Why fruit and vegetables are wrapped in plastic is beginning to be questioned. Whilst our recycling bins baulk with useless packaging, supermarkets are becoming pressured to sell them loose. Until then, there is nothing quite like a farmers market. With so many popping up around Wimbledon, ex local resident Fiona Leish captures our love for fresh food with the markets in Provence.
Market Day in Glorious Gordes – it’s not to be missed!
Perched atop a striking rocky outcrop and looking south to the beautiful Lubéron valley, Gordes is just one of the reasons I fell head over heels in love with Provence many years ago.
Officially classed as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France, the history of Gordes pre-dates Roman times and this bijou town is nowadays one of the most visited in the Vaucluse – you only have to wind your way up the southern approach and turn the final corner near the top to see why. Before you lies an almost whimsical concoction of ancient golden stone houses basking in the Provencal sunshine and each one topped with varying shades of ochre tiles. With the formidable 11th century Château dominating the heart of the village, the houses appear to be jostling for position on the terraced hillside. You almost can’t quite take it in, it’s just so ridiculously pretty and inviting…
And the invitation to wander around Gordes on Tuesdays, the day the weekly market bursts into life, is not one to be turned down. Stallholders arrive early (sometimes around 06.00 in high season) to start setting up, chew the fat with colleagues and indulge in an espresso or a little stiffener of a glass of the local Rosé. The range of stalls never fails to appeal – with beautiful Provencal linens, clothing and pottery, as well as artisan jewellery, photography exhibits, soaps and all manner of (mostly) locally produced goods.
But, as ever, I find it’s the food stalls that are the most compelling. Countless different kinds of saucissons – pork, beef, wild boar – all lovingly created with herbs, garlic, nuts, port wine and numerous other delicious ingredients. You can easily spend 10 or 20 minutes with the vendor simply discussing which one to select and, of course, tasting these delicacies is imperative – it would be rude not to, after all. Moving on, you’ll discover an abundance of green and black olives all glistening in their marinades and just asking to be sampled. Jams, olive oils, bread, local cheeses and fruit and vegetables are everywhere – you can always tell the time of year by looking at the produce on these markets stalls and seeing what’s available. As summer slips into autumn, you’ll also find huge sacks of recently harvested lavender, ready and waiting to be decanted and taken home to fill your home with that oh so authentic fragrance of Provence. And today, more unusually, the chilli stall commands quite a crowd as people admire the vibrant colours and the heat-for-every-palate selection of fruits on offer.
As well as the magnificent Château, which dominates the village square and hosts a variety of interesting summer art exhibitions, Gordes has an excellent boulangerie (baker), plenty of cute boutiques, cafés and eye-wateringly fabulous views to keep any visitor happy for the morning as well as several restaurants – L’Artégal and La Bastide des Pierres are two of my favourites. Le Cercle Républicain café has one of the most sought after (and smallest!) terraces in the area and it’s well worth a bit of a wait to sit on its tiny overhanging veranda to gaze at the valley as you sip a coffee or cold beer. At the other end of the cash spectrum, the very swish and luxurious Bastide de Gordes, with its Michelin starry chefs and splendid terrace tables, is a perfect spot for dining or an apéro.
Just along from the Château, nestling behind market stalls in the shade of some tall plane trees you will find the Renaissance Café. Film buffs will immediately recognise that this was the pretty setting for Marion Cotillard’s feisty but sensitive waitress in the Ridley Scott film, A Good Year. It was here that she first met Russell Crowe’s character, promptly and unceremoniously putting him in his place before the two went on to fall in love and make a life together amongst the vines of the fabulous vineyard he had inherited from his dear uncle. The vineyard scenes were filmed at nearby Château La Canorgue just outside Bonnieux and the domaine is open for visits most days.
At around one o’clock, the traders start to pack up and move out, finished for the day until tomorrow when they start all over again in another of the Lubéron’s famous villages perchés. There’s a circuit of daily markets here, many of which trade all year round albeit in slightly smaller format off-season, meaning that you can literally spend a whole week or two visiting different places and catching up with favourite stallholders along the way. It’s one of the things that I find most appealing about life in Provence – there seems to be a natural rhythm here, where seasonal produce is king, the markets ply their regular trade and as you wander around the cobbled streets there’s a strong sense that not much has fundamentally changed here for rather a long time. And I mean that in a positive reassuring way because it never feels boring, dull or now-what-will-I-do-ish. (Although the wider concept of change in France is one that usually excites a rather heated political debate and is probably best avoided if you’re aiming to relax!)
And when the hustle and bustle of the market moves on, and the tourists dwindle away for the day, Gordes generously and graciously offers one more final must-see. Perfectly positioned with open views to the west and the Camargue beyond, absolutely everyone should make a note to wander up to the village in early evening. Once there, stake out a position on the balcony at Le Cercle or the terrace at La Bastide and just watch as the sun slowly sets in a stunning display of colours, drenching the sky and surrounding hills in every hue of purple, orange and red you can imagine. Utter bliss…….and relax!
Written By: ScottieFrançaise | Guest Blogger