10 MARKETS IN PROVENCE: #1 IS LOURMARIN (OKAY, WE’RE BIASED!)
This post will be the first in a series that will feature each of the ten markets that The Modern Trobadors always visit when in Provence. (If you’d like to guess the other nine markets, you may win a cool Absinthe tote bag and a booklet on wine tasting. See end of article for details.) The markets were selected primarily on the basis of the quality of the offerings of the vendors and the ambiance of the venue although practicality was also considered to some extent (e.g., distance from our home in Lourmarin, market options on that day of the week, convenience of parking, etc.). Bottom line is that these are the markets we visit when we are in Provence. Again and again…and again.
Every day is Market Day somewhere in Provence. Come rain or shine and even on holidays, independent vendors across the region are up by daybreak, loading their wares into trucks, vans, carts, and deux-chevaux and will make the trip to one of the many markets in the South of France. Just as they have done for centuries.
Within hours, the Market Towns–tiny villages and large cities alike–will be transformed: umbrellas will be up and tables will be filled with picture perfect arrays of fresh fruits and vegetables; beautiful selections of fish, some right out of the sea, will be artistically arranged on ice; and soon the air will be filled with the aromas of paella, pizza, rotisserie chickens and roasted vegetables.
Local honeys and jams will be stacked in pyramid shapes; rows of cheeses–made from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep–will be neatly arranged next to fresh eggs and sausages; baskets will be filled to the brim with olives seasoned with various blends of herbes de Provence, garlic, lemons, and peppers; and still other baskets will be unveiled, revealing colorful dried herbs for every occasion. Follow the fragrant scents of lavender and lemon-verbena to find the soaps.
There will be flowers galore, Provençal pottery, table cloths and other fine linens, silk scarves and sweaters as well as the more mundane kitchen gadgets and even underwear, jeans, and shoes.
There will be olive oils for the tasting and, if you are fortunate, some local wines as well. In the summer, look for bunches of dried lavender and, in the winter, in a few markets, arrive very early for the coveted black truffles.
If you have forgotten your basket, you can usually find another, locally made or from Northern Africa. You will fill it up quickly and effortlessly. Just as they have done for centuries.
If it’s Friday—and we’re in Provence—chances are you will find us in Lourmarin. As a recent dinner guest who vacations in nearby Rognes said (without prompting), “Lourmarin has the best market in the area!”
The Lourmarin Market is not the largest in the area—its size is far exceeded by the lovely markets in nearby Aix and Isle-sur-la-Sorgue—but it has plenty to offer, from some of the best vendors in the Luberon and beyond, in an easily navigated, captivatingly beautiful space. While we love the aforementioned markets and, in upcoming posts, will rave about the merits of each (as well as other smaller markets), the market in Lourmarin has everything we typically want, served up in a charming Provençal setting, with the added advantage… that it lies just a short walk from La Bonbonnière—so the rotisserie chicken we’ll take back for lunch in our courtyard will still be warm!
Which direction? Shall we turn right to see if our favorite local photographer is there? Or go left to pick up our artisanale bread, sausages, and cheeses? Or, up the stairs for our olives and tapenade? Ah, to have such decisions…. Pinch me, I may have gone to heaven.
Like most people, we have our routine on Market Day. If we roll out of bed early enough, we walk around the corner to Café Gaby where we will have a couple of café crèmes as we watch the village come alive with activity. It is a wonderful vantage point.
Depending on the time of year, we watch mothers walk by with their children in tow on the way to school. We see hikers, shouldering huge packs and carrying long sticks; they’ve taken a detour along the tiny rue Henri de Savournin before they forge ahead to the Luberon Mountains.
We can spot those making the baguette run: the men and women who walk with a determinedly faster clip than other passersby, empty-handed, eyes locked on the nearby boulangerie; and then, a few minutes later, they pass back by at a slightly slower pace, baguettes tucked beneath their arms, sporting an accomplished look.
A few dogs will saunter by, usually unattended, enjoying the early unadulterated scents of the morning. We see the regulars pony up to the bar, ordering pastis and beer as has been their custom for years (but forgoing the cigarettes since France outlawed smoking in restaurants some years ago).
We observe the morning bisous—usually two, sometimes three—followed by lots of chatting, gesticulating, and laughing. Market Day brings a sense of anticipation and excitement for everyone, but for those who live in Provence, that sense is undoubtedly mingled with the deep comfort of having a routine and following a tradition engrained in their souls so long ago. Even the hustle and bustle that has gradually seeped into Provençal life can’t diminish those archetypal feelings.
We pay for our cafés and walk toward the avenue Raoul Dautry. We begin near Le Moulin. Our first stop is usually our favorite rotisserie—La Rotisserie du Luberon—where we place an order for a chicken (with extra potatoes, naturellement) that we will pick up on the way home to La Bonbonnière. Occasionally, roasted pork speaks to us or one of the prepared pasta dishes. The couple who run this wonderful rotisserie also have a wide selection of uncooked meats, including rabbit and capon.
A little further along, we usually find a long table topped with perfectly arranged pyramids of jars of Terre d’Andalousie products. This very small company produces a big array of what be best described as dips or thick sauces. Influenced by Southern Spanish flavors and using lots of herbs, peppers, garlic, artichokes, eggplants, and olives, they fill small jars with appealing, often spicy, creations like Carmin d’Artichaut, Crème d’Ail, Crème du Diable, Crème de Pistou, and Crème d’Aubergine. I love to dab a little Crème d’Aubergine on toasted baguette slices along with a little honey and topped with goat cheese (slightly melted)—I put a few of these on a mixed green salad and I am very happy! Or, just open a jar and spread a little on a baguette, which is how samples are served by this vendor. Generous samples, too.
In the same area, you may find a man standing beside a barrel, topped with a Provençal cloth and a small selection of nice Côte de Rhone or Châteauneuf-de-Pape wines to taste and, of course, buy. He is very friendly. We even traded some bottles of California wines for French wines one year.
In the summer months, there’ll be another stand nearby that sells the famous Cavaillon melons. I was never a huge melon fan—probably because most of the melons that had crossed my lips tasted like damp cardboard—until I experienced melons from this area of Provence. I suppose there must be some grounds for Cavaillon’s three-day festival devoted to that particular fruit! Here, you can tell the vendor what day you would like to eat the fruit and, like a psychic of melons, he will select one that will be perfectly ripe on that day. And, you can sample melons, too!
There are several nice fabric stalls along this road with a good selection of Provençal table cloths, place mats, napkins and the like. You will see bright colored fabrics with designs of lavender, olives, and lemons, for example, as well as fabrics with the more traditional Provençal earth tones Good prices but, definitely, a range of quality. I would recommend surveying the full market, but you might find that you return to these vendors.
There is a very good produce vendor that usually sets up just before the intersection. This was my go-to place for many years, not only because Emerique always wore a big smile and had the patience of a saint with my French, but because his produce was always top quality and he included a lot of local produce. He’s sold his business and I hope the new owners, at the very least, will continue to reliably carry such good produce.
As you approach the intersection, you will undoubtedly see a crowd of people—including imploring children–gathered ’round a small wagon in the center of the street. Stay away. A few kittens or puppies or even some goats are usually the center of attention and you will be asked to buy some over-priced candies under the guise of contributing to the well-being of the animals. It’s all quite polite—more cajoling than badgering—nonetheless I would advise skipping the whole affair as these wagons of somnolent animals have always struck us as suspicious.
Instead, stop at the fabulous biologique berries on the left, if you are there in the late summer, next to the furniture (where the chairs in La Bonbonnière were recaned) and then head toward the florist where you will find beautiful cut flowers and potted plants, large and small. The phalanopsis orchids are particularly pretty and inexpensive (as orchids go). Continuing left, direction Pétanque courts, you will also find the artisanale bread table—and a long line—where we usually buy bread. Note that the proprietor will cut the loaves into the size you would like and weigh it to sell. We usually buy le complet (the whole wheat). It is a wonderful accompaniment to the cheeses you will undoubtedly buy a little later.
Continuing in this direction, you will find our favorite vendor of épices (otherwise known as our “spice man”). There you can find unusual spices like colomboand piment espelette and a wide selection of peppers, including those wonderful pink pepper corns. His herbes de Provence are always very fresh, too.
We also usually buy our sausages from the vendor around this area. He has a wide selection, including those made from sanglier (wild boar) and âne (donkey) as well as the more mundane (and arguably more appealing) garlic, mushroom, and anise.
Le poissonnière, when he comes to the market, sets up his blue-and-white canopied stand right around this area. I can’t figure out his schedule, but if he is there, it is worth changing your menu for the evening. The fish look like they jumped right from water on to his crushed ice. There will be a long line here, but it is worth the wait.
Just a few stalls down, also on the left (the side near the soccer field), you will find our favorite cheese stand (in Lourmarin). Here, you will see rounds of cheese arranged and identified as if they were in a display case in the British history museum and you will find the loveliest couple curating the display. Ah, in all seriousness, the number of cheese from which to choose can be overwhelming—ask them for help and tastes and do stretch yourself! I always buy more than I need, but it never goes to waste. By Tuesday, I will be champing at the bit to visit my other favorite cheese vendor…. for more cheese, but he’s also a very handsome fellow–can anyone guess which market I will visit on Tuesday?!)
Our very favorite vendor of confitures préparées (otherwise known as our “jam man”) is a not-to-miss stop in the Lourmarin Market. Our suitcases are always laden with Les Saveurs Provençales jams. Our daughter’s favorite is Fraises a la Vanille; my husband loves Orange a la Lavande; and I would be hard-pressed to choose just one although the jam with orange zest (featured in our recent crepe video) might be my current top choice.
Along this stretch of the market, I always find myself gravitating toward the scarves. I suspect that I have probably purchased a couple dozen of them—some of which were gifts, of course—as they are lovely and unique. And, reasonably priced. A little further down, I purchased my favorite dish for clafoutis. Nearby, is the basket man.
Doubling back to the intersection, scooting by the wagon of drugged kittens and puppies, I usually make a stop at an attractive display of freshly made pizzas, quiches, and desserts, all very good.
Turn around and you will find the main—and usually the only—table of lavender. Huge bunches of lavender, stems tightly bound and twisted, as well as sachets and oils are inviting and the fragrance is irresistible.
On this street, several talented jewelers sell their wares. In recent visits, at the very end, you will find the photographs of an exceptionally talented French photographer by the name of Jurek Nems. We have purchased several haunting photographs from him or his English wife.
After exhausting that end of avenue Raul Daultry, go up to Place H. Barthélémy. If you take the stairs up from the intersection, stop and look at the reproduction 19th and early 20th French signs and plasticized tote bags of old French art. I always buy small gifts here. On the Place, you will find more prepared foods, like pizza, paella, and crêpes. One of our favorite honey vendors often sets up shop in this area. Our favorite olive and tapenade husband and wife team are always along the perimeter of the market.
Two of my favorite stalls up on Place H. Barthélémy fall under the broad category of kitchen, etc. supplies: one focusing on dishes—not the Provençal pottery type, but the classic white porcelain sort —and another sells what I will call kitchen doodads…and more. I always find myself poking around the wares of each vendor. I will always remember the proprietor of the classic white porcelain because he is so jovial but also because he is so honest. I made a small purchase one week, but I apparently did not take all of it with me; when I returned the next week, he tried to tell me that I had not taken all of my merchandise with me—which he had kept wrapped up and tucked aside—but I couldn’t understand. I knew that his kind smile indicated that his words were benevolent, but it took my husband to explain to me what he was telling me: that I had left behind a few cups from the previous week. I will never forget this lovely man, but he told me that anyone in the markets would have done the same thing. Nevertheless, I often think of this man.
In the summer, there may be musicians in the market or in Place d’Ormeau, near Café Gaby. You may catch a soccer game or a round of pétanque. In the winter and cooler days, the market will be smaller and quieter and, then, you may even catch a glimpse of one of the market’s most well-known visitors, Peter Mayle. Regardless of the season, you will see familiar faces. As you stay longer in Lourmarin, they will become your friends and Market Day will be much more rewarding than simply filling your basket—then, going to Market becomes a much longer morning…mais avec gran plaisir!
Part Two in this series will appear in a few weeks.
CONTEST! Can you guess the other 9 markets that we will feature?
The first person to post all 9 markets correctly will receive a tote bag from the Lourmarin Market! Thereafter, each person who correctly posts the 9 markets will receive a booklet entitled “A Primer of Wine Tasting.”
Only one entry per person. The contest ends on Saturday, April 23 at midnight (Eastern Standard Time). Winners will be notified by Monday, April 25th. Post your entry in our Comments Section at the end of this article.
HINTS: 1) Use the market map that is a link in this post to see which markets to consider. 2) Read the post carefully to collect other relevant information.
For a list of other The Modern Trobadors (TMT) posts about markets in Provence, click here.