PROVENCE CHRISTMAS MARKETS: LOURMARIN’S MARCHÉ DE NOËL IS DELIGHTFUL
Although lavender, poppies, and leisurely lunches with rosé at poolside tables are the typical draw to Provence, Christmas Markets—Les Marchés de Noël—are another wonderful reason to visit this region. Okay, it is cold but the sun is bright, the relaxed pace prevails, and the spirit of Christmas warms your heart.
The Christmas markets of Alsace are the most famous in France and probably the most authentic since that region neighbors Germany where such markets are thought to have originated way back the Middle Ages. Evidence suggests that the first Christmas Market took place in 1434 in the German town, Dresden.
Today, the tradition can be found all across France. The largest markets, not surprisingly, are in Strasbourg and Paris, but dozens and dozens of other French cities and villages offer beautiful markets (that are less crowded) and filled with culinary delicacies, arts and crafts, and performances true to their respective regions.
In Provence, some of the larger cities—notably Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Aubagne, Avignon, Marseilles, and Nice—commence the season in November but most wait until after the Feast of Saint Barbara (Sainte Barbe) on December 4 to open their markets. Some markets last as long as six weeks and others are just one day.
Lourmarin, the small Provençal village that our family can’t seem to get enough of, will hold its Marché de Noël on Sunday, December 22. Imbued with the spirit of Christmas, the whole village invites adults and children alike for a magical day of holiday festivities.
Beginning at 10:00 a.m., as many as 70 stands will open on Place Bartholomew with food, arts, and crafts. As the poster indicates, the food will be prepared by “les métiers de bouche,” which means by “tradesmen of the mouth” or culinary professionals. (That is, the food will be good!) Look for “gourmandises” such as pastries, callisons, and macarons. Expect a high caliber of arts and crafts here in Lourmarin, too, as the village is known for its especially high-quality goods in the weekly Friday market.
The village shops will also be decorated for the season and selling gifts and goodies with the holidays in mind. I happened to speak with two shop owners who are very excited about this event. Ingrid Betton, proprietor of La Maison d’Ingrid, said that she will have local truffles, truffle salt and oil and “the best nougat anywhere” on her shelves in addition to her usual artisanal foodstuffs and excellent selection of wines and spirits. Tatiana Guillemin, proprietor of La Rose de Bagatelle (and two charming vacation rentals), will be open with many attractive items that easily fit into your suitcase.
Check out the galleries in Lourmarin, too. There are many lovely ones in the village–if you have a favorite, please let readers know about it by writing a comment below!
My very favorite artist in Lourmarin—and one of my favorite artists anywhere—is Gérard Isirdi whose studio (on rue Henri Savornin) will be open for this occasion. Christine Isirdi, who oversees the showroom, said that visitors will be able to see all Isirdi’s work, as usual, but two new posters for the season will also be on view. As evidenced by the many Isirdi prints that grace our walls in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, we love his work and it can easily be transported home (or shipped home). I always stop by to buy some postal cards.
One of my very favorite galleries is Galerie Jacqueline Bricard whose showroom is filled with the work of Naïf painters from all around Europe and beyond. The paintings are guaranteed to make you smile. Bricard also has enchanting postal cards and small prints, which make for really nice, tiny gifts to take home.
Visitors will be delighted by singers and dancers performing Provençal-inspired pieces, a cirque de rue (street circus), and light projections on the walls throughout the village.
Guillemin told us that there may be Christmas songs performed by an American opera singer who just moved to the village. I don’t have any more details but I have a hunch that she might perform somewhere around rue de Juiverie.
Maud Peers, President of the Merchants Association in Lourmarin for three years, said that vin chaud (mulled wine) will be offered throughout the village. Wine tastings, as usual, will also be offered in La Cave à Lourmarin and Les Caves du Château. (I suspect some good bottles can also be found in at least one of the stands on Place Bartholomew.)
Peers, who has organized this market for the past three years, said that there are always many events geared toward the children. (I think they are for the benefit of adults, too, as who doesn’t enjoy watching those little faces so full of wonderment in this season!)
Peers said that Père Noël (known as Santa Claus and Saint Nicholas in other parts of the world) will be there, walking the streets of Lourmarin and distributing sweets to all the children. His stroll, I gather, may be part of a “retraite aux flambeaux” (torchlight procession) through the village. In previous years, Père Noël has also traveled by horse and carriage around the village, so tell your children to keep an eye out for a jolly man in a red suit with a big beard in a passing carriage!
Even if Père Noël is not in the horse-drawn carriage this year, you can be! Rides in an calèche attelée (horse-drawn carriage) will be available to all!
Children will also want to look for the “lacher de ballons,” the launch of 300 balloons somewhere in the village.
Guillemin also told us that there may also be a few donkeys for children to admire.
Given that this is Provence, I suspect there may be a Santon or two in the marché. Those colorful clay figurines that traditionally fill the nativity scenes in the homes of most families in Provence are so tied to Christmas in Provence that it is hard to go anywhere in this season without running into Santons in all sizes and myriad characters from Baby Jesus to the village simpleton (le ravi).
If you will be in Provence in December, Lourmarin’s Marché de Noël would be a memorable way to spend an afternoon. Christmas in a village in Provence is guaranteed to fill you with the holiday spirit.
Other Marchés de Noël near Lourmarin include Aix-en-Provence, Arles, Aubagne, Marseilles, Saint-Remy, Vaugines, Lauris, Cadenet, Cucuron, Avignon, Gigondas, Vacqueyras, and Orange. (For more details on where and when, please visit: http://tinyurl.com/lgstyw5 or http://tinyurl.com/knbexn9).
Aix and Avignon are particularly beautiful this time of year; Aubagne and Aix have wonderful collections of Santons for sale; and Marseilles and Saint-Remy have very impressive Christmas markets. But, I’m always drawn to the Marchés de Noël in the small villages—like Lourmarin—for a real Provençal experience.