Faces of the French market in Aix-en-Provence
French markets are idolized worldwide – here we explore one of our favorites, found in Aix-en-Provence in the south of France…
Every morning at 8am, the open square at Place Richelme transforms into a bustling marketplace perfect for les français – and les francophiles – who can’t bear to do all the shopping one day a week. The chatter of vendors blends with the quick sounds of cameras snapping and bright pink radishes crunching, as can only happen in Provence.
But this isn’t a market to attract tourists. For residents of the quaint Aix-en-Provence in the south of France, this is a grocery store.
A tour of familiar French faces
The honey salesman catches the attention of everyone passing, exclaiming with a toothy smile that his honey is truly “top”. The honey is expensive at eight euros a jar, but it’s straight from the apiculteur and its eager salesman will gladly give spoons of each variety before a purchase is made.
Next to lavender oils and fabric printed with toile de jouy, the older woman who makes the lavender sachets speaks with students and tourists, kindly correcting their French. She stands under five-feet tall, her hair always in an effortlessly French, grey chignon. She used to be a French teacher. Her son boasts the high quality of the lavender, saying the sachets will last ten years and just need a squeeze every few months to invigorate the oils.
Across the path, fruits and vegetables wait to be bought – never squeezed or inspected beforehand. The twenty-something man who works there has big, curly hair and thick glasses. He laughs as he adds a bundle of parsley to a bag and asks his clients about their weekend and what is on the menu this week – “Est-ce que vous voulez un peu de plus de pérsil ?”
On the other side of the square, les aixois-e fill market baskets with fresh strawberries, ripe from nearby Carpentras, under the watchful eye of the café waiter, who stands ready to bise his regular customers and greet them in a familiar Southern French twang.
Resting above the saucissons – choices ranging from sanglier to chèvre, coated in pistachios and herbes de Provence – is a planche with samples of the selection of the day. “Miam!”, shoppers agree as the vendor offers a taste. His neighbor is busy selling chickens – heads attached – and a slew of farm-fresh eggs.
For French and expats alike, the morning ritual of going to the market and seeing the familiar vendor faces is as inherent as un répas followed by un café. The meals just aren’t the same without it.
The markets are where you can find the freshest, most authentic souvenirs, donc il faut que tu profites bien.
In Provence, it would be a tragedy to leave without at least one sachet of lavender, though preferably you will ditch everything you own and opt to fill your suitcase with those instead.
Stock rented kitchens with the best food France has to offer, from olives and sundried tomatoes to goat cheese and saucisson (goat cheese, by the way, is best in spring, according to une française). But beyond perishable goods, Provence is the perfect place to buy cheese boards and honeycombs made of olive wood, soap from Marseille and hand-painted pottery. But it’ll be hard to resist the peonies…
Where is your favourite market in France? Do you have any go-to purchases as the markets open? Let us know in the comments below…
All images © Anne Elder.