Tell anyone you’re visiting France, and chances are the conversation will turn to food — and to the outdoor markets that are such an iconic feature of the country. But if you aren’t staying in a place with a kitchen, you might think the markets are more along the lines of a museum than a culinary delight.
You’d be wrong! While the markets do cater to local residents, there are plenty of yummy treats you can pick up for a pique-nique (yes, that really is the French word for picnic) or even as a snack back at the hotel while you’re waiting for the restaurants to open for dinner. And because many shoppers (and vendors!) have a post-market drink and nibble on their purchases, they often have ready-to-eat foods or at the very least will slice, shuck or open something for you.
So, don’t be shy — head into any market you see, stock up and feast like royalty, or at least like the locals. Below are some of the best markets in France, and also included are some ideas for foods to purchase and where to eat them. Bon Appétit!
Not all Parisian food markets are created equal. Some have a specific non-food focus, like vintage clothing at the Marché de Montreuil or flowers (and birds!) at the Marché aux Fleurs; others cater to specific palates, like the African fare at the Marché rue Dejean. But many feel the Marché des Enfants Rouges is the best of the best, on rue de Bretagne in the 3rd arrondissement. Unlike more traditional markets, they actually encourage on-the-spot eating and there is a wide variety of international cuisine to choose from.
Market-inspired lunch: The vendors’ prepared lunches change on a whim, and almost every type of ethnic food is represented here. Try some sushi, cous-cous, or shepherd’s pie; collect a couple of sweet or savory crêpes; or pick up some tasty grilled merguez sausages to stick into a freshly baked baguette. (Photo courtesy of Flickr/rudijamikko)
Market picnic location: I have to say, Versailles is a picnic paradise. You can enter the grounds for free by heading to the gate on the left of the palace past the ticket office. Choose a spot by the Hameau de la Reine, Marie Antoinette’s “cottage.” If you want a quick lunch within Paris, the Jardin du Luxembourg is a good spot — or one of the bench areas on the Pont Neuf for lunch with a view.
Everyone calls it the Cours Saleya flower market, but this charming market in Vieux Nice has a lot more than flowers. There are pastries, meats, cheeses, breads, fruit, and more that make a perfect picnic lunch. Make sure to visit Chez Theresa and pick up some socca, a chickpea crêpe, she heats up over the fire of a metal drum.
Market-inspired lunch: Baguette, brebis cheese, sun-dried tomatoes in oil, fresh basil, olives, strawberries.
Market picnic location: Head up by elevator or foot to the Château Hill, walk to the sea-facing side of the park, and spread out your lunch on the large, backless bench facing the coast of Nice.
On a small island in the Sorgue River is the Provençal village of your dreams — whitewashed stone, colorful shutters, and a daily food market in the summer that is bursting with flavor and life. Shop from the produce-laden gondolas at the river’s Marché Flottant, their arrival heralded by accordion-accompanied song, and from the market stalls on land; either way, you’ll head to lunch laden with the very finest this region has to offer.
Market-inspired lunch: White nectarines, bread, jam, Banon cheese, charcuterie, cut melon.
Market picnic location: The Parc Gautier is just outside of town, and has plenty of trees for some shade from the hot southern sun. Or find a place along the river! (Photo courtesy of Flickr/gnuru)
Lyon is a food-lover’s town, so you know these markets are going to be good. But you may not realize just how good until you walk from stall to stall in Les Halles de Lyon. The vendors are fiercely proud of their products, and believe presentation is just as important as taste. You’ll have an embarrassment of choices here, so make sure to do a full walk-through before making your selections.
Market-inspired lunch: Charcuterie, boiled lobster, vegetable terrine, and a baguette. Save room for the jaw-dropping pastries, which they’ll pack in a nice box for you.
Market picnic location: The Parc de la Tête d'Or is just off the river and has four rose gardens to provide a stunning backdrop to your meal. Just make sure to sit upwind of the zoo!
Bordeaux has more than 20 markets from which to choose so no matter where you stay, you’re sure to find a market near you. They’re also open throughout the day and some are even evening markets, so you’ll never be without a bit of something delicious to eat when you’re looking to soak up all that yummy Bordeaux wine! The Marché Capucins, close to St. Jean train station, has amazing seafood, and the Marché Victor Hugo specializes in meats.
Market-inspired lunch: Pâté de foie gras, charcuterie, and duck terrine if you’re having red wine; oysters, bulots, and prawns for a nice crisp white.
Market picnic location: Rent a boat at the Jardin Public and have your picnic in the middle of the garden’s lake! (Photo courtesy of Flickr/Samuel Peters)
Christine Cantera writes the France Travel Guide for the BootsnAll Travel Network. Her love for the French Riviera is surpassed only by the awesome TGV train she takes to get there, and the divine French food she eats once she arrives.