May 31, 2011

You Can't See the Village for the Market

A kaleidoscope of colors at the Aix-en-Provence
flower market. April 2011.
French markets overflow with colorful goods and good people. Visiting villages on market day is often high on the list of priorities for many travelers. You can easily build a "market-a-day" travel itinerary. I've been to many markets in Paris, Provence and the French Riviera. Indeed, it is great fun and the fresh foods, flowers and handmade crafts are especially appealing. The interaction with the vendors is both educational and entertaining.

After spending nine days in Paris in April, I looked forward to a week in the village of Aix-en-Provence. Aix is a convenient base for accessing the surrounding area—the Provence countryside and Luberon villages, the Mediterranean coast, the western French Riviera and the Camargue—no more than a two hour drive in any direction.

One of the most famous and popular markets in the region of Provence takes place in the lovely village of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. A river literally runs through the picturesque village.

My first full day in Provence was a Sunday and perfectly timed for the not-to-be-missed market day in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue! I saw the antique stalls, the spices, the fabrics, the flowers and everything else at the market.

Sunday market day in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue in Provence, France.
Vendor stalls line both sides of the river. April 2011.
After spending the morning browsing the market and enjoying lunch of chilled wine, fresh veggies, cheese and strawberries, it was time to take to the winding country roads. Driving past vineyards and rolling hills there were many choices for the rest of the day, but I opted to visit the villages of Bonnieux and Goult. 

These two Luberon villages were sleepy and practically empty on that Sunday afternoon. Wandering the cobblestoned streets, climbing rocky and precarious steps for vistas, it was a perfect day for getting lost in the maze of village houses. I could hear the laughter and attempt to eavesdrop on the French conversations among the locals as I passed the cafes.

Later in the week, I visited the bustling markets, in particular the flower market, in my "home village" of Aix-en-Provence. It was after the flower market that I learned a valuable lesson. I visited the flower market in the morning, then walked to a nearby cafe for a leisurely lunch indoors, out of the rain. 

After lunch, the sun was out and as I walked through the Place de l'Hôtel de ville again, the flower vendors were gone and the square had taken on a whole new vibe. Cafes and conversations. Strolling couples, families and friends. 

When the market packs up at the end of the day, the ambiance is entirely different. I've blindly traveled for years without stopping to appreciate this remarkable transformation.

Aix-en-Provence flower market on a rainy April morning.
A few hours later, the market is gone
and the same square is a cafe scene.
Aix-en-Provence. April 2011.
I sadly realized that I hadn't really experienced the true village of L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue without festive adornment. The squares and streets that I saw were crowded with visitors and tourists. I didn't go inside the local shops. I can only guess that the streets were cobblestoned. I don't know anything about the historical buildings, monuments or beautiful architecture. For this trip, it was too late to return to L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue to really get to know her.

While the market was extraordinary, I am left with a feeling that perhaps I missed something even more extraordinary.

Words and photos by Freda Cameron, Defining Your Home, Garden and Travel. All company or product or patented names mentioned are registered trademarks, copyrights, or patents owned by those respective companies or persons.
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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