If you’re planning a trip to France, visiting a French market should be at the top of your to-do list.
Not only will you find some of the freshest and most delicious food, but you’ll also get to experience the vibrant energy and culture of the market.
French markets are a way of life with fresh produce, artisanal crafts, and everything in between.
If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to shop in a French market keep reading, I’m taking you on a quick virtual tour of the quintessential Marché.
The Origins of French Markets
The French market has a long history dating back to the Middle Ages. In those times, markets were held in central locations where people from surrounding towns and villages would gather to buy and sell goods.
These markets were crucial to the local economy, providing a place for farmers and artisans to sell their wares.
They were usually held in fortified towns that had castles and monasteries as there was a demand for the produce there.
In the 12th century, charters were granted to towns by the king allowing them to hold a market on specific days. They realised that markets brought in people, which in turn brought in revenue. This meant the town could pay taxes to the king and pay for their own defences.
Over time, the French market grew in size and importance. In the 19th century, the construction of covered markets, known as les Halles, became popular. These markets were often grand in scale, with ornate ironwork and glass ceilings. They were a hub of activity, with vendors selling everything from fresh produce to clothing.
The Role of Markets in French Culture
French markets have been around for centuries and are an integral part of French culture. They are a place where locals come to socialize, catch up on gossip, and shop for their daily needs.
Going to a French market is like stepping back in time and experiencing a piece of French history.
What is a typical French market?
French markets are more than just a place to buy fresh produce and local products. They’re a cultural experience that perfectly immerses you in the French way of life.
So much so that the French TV station TF1 has a programme to help discover the best markets in France, Votre Plus Beau Marché. It’s now in its 6th season with 24 regions participating and the winner is announced at the end of June.
Bottom line, the French love their markets and I don’t ever see that changing.
The Atmosphere at the Farmers Market in France
But French markets can be a little intimidating the first time you go, especially the larger ones. It took me a while to get used to the hustle and bustle and even now I’m not confident enough to shout out my order for everyone to hear.
It’s like nothing you’ve seen before. The vendors call out their products, the shoppers haggle over prices, and the smells of fresh bread and cheese fill the air.
It’s a sensory experience you won’t find at your local supermarket and so much fun. I always feel like I’m really ‘living the French dream’ when I shop at my local market clutching my basket.
What can you get at a French market?
One of the best things about French markets is the variety of products they offer, from fresh fruits and vegetables to artisanal cheeses and cured meats.
And let’s not forget the freshly baked goods such as bread, pastries and croissants – I can almost smell it now.
You’ll also find handmade crafts, clothing, and accessories. The products are usually locally sourced and of high quality, but you’ll also find some random things too.
And as shopping is hungry work, many markets have food stalls where you can grab a quick bite to eat while you shop.
As they’re usually held in the market square, you’ll often find a cafe where you can sit out with a glass of wine watching the scene unfold.
Best Time to Visit French Markets
French seasonal markets are held during specific times of the year, usually during holidays or special occasions.
One of the most popular seasonal markets is of course the Christmas market, which is held in various cities and towns across the country.
I love these markets with their stalls filled with beautiful decorations, Christmas-themed products, wonderful smelling food, and my favourite, the Vin Chaud (mulled wine).
The most famous Christmas market in France would have to be held in Strasbourg. Although I’ve not been myself everyone who has raved about it.
Weekly markets are held regularly in most French towns and cities on specific days of the week with Saturdays and Sundays being the most popular.
We have a local Sunday market in the picturesque village of Verteuill here in the Charente. It’s such a great experience and the butcher’s van does the best pâté, which I just can’t resist.
What are the street markets called in France
French markets combine the best of farmers’ markets and traders’ markets, where you’ll find fresh, local produce straight from the farm alongside cheese and other goods.
Foires - the large markets
The biggest markets in the provincial regions of France are commonly referred to as fairs or “foires”. These traditional markets are reminiscent of the olden days and are held annually or bi-annually, usually on the local saint’s day.
While initially, these fairs were mostly intended for the sale of livestock, the modern-day fairs are a larger version of the weekly markets, attracting traders from a wider area. They offer an extensive collection of stalls selling ironmongery, clothing, organic produce, crafts, fruits, vegetables, and much more.
These fairs are significant events in the local calendar, and it’s always a good idea to check with the local tourist office to know when they’ll take place.
Marché Couvert - covered markets
Marché couvert, literally meaning “covered market” in French, refers to an indoor market.
The concept originated in the 19th century as a way to have a market but avoid the problems that come with unpredictable weather. The first one was built in Nantes, France.
The design and architecture of Marché Couvert is an ode to the city’s rich heritage and culture and is housed in a grand building that is over a century old. Inside, it’s usually quite big with high ceilings and an open floor plan providing ample space for shoppers to move around and explore the various stalls.
A great example of this in the Charente is the Les Halles in Angouleme, built on top of an old fortress which was later a prison before becoming an indoor market.
During wars and conflicts, they were also places of shelter, and in the case of World War II a meeting place for the French resistance.
Marché Gourmand or Marché Nocturne - French night food market
One of my favourite things about being in France in the summer is the night markets or Marché Gourmand in French.
These aren’t just any old markets they’re a culinary experience not to be missed. Starting in the late afternoon they go on till late into the night with great music, entertainment, and of course, food.
Often you’ll find long wooden tables and benches have been set up and it’s a case of just grabbing your spot and joining in. It’s a chance to taste the local delicacies and enjoy all that your particular region in France has to offer.
It’s one of those events where anything goes. Line dancing is extremely popular in France and impromptu renditions of Le Madison are often seen at night markets. And as someone who has immersed herself in the world of line dancing, I just can’t help myself but join in.
Famous French markets
And being France, we of course have access to some wonderful speciality markets covering all different types of things. Below are two of my favourites.
Marseilles fish market
If you’re a seafood fan, you’ll love Marseilles Fish Market at “Le Vieux Port”. This market has been in operation since 600 BC and is one of the oldest in France.
You’ll find an impressive selection of seafood, from the freshest fish to succulent shellfish and more.
The market is open every day except Monday, and the best time to visit is in the morning when the catch is at its freshest.
Don’t miss the opportunity to sample some of the local seafood delicacies, such as bouillabaisse, a traditional fish stew.
Nice flower market
If you’re a nature lover, you’ll adore the Nice Flower Market, Marche Aux Fleurs. Located in the heart of Nice’s Old Town on a big square called Cours Saleya, this market is awash with vibrant colours and floral scents.
You’ll find a vast array of fresh flowers, plants, and herbs, as well as handmade soaps and other natural products.
The market is open every day except Monday, and it’s best to arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowds. Take the time to wander around the Old Town and soak up the local culture.
Top tips for visiting a Farmers Market in France
To really enjoy a trip to the market and have an immersive experience it’s important to understand the market etiquette.
Tip 1 - Determine the Location and Schedule
The first step in planning your visit to a French market is to determine the location and schedule. You can check the local tourist office or online for details about the market’s location and schedule.
Tip 2 - Bring Cash
This one is important. When visiting a French market, it’s important to bring cash as a lot of vendors don’t accept credit cards.
Or as happened to me in Verteuil when I was visiting the English food stall they couldn’t get a signal on their credit card machine.
Make sure you have enough cash and don’t forget to bring small bills and coins as some vendors may not have change.
Tip 3 - Bring Your Own Bags
French markets are known for their eco-friendliness, and many vendors won’t provide bags for your purchases.
It’s a good idea to bring your own reusable bags to carry your items. You can’t beat a good basket for feeling like you’re part of French life and living the French dream.
Tip 4 - Get There Early
The early bird catches the worm, or in this case, the freshest produce and food. Many locals do their shopping early in the morning, so arriving early can give you a chance to experience the market without the crowds.
Tip 5 - Explore the Market
French markets are known for their variety, so take the time to explore all the stalls and vendors. You never know what treasures you might find.
Engage with the vendors, ask questions, and try new foods. It’s an excellent opportunity to experience French culture and cuisine.
Tip 6 - Try New Things
French markets are a great place to try new foods and products. Don’t be afraid to sample different cheeses, meats, and pastries. You may discover a new favourite food or product that you can’t find anywhere else.
I’m always surprised at the things I discover that I didn’t even know existed.
Tip 7 - Practice Your French
I know it might feel really intimidating but the best way to get better at French is to just give it a go.
While many vendors at the market speak English, practising your French will go a long way in building rapport and getting the best deals.
Don’t worry if your French isn’t perfect because mine certainly isn’t – even a few basic phrases like “Bonjour” (hello) and “Combien ça coûte?” (how much does it cost?) can make a big difference.
Tip 8 - Sample the Goods
We all love a sample so don’t be afraid to ask for samples at the market – many vendors are happy to let you try a piece of cheese or a slice of sausage before you buy.
Not only does it give you a chance to try before you buy, but it’s also a fun way to try new foods and learn about local specialities.
Tip 9 - Embrace the Experience
Perhaps most importantly, remember to enjoy the experience of shopping at the market. Take in the sights, sounds, and smells around you, and don’t be afraid to chat with a stall holder, however bad your French is.
After all, the market is more than just a place to buy food – it’s a hub of community and culture that’s been a part of French life for centuries.
The best markets in the Nouveulle Aquitaine
As I live in the Charente, which is now part of the Nouvelle Aquitaine, I wanted to share some of my favourite markets in the South West of France.
Marché de Sarlat, Aquitaine: A Market Rich in History and Local Flavours
The Marché de Sarlat, located in the picturesque town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, in the region of Aquitaine, is a true gem for foodies and market lovers.
It’s been a staple in the town for centuries and is a must-visit for anyone who wants to experience the local flavours of the region.
The market has been around since the Middle Ages. Originally, it was a meeting place for farmers and artisans to sell their goods. Today, it has grown into a bustling market with over 100 stalls selling everything from fresh produce to artisanal cheese and wine.
It takes place in the centre of the medieval town, surrounded by ancient buildings and narrow streets and is open year-round on Saturdays, and in the summer months, it is also open on Wednesdays.
One of the most popular products is the black truffle, which is abundant in the region. There’s even a festival to celebrate it.
Halles de Narbonne, Languedoc-Roussillon
When it comes to markets in France, Halles de Narbonne in the Languedoc-Roussillon region is definitely a must-visit. It was built in the 19th century and its architecture reflects the grandeur of this era, with its cast iron, glass and brick construction.
The market began as a place where local farmers could sell their produce, but it has since evolved to include a wide range of vendors from different parts of the region.
One of the most popular items here is the oysters, which are sourced from the nearby town of Leucate. You can also find a variety of charcuterie, including sausages, ham, and pâté.
The Marceau de Limoges: A Hidden Gem in the Heart of Limousin
As a seasoned market-goer, I have visited countless markets throughout France. However, the Marceau de Limoges Market in the Limousin region has truly captured my heart.
From its rich history to its diverse range of products, this market has been a staple in the city of Limoges since the Middle Ages.
It’s named after the famous French sculptor, Jean-Baptiste Marceau, who created the statue of Saint Martial that stands in the market’s square.
The market has undergone several renovations throughout the years, but still maintains its traditional charm and character.
One speciality of the Limousin region is its world-renowned beef. The beef is sourced from local farms that use traditional farming methods, giving it a distinct and wonderful flavour.
The Marché de Rochefort, Poitou-Charentes: A Vibrant Market with a Rich History
This market, which has been a staple of the region for centuries, boasts a rich history, a wide variety of products and specialities, and plenty of tips to make your visit unforgettable.
The Marché de Rochefort dates back to the 17th century when it was established as a trading hub for local farmers and artisans.
Today, the market is held twice a week in the centre of the town, attracting vendors from all over the region and is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 am to 1 pm.
One of the specialities of the region is the famous Charentais melon, which is grown in the fertile soil of the Charente region. These melons are sweet, juicy, and incredibly refreshing, and my next-door neighbour, Claud, grows them in the field across from our property and they are amazing.
Local Markets in the Poitou-Charente
It can be hard to find a list of the local markets online, trust me I’ve looked. So if you’re visiting this part of rural France, here are five links listing the main markets in the Charente, Charente Maritime, Deux Sévres, Dordogne and Vienne.