally hundreds of markets, big ones taking over whole towns and smaller ones consisting of just a few stalls in villages. Some of them have been going for over eight hundred years (there are mentions of Uzès market as long ago as 1226) and each market, big or small, has its own special atmosphere, selling everything from hats to rotisserie chickens, tablecloths, espadrilles, antiques, santons (Provençal crèche figurines), herbs and spices, baskets and, of course, fruit, vegetables, olives and cheeses…
Regular markets take place in the mornings from 7 or 8 and start packing up promptly at midday. Evening summer markets normally start at 5 or 6pm for a couple of hours but some go on till 11pm.
There are also many specialist seasonal festivals or markets celebrating one product such as truffles, pottery, wine, flowers, goats’ cheese, asparagus, strawberries, cherries, melon, lambs, garlic, lavender, petit épeautre (spelt), apples, lemons… In recent years, Christmas markets have also increased in popularity.
Specialist market at Provence lavender festival.
Every market is unique but none more so than the farmers’ market at Velleron (near L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in the Vaucluse). It takes place from April to September every day except Sundays and public holidays at 6pm sharp and the rest of the year on Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 4.30pm sharp. About 150 local producers sell fruit and vegetables that have been picked that morning. The market takes place on the former site of the Velleron train station, in what only can be described as a large cage. Clutching empty baskets, shoppers crowd round the gates chatting and elbowing for a good position for the ‘off’. At 6pm a whistle is blown, the gates are flung open and determined shoppers surge towards their favourite stalls. Not for the faint-hearted, it’s a unique experience for the brave! Our advice is to join the longest queues, because there’s a reason people are prepared to wait in line.
Nearby L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is well known for its Provençal and antiques market on Sunday mornings but once a year on the first Sunday in August (this year on 6 August 2017), it has a floating market. About a hundred decorated traditional flat-bottomed boats (called nego chin) moor on the banks, selling olives, wine, cheeses, melon, bread etc. It’s a link with the past – on Sundays local fishermen used to down the river from their huts upstream to sell their produce from their boats.
Markets tend to be crowded and are still a place where locals go not only to shop but also to meet friends and chat, so don’t go if you’re in a hurry! Unless you go very early, most markets are crowded, particularly in the summer months, and it might take some time to find a parking space. But, remember: you’re on holiday! Relax and absorb the atmosphere. Sipping a coffee or a pression (beer) in a café and watching the passers-by is a good way to absorb the atmosphere.
Don’t forget to take a basket or shopping bag, plastic bags are no longer distributed by stall holders. And do ask before you take photographs. (Your request will be more favourably received if you’ve bought something from the stall.)
Stay a week in Provence and take in a market a day – check out our hand-picked Provence vacation rentals!
See also: Our guide to Provence markets