Arles Market on Saturdays
The Saturday Arles market is one of the largest in Provence. Each of the 450 vendors have an average of 5-metre large stands. If you arrive early, you’ll see the jostling to get a place!
The market is twice a week, but it’s the Saturday market that is most impressive. With a walking area of 2,5 km, you’re sure to find whatever you’re looking for. The vendors in the alimentary part of the market offer the absolute best produce that Provence has to offer. The fruit and vegetables are unbeatable, so is the competitively priced fish market.
Start with the Plants
Find a parking spot no later than 9 am. Start by walking up Blvd. Emile Combes where you’ll be greeted by the many plant merchants. Make a mental note of the plants you’d like to buy on your way back to the car, or buy them now and ask for them to be put aside. These stands are particularly extensive throughout the early Spring where most people fill their gardens here before the hot weather. In the Spring and Fall, if you’d like the rewarding activity of growing your own vegetables without coaxing the little seeds out of the ground, this is a great place to find all kinds of seedlings ready to plant in the garden.
Hold Your Nose for the Live Chickens
At the corner of Blvd des Lices, past the pizza van where the market workers will be drinking coffee, you’ll be presented with the difficult choice of crossing the road towards the live chickens or checking out the lovely bouquets of flowers on the right.
If you’d like to go full circle, I suggest crossing the street towards the poultry. The smell can be a little overwhelming first thing in the morning… I admit that I often have to hold my breath. A consolation is knowing that many of the live birds are sold before 9 am. If you arrive around 7:30 am, you can watch with amazement as people carry moving cardboard boxes away from the stand. These different chicken breeds, from ordinary to beautiful, are used as laying hens. In the countryside in France, many people still keep their own chickens. We did during our first year here- and loved the experience!
The Absolute Best Produce
Anyways, keep walking down the road where you’ll see some of the cheapest and best quality veggies around. And the best of Provence is something to be noted. This part of the market is a favourite with little old ladies that come out at the crack of dawn with their buggies. I love the stands that specialise in one product. For example, there’s a producer that only grows courgettes/zucchini. You’ll see every type of courgette overflowing in a line wooden boxes, including the flowers during the warmer months. During the winter, he switches to producing all kinds of different salads.
Look out for the rustic little stand on the right selling only herbs. This old man, if you can catch him at his own stand, is a character.
Keep walking, that is, if you haven’t been tempted to buy anything, towards the smell of roast meats and olives. Every French market will have a rotisserie but this one has many. Smell the various colourful seafood paellas, the roast sausages, poultry and ham. You can’t help but admire the care that is taken to place the prawns perfectly. Taste a piece of nougat from the pushy nougat sellers or marvel at all the different types of dried sausages and olives.
If you’re here during the shorter days of the year, experience the atmosphere of the delicious smelling vapours coming from the lit stands in the darkness of early morning. The workers will be having coffee with each other and husbands and wives will be bickering on where to place the cheeses even though they put them in the same place every week. You’ll feel like you’re stepping back in time.
Stop for a Coffee, Market-Worker Style
After a while, you’ll be able to see the Arles Tourism office on the left. Go towards it, and you’ll see this coffee stand. This couple are true baristas, a surprisingly difficult find in Southern France. All their products are Bio (organic) and the smoothies are, I warn you, of a very French variety. I dare you to try them but be warned- they’re often tart and full of lemon juice. Very unlike the banana-strawberry-mango sweet things I’m used to from home. Try to grab a seat at the two metal tables around the back or stand and be in the thick of the market action.
Cheese, Stuffed Tomatoes and Deep-Fried Treats
Continue walking down Blvd des Lices where you’ll see right after the coffee stand my favourite cheese stand. Ask Lilian (the man in the yellow apron) to taste and he’ll happily oblige. Buy a St Marcellin lait cru (my fav!). Keep walking, where you’ll see a vendor that sells only horse and bull meat. Not for the squeamish! This lean meat is still used for steak tartar in France. The bull meat is used for the traditional daube à la provencal stew.
After this, you’ll see a stand called “La Plancha Grill” this is where I used to work making stuffed tomatoes. Ask Bertrand if he has any ready. Without me there this year, I suspect he’ll be a little slow!
After Bertrand, you’ll notice a small popular stand with bamboo holding up the parasol. This is where locals line up for the tasty accras/fritters. These are deep fried parcels of all kinds of deliciousness. Think samosas. My favourites are the whole shrimp. They’re wonderfully crispy but need to be eaten right away. Get a small bag to munch on while you walk around.
Behind Bertrand, you’ll notice lots more fruit and vegetable producers. This is the extensive organic section. Get here early if you’re intending on buying something specific.
The Amazing Fish Market
Two stands later, still on Blvd des Lices, you’ll come to a crossroads where you’ll see lots of straw market bags. You’ll have the option of continuing straight or going down the parallel street on the left. Take the left, past the enormous wonderful-smelling mint stand, to the fish section. Here, you’ll find all kinds of varieties of mediterranean sea creatures. The largest variety of crustaceans I’ve ever seen and the busiest market stands at the market. Peer past the stands to the back where you’ll see them preparing the fish to order. I could watch this for hours.
Tellines can be hard to find but I’ve noticed that they’re often at the Arles Market. See my recipe for Tellines à la Persillade.
After the fish section, you’ll notice that the food part of the market morphs into clothing, tablecloths and North African goods. This part of the market used to be full of imported Arabic goods but is now more of the cheap Chinese variety. Here you’ll find bargains on makeup, spices and some serious haggling. You can walk to the end of this part but you’ll see a lot of the same things, I suggest heading to the cafés on the other side of the street for a rest.
The market will start to get busy now and the people watching will be ideal. The cafés are sat facing the Provencal clothes stands. Watch how the French women oh and ah over the simple market dresses. These linen dresses are perfect for throwing on in the heat. They’re generally one size fits all, which can be tricky if you’re a shortie like me, but perfect with a pair of espadrilles and a straw market bag at your side.
Once you’ve had your coffee and start heading back to your car through the market, you can go via the way of the artisans. Here, you’ll find gorgeous handmade olive wood boards, provencal watercolour scenes, jewellery and what is left of those first bouquets you saw earlier.
Have a Picnic
If you’ve managed to collect a variety of tasty goods along your travels, find a shady spot in the Jarden d’Été for your picnic. If you still have energy, visit the many museums and Roman ruins that Arles has to offer. Or, if it’s a hot day in Summer, head back home for a siesta and leave it to another day…
The Arles Market in Provence is every Saturday during the whole year (though much smaller in winter) on Blvd des Lices. On Wednesdays, it is on boulevard Émile-Combes. The market runs from 8 am- 1 pm.