Last summer, I went on a short trip to France with some friends. Situated near La Rochelle, the Isle of Re attracts an array of people looking for that typical French feeling. Wealthy Parisians mingle with British holidaymakers in St Martin, the main town, which boasts all manner of boutiques, quirky bars and restaurants where one can sit and watch the world go by.
We chose to cycle to La Flotte, a little harbour where we enjoyed a cool ‘verre de vin frais’ whilst watching the oyster boats floating in front of us…magic!
In 1938, Re was the departure point for convicts on their way to the French colonies. It is now a bustling island with enough quirky shops, restaurants and markets to make the Parisians pale with envy.
Being a very flat island, Re is extremely popular with lazy cyclists like me. Whilst exploring the streets we came across a very distinctive market; now, this is when ‘la belle France’ comes into its own! There is something very special about our French markets, and I am not speaking about the pale imitations that are coming to England at Christmas time with their overpriced goods.
To me, ‘le marche’ sums up the unique character of France; the abundance of food, the lovely smells, the humming noise combined with the lack of haste and the friendliness of the people all make it one of my favourite things. Summer or winter, there is always an atmosphere of ‘fete’ and quiet excitement. Where else can one find locally sourced food produce, hardware and textiles ‘au meme endroit’, apart from at lacklustre hypermarkets full of miserable people who cannot find a morning to go out and enjoy the fresh air and the atmosphere only outdoor markets seem to offer.
Cooked food can also be found and the fish is usually the freshest in the area. ‘Et bien sur’ there are plenty of lovely bars around to enjoy a nice cup of coffee or something stronger. French markets also attract wineries, smokehouses and patisseries. I really loved the strings of smoked garlic strung along homemade sausages next to the cheese stall and the flower stall.
To me, going to the market is not only about shopping for food but also tasting and experiencing the wares. It is usual for the local vendors to talk about their amazing produce and tell you about their provenance (normally just around the corner). Sampling the food is what I like best, and being able to pick up the goods and have a look for yourself is priceless.
This summer I am hoping to take some of my students to France where we will stay in a lovely gite and no doubt visit a market or two, practise some real French with the local market-stall holders, buy some real vegetables that do not look absolutely perfect in shape and colour but taste like vegetables should do, and come back and cook our supper in a French kitchen with a French cook…moi!
There are, however, a few things to be aware of when shopping in a French market:
- Be sure to have cash, as French market-stall holders can get slightly irritated when too many people cash big Euro bills.
- Do your research – not every market is on every week.
- Get there early – markets attract lots of tourists.
- Remember, stall holders pack up early on slow or rainy days.
So there we are – from small village to big city, from saucisson to flowers, French markets in my opinion are the identity and authenticity of my lovely country! What is there not to like?by