January 8, 2004
Farmers' markets are a tradition of Provence, providing locals access to the finest and freshest produce in the region. In small towns, market day comes but once a week and can take on the air of festival. In Aix, a very traditional city, the farmers' market is part of the daily fabric of city life. The "big" market days are Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays on Place des Precheurs, and on occasion Cours Mirabeau, a wide boulevard shaded by enormous plane trees, will be closed off for an up-scale flea and crafts market. But in Aix, every day is market day between 9am and noon, as the greengrocers set up their wares under the plane trees in Place Richelme and the flower market sets up in adjoining Place de l'Hotel de Ville, both located on the main axis between Place du Général de Gaulle, where the tourist information office is located and Cathédrale St.-Sauveur on the opposite side of the pedestrian quarter, convenient to your sightseeing activities.
The variety of lettuces can be pretty amazing. Inevitably you'll see huge artistically arranged piles of frilly leaf lettuce in green and red varieties, romaine, and butter lettuce holding court alongside familiar old iceberg, with nary a brown spot or blemish in sight. Here, the price is usually the same no matter which kind you choose. Other tables will offer fava beans (looking like green beans on steroids), eggplant, ruby red tomatoes, enormous heads of garlic, sparkling white onions (usually peeled but on their stems), and peppers in a range of colors. Still others will have whatever fruit is currently in season, certain to be exquisite – during my visit in late May, strawberries and cherries were prominently on offer.
The flower market is a riot of color shaded under maroon awnings. Options range from posies for a little nosegay to tall, dramatic lilies and irises. Many Americans think of flowers as something for a special occasion or a gift, but here you see many a middle-aged woman in simple sleeveless dress and flip-flops carrying away a nice bouquet in a twist of paper.
If you enjoy the markets of Aix, consider fitting the Sunday market in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, near Avignon, into your travel plans. This is one of the largest markets in the region.
From journal Aixploring Aixquisite Aix-en-Provence