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Apr 23, 2011 01:04 AM

Compiling a list of France's best food markets / foodie towns

My birthday's coming up this summer, and it seems a good excuse for some culinary adventure: thinking a lazily-paced journey through France, stopping off in towns which hold the best food markets/fairs, and sampling the best of what the country has to offer.

Can anyone lend any insight / stories / suggestions?

Not so interested in high-end restaurants: this is more about ground-level eating. However, I'm game for throwing in a few gastronomic curiosities for those with ideas. (e.g. a town with particular food/flavour affinities, or a wine spot of note).

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  1. All cities big and small have remarkable markets. Some ideas come immediately to my mind:

    Marché des Lices (place des Lices) in Rennes.
    Marché du Clos Saint-Marc in Rouen.
    Marché du cours Saleya in Nice.
    Marché du cours de Vincennes in Paris.

    To be completed by other posters.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Ptipois

      Every morning market along the Saone River in Lyon.

      1. re: ChefJune

        Interesting: this could be a fun way to make the trip. Could you name a couple of the highlights? Where might I find a complete list?

    2. Sunday main st market in Arles
      Daily market in Ceret, small, but stuff never seen before or since

      4 Replies
      1. re: Delucacheesemonger

        Thursday markett at Villefranche de Rouergue.
        Morning fisih market at St Jean de Luz.

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          "never seen before or since"

          Such as? Don't tease us...

          1. re: Step1_MeltTheButter

            Three cheeses with no name, all sheep. A honey l bought many jars of and still use with great joy. Has a resonant bitterness with the sweetness that for me is addictive, of course it had no name as well.Ceret is a teeny town near Collioure with an excellent Picasso museum.

          2. re: Delucacheesemonger

            The main market at Arles is on a Saturday and it is indeed one of the best in Provence:

            If you're looking for a Sunday market try the renowned antiques market at L'Isle sur la Sorgue and I am in agreement with another poster about the Tuesday market at Vaison-la-Romaine. It's got almost as much interesting food as Arles along with a lot more bric-a-brac and other items from local vendors.

          3. Tuesday morning market in Vaison la Romaine and Saturday morning in Uzes, both are wonderful markets.

            2 Replies
              1. We spent a couple of days in Sarlat specifically to be able to visit the famous Saturday market, but I liked the Wednesday market in Montignac better.

                22 Replies
                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Thanks. Any reason? Are they close to each other? Does either market have any particular speciality?

                    1. re: Step1_MeltTheButter

                      Montignac in comparison is a real market with rich variety of local produce, while Sarlat caters more to visitors.
                      The other choices of mine:
                      - thursday markett at Villefranche de Rouergue.
                      - Morning fisih market at St Jean de Luz
                      are also especially richly representative of local ingredients. Plus the towns make for particularly beautiful setting. Villefranche de Rouergue is a sumptuous bastide town. St Jean de Luz is a very chic seaside village.
                      You can find detailed info on them on line.

                    2. re: Robert Lauriston

                      We were in Sarlat just last week, and I was really disappointed to see the decline in fresh produce at the Saturday market -- very few local producers, darned near everything trucked in from Rungis, and the prices were more than what I pay here in the Paris suburbs. Wilted lettuce, hard pink tomatoes, and bruised apples were the best they could come up with.

                      The saucisse, magret, foie gras, et al was still very much up to snuff -- but the produce was pretty awful (backed up by a couple of conversations with others, local and tourist) during the week.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        We got the best crème fraiche au lait cru I've ever had at a shop in the covered section of the Sarlat market, but they're probably open every day.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          If you drop by Périgueux, the market on place du Coderc is incredible. Much better than Sarlat's.

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            I second the Perigueux market - held on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. As the provincial capital of the Dordogne, it is an important gathering place for serious producteurs of the region - not like Sarlat or other tourist sites in the area. Not only does it have excellent fresh vegetables (with occasional curiosities like salsify, pomegranates and medlars), but it is also intensely seasonal, with asparagus of every size and hue available in April; five or six varieities of strawberry in April-July; various pumpkins and squash in autumn, girolles, ceps, morilles and truffles in their respective slots; wet walnuts in October and chestnuts in winter; and the plumpest figs imaginable in September. Most of these are grown locally (the Dordogne is one of France's major strawberry, asparagus and walnut producers) - and the quality is superb. It is quite an exercise to go round the market (it covers two huge squares) and compare it to some of the big Provencal markets; it is a lesson in the best of Aquitaine vs the best of the South. In addition to the fresh produce there are vendors of foie gras (in every form, and stuffed into every fruit imaginable - from prunes to peaches to strawberries), of fresh rabbits, poultry and fish (the fishmonger was offering alose last week - a rare shopping opportunity, like a cross between a salmon and a sardine, which comes up the mouth of the Dordogne and Garonne rivers. I think it is a relative of the shad, though I have never tasted the latter); of cheeses from nearby farms and of regional specialities; and flowers picked fresh from their owners' small holdings - great drooping branches of lilac, huge plate-headed peonies, and delicate fist-fulls of lilies of the valley. These are not the hot-housed, forced specimens you see in many towns. It is a big market, but still possess the spirit of times past. Thank God Perigueux has not really been discovered - it is on the road to nowhere and is not a celebrity hangout (leaving Jean-Paul Gautier aside).It is like stepping into a Gourmet photograph of 40 years ago.

                            1. re: Piggyinthemiddle

                              Thanks guys, a wealth of information so far!

                              I've compiled a Google map, if anybody's interested in taking a look.


                              I'm still ordering it, but I'm thinking of starting in Lyon, with the world-famous Paul Bocuse market.

                              I've thrown in a stop at Roquefort to help break up one of the longer stretches, and I'm thinking a stop somewhere in Bordeaux might be welcome between Saint-Jean De Luz fish market and Perigreux. Any suggestions welcome.

                              Have rounded the trip off with a visit to Celler de Can Roca- the world's second best restaurant- over the Catalonian border, which I hope will provide some well-earned respite!

                              1. re: Piggyinthemiddle

                                Thanks for this very accurate description of the Périgueux market.
                                Shad is alose; it is the same species.
                                There is also a covered market on place du Coderc, worth getting into. Beautiful chickens and meats.
                                The magrets, foies gras and duck or goose products are also high-quality. But I have fond memories of the fruit and vegetables. The wild mushrooms in season are hard to resist.
                                Périgueux has not been discovered by tourism (there is nothing to see there really) and is somewhat off the tourist routes though it is the capital of the Périgord region. But it houses the Festival du livre gourmand every other year and for that reason all French food writers and publishers, and many chefs, are familiar with it.
                                In Winter, there is a famous marché au gras (goose, duck, and the truffles that go with them), but I don't know the dates.

                                1. re: Ptipois

                                  Does anybody know of any other, esoteric stops I can throw into my map, to break up the monotony of markets?

                                  Some culinary curiosities? I noticed Toulouse is en route, so maybe some sausage there? Are there any small towns with notable gastronomic contributions?

                                  I much appreciate this knowledge coming from my fellow hounds, and am VERY impressed by how much I've learnt so far!

                                  1. re: Step1_MeltTheButter

                                    "Does anybody know of any other, esoteric stops I can throw into my map, to break up the monotony of markets?"

                                    In order for us to give useful advice, please give us your itinerary. For example, no use for us to recommend the market in Annecy if you won't be remotely near it.

                                    1. re: Parigi

                                      Fair point, but I don't really have an itinerary as yet: I'm forming one around the various ideas I pick up, and building as I go.

                                      I think it's fair to say I'll be sticking to southern France. Beyond that, anything goes.

                                      If, for instance, somebody knows- or thinks they know- where to find a particular gastronomic treat : (e.g. local chocolate / sausage / wine / whatever ), throw out the town, and I'll put it on my list.

                                      I think Roquefort is the best example I have so far of a specialty food town. Toulouse might be another one, as it's famous for its style of sausage. Half a dozen more of those, and this will be quite the food adventure.

                                      I'll be aiming to make the map as accessible and informative as possible. I'll also be making notes on it as we travel through: recording the various finds in markets and towns, things to sample, tips, scenic routes, etc

                                    2. re: Step1_MeltTheButter

                                      "Does anybody know of any other, esoteric stops I can throw into my map, to break up the monotony of markets?"

                                      Why would you find the markets monotonous?
                                      Didn't you say in your original post you wanted to stop in towns with good markets? I am becoming confused re what kind of info you want.

                                      1. re: Parigi

                                        It's not that confusing. The clue is in the thread title: "food markets / foodie towns."

                                        I don't find markets monotonous- on the contrary. But to keep things more interesting on a tour of, say, 20 market towns, I'd like to add some towns/regions with a food specialisation.

                                        I already gave the examples of Roquefort and Toulouse. One of my friends suggested Bresse for some quality poultry. There must be hundreds of others.

                                        So that's what I mean. Any suggestions?

                                        1. re: Step1_MeltTheButter

                                          Not hundreds, thousands and tens of thousands of others. Listing the notable gastronomic contributions on a local basis would amount to making a list of nearly every village. And I cannot think of a city in France that would not be "foodie town". Even a dim suburban town like Drancy, North of Paris, has le père Duval and his famous andouillettes.

                                          1. re: Ptipois

                                            Great! So, which are your favourites in the South?

                                            1. re: Step1_MeltTheButter

                                              Obviously, you know a LOT more than I do about regional French food.

                                              I'm just looking for some basic ideas, to add to the tasting trip. I've discovered that Lautrec is a famous producer pink garlic, so we'll be stopping there, too.

                                              If there are thousands of others, I'm obviously out of my element! Maybe you have a list of personal favourites?

                                              By the way, thanks so much to everybody who has contributed to this thread so far. It is very much appreciated!

                                              1. re: Step1_MeltTheButter

                                                I don't have a list of personal favorites because, as I wrote, each place has its own specialties and while there are markets larger and more famous than others, all are unique in their own right and each 20-km area has its own specific products. Listing them all would be like writing an encyclopedia and picking "favorites" would be establishing a hierarchy I don't believe in when it comes to food. My approach is not going places to seek things, it is rather discovering new things as I travel around.
                                                Pink garlic in Lautrec is celebrated and well marketed — personally I don't think it is more interesting than purple garlic from Charentes, or pink garlic from Auvergne, or field garlic from the Drôme. It has a tendency to lose its flavor and dry up as it ages while plump purple garlic stays juicy all through the Winter. Also, any fresh garlic from a farm anywhere in France will be a superior garlic experience.

                                                My suggestion is perhaps you build your itinerary around landmarks and famous spécialités but don't draw too tight a web doing that, leave the experience open for many discoveries along the way. The hierarchisation of specialties is somewhat deceptive, and the best-known stuff may conceal a hundred great overlooked items, known on the local level.

                                                An example: it's no use going to Laguiole for knives since knives were never made in Laguiole (all cutlery in Central France comes from Thiers) before the city, helped by an army of Paris marketing, design and PR bureaus, recently decided to "delocalize" the industry by creating a brand new factory on the spot. Regional knives are better bought in Thiers and around it, on markets all over the Massif central, and in small coutelier shops in small cities. Cheaper, better choice and better quality — and genuinely traditional.

                                                Olive oil is great in France and each microregion is proud of its growths. What should one recommend? The "tanche" olive oil made around Nyons, the oils of Nice, the lucque and verdale of Languedoc? IMO what is interesting is discovering the diversity.

                                                1. re: Ptipois

                                                  Excellent reply. Again, it goes verbatim into my archive.
                                                  Besides garlic, Drome is also famous for its saffron (around Grignan). Expect French saffron to be much much more expensive than Spanish saffron.

                                                  A beautiful village with a great food product is Rocamadour. Unfortunately it is totally overrun by religious geegaw boutiques, worse than Mont St Michel. It is better to stay nearby, such as in the lovely village of Martel and go to a ferme-auberge that serves it (I raise both hands and feet to recommend the Ferme Auberge du Moulin à Huile de Noix. Must reserve.

                                                  The region around Toulouse is beautiful, but I would not make much of Toulouse sausage.
                                                  In every village in France, every self-respecting butcher makes his own sausage AND saucisse de toulouse.
                                                  Toulouse is a genre made by everyone from Paris to Menton. First of all although it is not bad it does not merit a pilgrimage like the places Pti recommended above. Secondly even if you are a die-hard fan, you don't need to be in Toulouse to find it. Imagine a tourist from Thailand going to England to find the land of English muffin.

                                                  Another beautiful spot with a great local food item that you can't get (a good sample of) elsewhere is the very nice Mediterranean seaside town of Sète and its Tielle. My fave tielle is found on 11 quai de la Résistance. Look for a nondescript storefront with a long waiting line outside.

                                                  But this is just a handful of examples. In order to give you all the interesting towns and interesting food items, I need to quit my day job and get a grant to help you. That is why if you could arrive at a better focus re what you like and where you are going, it would greatly help us help you. For example, will you have a car? If not, most of the recommendations here will be useless.

                                                  1. re: Parigi

                                                    What is the specialty of Rocamadour? You mean the eponymous cheese?

                                                    We had a lovely lunch with remarkable wines (e.g. a 17-year-old Arbois rosé) on the patio of the aptly named Hotel Beau Site, but were glad we weren't staying in the tourist-overrun town but at Les Vielles Tours, which is maybe 3 km on foot by pleasant country trails and has an excellent restaurant.




                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      "What is the specialty of Rocamadour?"

                                                      Uh, you are not joking, right?

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Stayed at Les Vielles Tours about 15 years ago. Lovely. Yes, much nicer than staying in Rocamadourland. Have gone back to northern Lot regularly, one of my fave regions. We now have the habit of renting a house - usually at the Domaine de Gamot, - instead of staying in hotels. Must have kitchen in order to enjoy fully what all the markets have to offer.

                          2. The original comment has been removed