Market Day in Aix en Provence
One thing I’ve always wanted to do is experience an authentic market day in the South of France. To see the mounds of gorgeous produce, stacks of crusty fresh bread, and large barrels of tangy olives. To smell the dried lavender and taste more spices than I ever thought imaginable. Or to run my fingers across rows of colorful handmade fabrics. There’s just something about that aspect of the French culture that I find to be completely captivating.
Most of the things I read prior to visiting Provence recommend that you set aside at least two weeks to get a taste of the region so with only three days to spare, we knew better than to make a lists of sites to see or vineyards to visit; it was more about taking our time and trying to absorb the local way of life.
Aix-en-Provence is famous for it’s outdoor markets and also happens to be less than an hour away from the coast so it seemed like the perfect place to base ourselves. We stayed at Pavillon de la Torse, a gorgeous bed and breakfast within a ten minute walk from the city center. Even though it’s so close to the action, once you’re on the property you would never be able to tell. With a long driveway lined with tall plane trees, it’s tucked away in a spot that it makes it feel like a private oasis.
The grounds of the property were stunning as was the B&B. The owners, Marie and Francois, are a married couple who met in Northern California, not far from where we currently live so of course we chatted about the mild weather and the bad traffic over a few glasses of rosé. Marie is originally from New York but Francois was born in France and he was so helpful with planning our time there.
After we told him we were vegetarians, he recommended a Moroccan restaurant called Le Riad and it was one of the best meals of the entire trip. If you’re ever in Aix (pronounced “X”), you absolutely have to try their vegetable tagine. It’s nothing short of incredible! And the wine was excellent too.
Francois also recommended that we have a picnic at the B&B one day so we walked downtown to grab a few sandwiches from Simply Food and then came back and relaxed by the pool for a while.
We had toasted brie sandwiches, quinoa salad and some other vegetable concoction that I’m kicking myself for not writing down because it was awesome. I had to fight Brandon for the last bite!
The city itself turned out to be wonderful too. It was originally founded over 2,000 years ago when the Romans built a military camp over a hot spring which explains the name Aix which is derived from the Latin word for water. You can literally see the connection the city has to water with the 40+ fountains displayed throughout the streets.
Long after Rome fell, Aix was brought back to life when the French king declared it his administrative capital of Provence. Many of the private mansions that were built during that time period still stand, giving the city a royal and classy look.
Today it’s still considered to be a wealthy town but it also exudes a modern and youthful energy thank to the 40,000 college students attending school there.
I would describe it as being similar to Paris, but on a much smaller scale. We spent a lot of time getting lost down the side streets, discovering the different shops and bakeries. I didn’t have much money to spend but I could have done some major damage in the stores there. There are so many great little boutiques just begging for you to stumble upon a one-of-a-kind fashion find.
One of the highlights was finding a bakery with the most beautiful selection of macaroons. It was a hard decision but we narrowed it down to dark chocolate and a madagascar vanilla and I promise you, they were the best macaroons I’ve ever had! I looked up the name of the bakery afterward and apparently, I’m not the only one who feels that way.
When it came down to it, the main reason we chose to stay in Aix was because of their outdoor markets. Some of them are held daily but the majority run on Tuesday, Thursdays and Saturdays. We were there on a Tuesday and there were at least five different types held throughout different parts of the city.
The first one we came across was a textiles market on the popular street of Cours Mirabou and most of the items there were clothes and accessories. From there we ventured to the food market and I was blown away by the selection! They had meat, cheese, bread, produce, herbs, soaps…it was like a full-scale outdoor grocery store. It was especially neat to see all of the seasonal fall produce, like chanterelle mushrooms and truffles. Some of them were around 30 euros per pound!
Almost everyone around us was pushing their personal shopping carts and speaking French to the vendors, probably out for their daily trip to the market. I just can’t even begin to imagine living like that. I barely have time to make it to the grocery store once a week, but I do envy that way of life. It inspires me to make an effort to live simply which I consider to be a very un-American way of thinking.
After the food, we passed by the antiques and books then made our final round at the flower market near city hall. There were so many gorgeous varieties to choose from and I thought they were reasonably priced too.
It was definitely apparent from our time in Aix that the French know how to live the good life!
That’s it. I’m learning French and moving to Aix. That place looks amazing! I have fantasies all the time about living in a town where I can walk around markets like that, then sit at an outdoor cafe sipping cappuccino and eating a fresh croissant. My pretend life is sooo great.
Wow. This is just incredible. I agree, living simply is certainly not very American and I like to fantasize about living this way instead. All these spices, flowers, and food are so gorgeous, I feel like I was there. Wonderful post – I want to retrace all your steps (again). :)
I’m definitely bookmarking this post for reference when we plan a trip to the south of France!
How lovely! That’s so cool the owners of the B&B were from NorCal! My favorite thing to do when studying abroad in Florence back in college was to walk the leather market there, which was held daily. I love markets too! Sounds like you hit some good ones:)
Ahhh I am dying reading this post! I lived in Lyon, France for a year and everything you said about the French living simply is so true. I did most of my grocery shopping at an actual supermarket, and my French landlord thought it was the weirdest thing – she got everything at the butcher across the street, the bakery down the road, the weekly market, etc.
I always wanted to visit Aix en Provence but in my Provence travels I only made it to Avignon and Marseille (which I actually loved), and the South of France (which is a whole other ball park). Your photos are amazing, I feel like I’m there because you perfectly capture the atmosphere!
I would have loved to live in France for a year! That sounds like a dream.
There was actually a young couple staying at the B&B who went to Marseille for the day and they loved it too. We went to Cassis instead and it was pretty awesome but I would love to go back and see Marseille!
We meandered to Cassis for an afternoon while staying in Marseille…great choice! They had an amazing market as well.
Love these pics! Thank you for sharing your travels. I only went to Paris, but I so want to go back.
This whole trip looks like a total dream.
OMG that tree-lined driveway! It’s so gorgeous! Well, now I need to take a trip… haha And those macarons … I wish I had one for dessert tonight! :)
Ahh, sounds like farmers market heaven! I too am a HUGE market lover, and this looks like such a lovely time. I know exactly what you mean about thinking differently about America’s lifestyle after being in Europe — I definitely felt that way after studying in Italy. I think it made me take a little bit of European mentality home with me, and every time I travel I feel like that a little bit more :)
Want to hear something insane/embarrassing? I have NEVER had a macaroon! And it’s not even like I don’t like sweets, I love dessert. I need to change that soon I think!
Yes, you do need to change that! I actually wasn’t a big macaroon fan before trying those but they are completely different than any I’ve ever had. So soft and flavorful. Hopefully your first experience is a good one!
I love living vicariously though your travels! I’m beginning to realize that I don’t travel nearly enough! Although my husband is trying to plan another Maui trip in the near future! I love your photos of all the produce and flowers :)
Oh I hope you get to go back to Maui! That would be so wonderful!! And then I will have to live vicariously through you. :)
Great pics! And what a beautiful B&B! I was in Aix a couple of years ago with my parents and in-laws for a family vacay and loved it. Thanks for bringing back memories from my trip. ;-)
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you made this market day in Aix-en-Provence so real. Your pictures of these beautiful vegetables and mushrooms are shouting “EAT MEEEEE!!!!”.
I’d love to go back to Southern France one day and I will definitely go to Aix. I went to Montpellier and Toulouse a few years ago and I was that close but not enough time.
I love that Moroccan tajine idea but have you tried the French ratatouille?