Heather Tyler explores the unique delights of Aix-en-Provence's market.
I walk through sleepy cobbled streets at 7am on a Saturday under a Provence sky as grey as a pigeon’s breast. Vendors at the main Aix-en-Provence market are still setting up their canopies and wares, and are surprised to see such an early customer. It’s “Bonjour!” all round. The soft early light is perfect for taking pictures.
It’s in these places that people come to connect in a way unchanged for centuries. To taste, gossip and shop, as I’ve written recently. What a joy to see the faces of the Provençal vendors who also have much to say about their artisan breads, luscious berries, almond cookies, sunflowers, vegetables, herbs and lavender goods. Making that connection is often lost in our intensely urban environments.
As you can see from my pictures, it’s a riot of colour and a feast for the senses. I can’t think of a better outdoors expedition for kids that combines learning about Mother Earth’s bounty, the environment, about connecting with community, with everything that tastes so good. They might even learn to love lots of veges, if you let them choose the cabbages.
Supermarket food shopping is a disconnected task. There’s nothing communal about it except you’re in a store with other people also pushing trolleys. You have no interaction with the producers of the food you choose to buy. That’s why I seek out produce markets when I travel – whether it’s in my own backyard or yours – because I love to talk with the people who love their produce. We all know that something made with love always tastes better. And produce markets often offer specialist gourmet and organic goods not available mainstream.
Provençal markets are the open hearts of southern French communities. They’re held in squares shaded by plane trees, marked on all sides by quintessential provincial architecture with doors and window shutters of leaf green, dark emerald, dusky blue, garnet, slate and ash. The Aix-en-Provence markets take place in the city centre squares: Place des Prêcheurs and Place de la Madeleine and in the surrounding areas (Encagnane, Jas de Bouffan). Saturday is the the busiest day. The antique and second-hand book fair is held on the first Sunday of each month. (I wander around that one too, the following day, sadly knowing there’s no room in my suitcase)
But I go to the produce market with one shopping bag and come back to my hotel with four. My French is basic and there isn’t a lot of English spoken, but the enthusiasm and smiles of the vendors speak volumes. Climont recommends his organic bread made from black oats, and he also has a range of wheat-free breads. Laetitia insists I sample her organic cheesecakes. She also makes sugar-free organic cookies. I buy a cheesecake topped with lemon, and sit at a cafe on the square, order a cafe au lait and eat the cheesecake for breakfast.
This blog post was written by Heather Tyler for www.tastefortravel.com.au