Market shopping is one of the pleasures of French life – for residents and holidaymakers alike. Markets are such an intrinsic part of French life thatalmost every town and many a village will have a regular market, on one day a week.
As well as regular markets, you should also keep an eye out for foires – monthly markets that are larger than the weekly ones, with a greater number of traders and choice of products and sometimes even amusements such as fairground rides. They are held on a regular day of the month – such as the second Saturday or the 12th.
Vide greniers – attic clear-outs and the French equivalent of car-boot sales – are also worth a visit even if you’re not in need of an antique wash jug. While the larger towns may have a regular vide grenier, most will hold them annually, often during the late spring and summer months. They are advertised by signs, often home-made, stuck along verges and on lamp-posts.
Night markets are another big event. Held in summer they tend to take over an entire town with stalls mingling with outdoor cafes. While there will be stalls selling sweets and saucisson, they will rarely sell fresh fruit and vegetables. The emphasis at night markets is on jewellery, clothes and art and crafts.
If you’re in the Poitou-Charentes over the festive season, it is also worth keeping your eye out for Christmas markets, which will set up shop for the weeks leading up to Christmas Day or just for a weeked.
BEST MARKETS IN THE POITOU-CHARENTES
If you can, aim for one of these - you won't be disappointed...
For the past couple of centuries a market has been held in Rouillac on the 27th of each month, regardless of what day of the week it falls on. The market (the proper term is foire as it is monthly) takes over the entire town with the streets filling with stalls. It is a seriously foodie market so here you will find products not found elsewhere such as vinegars made with pineau and unusual chutneys and pickles. As well as the full range of food stalls, there are those selling live produce, from chickens and rabbits to donkeys plus all kinds of household items including the French kitchen staple – the oil cloth tablecloth - garden plants and equipment and much, much more. It's open throughout lunch – when many stallholders place small trestle tables and chairs in front of their stall and eat, drink and be merry! - but the busiest time is beween 10.30am-noon.
Also worth mentioning: the market at Place Victor Hugo in Angoulême is where the locals go shopping. It's on every day but the big day is Sunday when it's really busy with stalls, specialst producers and people seeking out something special for Sunday lunch
The Friday morning market is the one to aim for – on this day the number of stalls and variety of produce is so large that the market becomes one of the largest in the region. It has everything from barbequed eels (this is the Deux-Sèvres where eels from the Marais Poitevin are local delicacy) to fresh fish, meat and every last bit of a pig. There's plenty of fruit and vegetables, as well as cheese, olives, spices, arts and crafts and useful stuff for the home. As with any market you need to get there early – to find a parking spot as much as anything! - as by about midday it's largely over.
Also worth mentioning: on Wednesday mornings one of the largest livestock markets in the country is held in Parthenay. Cows go on sale at 8am, with sheep at 9.30am.
Taking over the main town square and beyond of the 'new town' on the river (not the historic upper town), this market is a real gem. The stalls bulge with many different kinds of bread, cheese, fruit and vegetables. Butchers proudly show off their home-mades pates and then there are the stalls overflowing with a myriad of differently flavoured saucissons. Chickens squawk and there is a huge array of household items from tablecloths and saucepans to wooden spoons and small pots of herbs. If you feel like tasting a wine before you buy, simply join the throng that thickens as midday grows closer. Feeling hungry? Take home some paella cooked in a gigantic black pan or roast chicken with potatoes dripping in sauce. As with Thouars, the earlier the better. It ends around midday too and although there is a huge parking area, it does get crowded. It's on Saturdays.
Also worth mentioning: Poitiers covered market which also spreads outside on Fridays and Saturdays. Plenty of stalls selling meat and fish plus fruit, vegetables, herbs and bric-a-brac.
LA ROCHELLE, Charente-Maritime
'Nestled amongst the narrow, cobbled streets of the Old Town is the lively food market which offers a delightful array of delicious local produce. As a coastal town it is unsurprising to discover plenty of fresh seafood, from piles of langoustines to inky black squid on beds of ice. On Wednesdays and Saturdays the market spills out onto the square and the side streets where every inch is taken up by a different stall. One stall expertly lays out a variety of creamy goats cheese in all shapes and sizes. The log shaped “Chèvre à la Coupe” and cone shaped “Chabichou du Poitou” are specialities in this region. By the square lies an indoor market hall which dates back to the 19th century, so for generations this market has been the place for locals to meet up and shop.' By Anika Patel from the La Rochelle-based cookery school Flavours of France.
Also worth mentioning: the covered market on the river at Saintes spreads out into the small street outside the cathedral for a market that is both bustling and charming. Market days are Wednesdays and Saturdays. Royan market has the usual excellent fresh produce, all houses under a dramatic shell-shaped building, a striking example of modernist architecture built during the town's 1950s reconstruction. The market is open seven days a week from 7am-1pm but it’s best to get there early– before 10am – to see it at its bustling best as locals come to buy not just fresh fruit and vegetables but also the freshest catch of the day.
See also Les Hérolles below right
Les Hérolles market in the neighbouring Vienne department of the Limousin region is considered to be the largest in this part of France – and one of the largest in the country. Held for the past 400 years, it sells everything you would expect of a French country market – livestock and poultry and rabbits, including rare breeds, all sorts of different foods, household goodies, plants, gardening equipment and all sorts of agricultural tools and machines. On 11 hectares, there are more than 400 exhibitors and depending on the time of year it has between 8,000 -18,000 visitors. It is held on the 29th of each month unless this falls on a Sunday when the market is moved to the following Monday. Les Herolles is between Lignac on the D32 and Coulonges on the D123. More information...
A MARKET NEAR YOU
These are the main regular markets of the department – but not all of them. As mentioned earlier, check with your local tourist office or mairie (mayor's office) in the village. Department numbers - Charente (16); Charente-Maritime (19); Deux-Sèvres (79); Vienne (86).
Aigre (16): open-air market on Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays
Angoulême (16): there are a number of markets in the town which means that there is a market on every day.
The main market is the vast covered market, Les Halles in Victor Hugo, which is open every day except Mondays.
At Place Mulac, there is a market on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Unusually, the market on Mondays and Thursdays is open in the afternoon only. At Place Felix Gaillard the markets days are Tuesday and Friday.
At Place St-Jacques, find the market on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Aubeterre-Sur-Dronne (16): open-air market on Sundays
Barbezieux-Saint-Hilaire (16): Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays
Bressuire (79): open-air on Tuesdays
Chalais (16): Monday morning market, held in the streets of the town which are closed to traffic.
Chatelaillon (17): open-air market on Tuesdays and Fridays on the main street.
Chauvigny (86): large open-air market on Saturdays with food, small livestock and household goods.
Chef Boutonne (79): large Saturday market in the town centre
Civray (86): Open-air market on Tuesdays and Friday mornings (Fridays is smaller)
Cognac (16): there are three markets. The covered market, in the area known as the Left bank (of the river than winds through the town), is on Tuesday to Sunday inclusive. On the Right bank, there is the open air market at St Jacques (place du Solençon) on Saturday mornings. Finally, there is an open-air market at the Champ de Foire on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Coulonges sur l'Autize (79): open-air market on Tuesdays and Saturdays
Jarnac (16): covered market Tuesday to Sunday with fish stalls on Tuesdays and Fridays. An open-air market is held the first Saturday of every month.
Jonzac (17): covered market every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. A farmer’s market outside Les Halles on Sundays.
Lezay (79): large open-air market on Tuesdays
Loudun (86): open-air market every Tuesday
Lussac-Les-Chateaux (86): the market square is taken over by both indoor and outdoor stalls on Friday mornings.
La Rochelle (17): covered market every day at Place du Marché. On Saturdays and Wednesdays it takes over the entire square and surrounding streets. Make sure you check out the nearby fish market at Rue Marche
Mansle (16): open-air market on Tuesday and Friday mornings.
Montmorillon (86): open-air market on Wednesdays and Saturdays
Neuville-de-Poitou (86): open-air market on Thursdays and Sundays
Niort (79): nineteenth-century covered market on Thursdays and Saturdays.
Parthenay (79): indoor and outdoor market in the streets around Place des Bancs market on Wednesdays and Saturdays
Poitiers (86): every day in the covered market by Place Charles de Gaulle. On Fridays and Saturdays there is an open-air brac-a-brac market.
Pons (17): Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
Rochefort (17): market on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
La Rochefoucauld (16): open-air market on Wednesdays and Saturdays
Rouillac (16): open-air market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Impressive foire on the 27th of each month.
Royan (19): covered market at the end of blvd Aristide-Briand, every morning. Fish a speciality
Ruffec (16): open-air market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, sometimes with small livestock.
St. Jean d’Angely (17): large open-air market in the centre of town on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Saturdays.
Saintes (17): covered market on Wednesdays and Saturdays with an open-air market on Fridays and Sundays. On the first Monday of the month, the whole town is pedestrianised and taken over by a one huge market.
Sauzé-Vaussais (79): main market on Thursdays, with a smaller one on Saturdays
Thouars: on Tuesdays and Fridays, an open-air and covered markets from fresh produce and household items.
Words: Rachel LOOS
Photograph: © Daniel Mühlebach - Fotolia