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Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Markets of Provence

June has arrived which means that the outdoor markets of Provence (located in France’s southern Rhone region) are just beginning to really buzz.   Market days in this area clock the change of the seasons and have done so for hundreds of years.  These much beloved weekly markets drive the mood of their respective villages and reflect France’s fascination with the best and freshest of culinary products.

Each village has its special day of the week for its market.  The biggest and best markets, however, can draw locals from a hundred miles away.  Among my faves are the Sunday market in pretty Isle Sur Sorgue.  France’s answer to Venice, the town meanders around the Sorgue River which creates a scenic background in which to shop.  This market (one of the largest in Provence) is popular because it’s also an antique market.   Radishes in every color of the rainbow set next to Louis XIV clocks.  Go early if you don’t want to walk a couple of miles as parking is limited and the market is among the most popular in Provence.
Aother darling is the Tuesday market in Vaison le Romaine (VLR).  History buffs shouldn’t miss this one as there are captivating Roman ruins (thus the town’s name, “Romaine”).  VLR isn’t as crowded as Isle Sur Sorgue, however, it can be jammed packed as well.   The perfect day for me is the market in the morning, followed by lunch at one of the many outdoor cafes (or, a picnic from market ingredients in the shaded central square), then a guided tour in the afternoon of the illustrious Roman amphitheater, baths and millennium old mansions.

We can’t discuss Provence’s outdoor weekly markets without discussing olives.  Olives and olive oil are synonymous with Provence.  Tapenade?  It’s one of the area’s culinary gifts to France (for that matter, the world).  An entire cadre of non-edible olive products also fill the markets…everything from a host of skin products to stunning serving bowls made from olive wood.
The markets are, likewise, a shopper’s paradise for perfumes, spices, potteries and fabrics.  Markets are perfumed with intoxicating scents of lvender products---soaps, oils, lotions, sachets, and organic lavender used in cooking.  (BTW…lavender is one of the 10-12 ingredients found in the ubiquitous Herbs de Provence).  You can’t come to Provence without being mesmerized by the super colorful Provençal fabrics made from centuries old patterns.   There are a plethora of vendors selling the fabric by the yard, but there are even more vendors offering it in the form of tablecloths, napkins, placemats, purses, bedspreads and the like.   Pottery is available in an addictive array of earth & jewel tone colors.

Travelers joining the Wine-Knows group for the harvest tour this September will have the opportunity to experience the market in Vaison le Romaine.  Oh, yes, and the market has vendors who sell suitcases for all of the tourists who can’t stay away from the special products of the Provençal markets.

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