The Marché, with its exquisitely presented fresh food stalls is as typical to France as are cafés, croissants and café au lait. It’s where locals and tourists shop for fresh ingredients, from staples such as olives, olive oil, truffles and herbes de Provence to gorgeously arranged fruits and vegetables to pre-cooked meals. Many sample delicacies while walking, shopping, snacking; other take the goodies to the beach or a perfect piquenique.
Kids love markets where they can move freely from place to place, tasting, buying or asking for whatever suits their fancy. Parents appreciate discovering regional specialties without having to request an entire order in a restaurant. For example, some items are sold by the piece: socca, the traditional chickpea crusted, pizza-shaped pie, fresh from the portable oven; pissaladière, the Niçoise specialty that’s an olive- and onion-topped puff pastry made in a rectangular sheet pan; and crèpes with jambon and fromage (ham and cheese) or sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with home-crafted preserves; plus tiny tarte tropéziennes, miniatures of the famous filled, cake-sized brioche. Vendors sell portions of paella from a huge pan brimming with sausage, chicken, seafood and peppers topping saffron-scented rice. And there are an incredible number of jarred, canned, boxed, bagged gifts to import for foodies, family and friends, plus dried flowers, clothes, objets, artwork, artisanal crafts and souvenirs.
Each town provides information about the local markets, which normally close by 1 p.m. (They start packing up earlier.) And be sure to check what is sold on which day of the week, because the same places that sell produce one day may house weekly brocantes (flea markets) another.
Here are five favorites, where I shopped this past August, alphabetized by city name.
Antibes: Marché Provençal
Antibes is located between Nice and Cannes and just four miles from Marineland. Its daily, covered Marché Provencal in Cours Massena in Vieux Antibes (old Antibes) is a special place footsteps from the Musée Picasso in the Chateau Grimaldi on the ramparts of the city, amid the old city’s charming boutiques, bookstores, cafés and art galleries. Regulars return to their favored cheesemonger, fishmonger, florist, plant or product vendors. After the market closes, painters, sculptors, ceramists and artisanal craft people set up their creations.
Cannes: Marché Forville
Two daily markets in Cannes reflect the size of the city. Marché Forville is located up from La Croisette, near the Palais de Festival, the port of Cannes and Le Suquet, the steep old Roman-era fishing town. Its fine specialty stalls showcasing produce, beef, magical vegetable chips and olive oils are open daily from Tuesday to Sunday (on Monday, it’s a brocante). Beachgoers carry take-away items from the charcuterie (hams, salami, plus) and fromagerie (cheese) stalls or socca hot from the oven.
Cannes: Marché Gambetta 86
Marché Gambetta is one of the main daily markets in Cannes (closed Monday) totally redone in 2011. Vendors sell produce, plants, cheese and bread, as well as clothes, straw hats, shoes and art. It’s surrounded by specialty food shops, including a butcher that makes rotisserie chicken and a boulangerie for bread. The square is close to the Gare, SCNF railway station and little, café-lined pedestrian streets, near the Galerie Lafayette department store, and a few blocks from the chic, little boutiques that line rue d’Antibes.
Nice: Cours Seleya
Cours Selaya in Vieux Nice, the old city, reaches the Promenade des Anglais and the sea through ancient arched passages. The morning produce market and extraordinary day-long Marché aux Fleurs (flower market) entice with color, aroma and sheer beauty from Tuesday to Sunday. On Mondays, there’s the brocante and summer evenings introduce arts and crafts. Hats, souvenirs and artwork abound on the narrow, café-lined streets that surround the Palais de Justice and the ornate Chapelle de la Miséricorde de Nice.
Saint Tropez: Place des Lices
On Tuesdays and Saturdays in Saint Tropez, there are no pétanques (bocci) players in the tree-shaded Place des Lices. The square is crowded with stalls selling every kind of bread and pastry, including the traditional St. Tropezienne, and fruit, meat, fish and chicken, cheese, olive oils and herbs, including freshly baked socca and paella from the pan. And, original Louis Vuitton trunks, vintage clothes and posters, pre-owned jewelry, fabulous new clothes, cashmere shawls, toys, shoes, soaps and parfums to everything desirable.
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