Oh how I love the open markets of France! As I've written before, they are a never-ending source of sights, sounds, scents just waiting to be discovered. Not only do they differ from region to region with their local offerings, they also vary through the seasons.
In addition to our weekly markets, we have a few special ones in my little town of St. Hippolyte du Fort. In mid-December, the Marché de Noël occurs. This year, after days of rain, the bright blue sky was a welcome sight. Crisp, cold air made for a perfect Christmas atmosphere.
Christmas tunes, mulled wine, and sunshine...
Handmade items from pottery to Christmas ornaments and gifts make each stand a unique discovery.
And of course, there are plenty of winemakers offering free tastings. Local artisanal beer and a variety of liqueurs make their appearance. The guy at this table invited me to taste, but as it was 9:30 am, I declined. I wish I'd gone back later. What on earth does Onion Liqueur taste like? I'll have to wait until the next specialty market to find out.
These jolly ladies are from the local Elephant club (I have no idea what that means or what they do...I should've asked!)
Our association, Youth With A Mission, had the privilege of partnering with the local churches to hand out gift bags. Such a joy! Also very interesting to observe people's reactions. For many, it was too much to accept a free gift. For others, they received it after some hesitation. I understand. I'm not often open to being handed something in the street. Best of all were those whose faces lit up, who delighted in the blessing.
No Christmas market would be complete without the presence of animals. Miniature horse rides were available for the children, other animals just there for the ambiance. That turkey was huge!
Our Catholic brothers and sisters had a lovely table of handmade Christmas items:
Our Marché de Noël is not a fancy one like the amazing markets of the big cities. Eastern France is known for their charming, elaborate Christmas markets. But I love our local, casual atmosphere. Lots of good cheer!
Here's one last tour:
Speaking of local flavor, in early autumn we have a market called Le Made in Cévennes. Yep, in English, sorta.
Full of local products and items, it's also a lot of fun. Here are just a few of the stands:
Can you guess what is in those jars??? I'll give you a hint: the wooden figurine says it all.
Local, handmade saucissons: Cèpes (a type of mushroom), chèvre (goat), canard (duck) and nature (plain). All so good. Délicieux! His apron says: "the best of the Occitannie" which is the administrative name of our region, which includes Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrénees. The original language was Occitan and traces of it exist in place names and slang.
As always, many local winemakers show up. Generous tasting allowed...
This young woman has taken over the wine production at her parents vineyard in Monoblet, just up the road from us. The wines are very good, all "bio" (organic), and they have lovely names on the calligraphy-type labels. Well done!
Olive oil and olives are one of my favorite regional items. I bought a small tub of regional green olives called Luques here. Plump, firm but juicy, they taste great. I'd not had them before and am now a big fan.
Dried herbs for tisane (herb tea) and seasonings, hand-crafted wood and pottery items...what's not to love? It's inspiring to recognize creativity and entrepreneurship of these cultivators and craftsmen.
Here's a new vendor to our little town. From Greece, this woman makes amazingly delicious chocolat chaud, hot chocolate, as well as tablettes, chocolate bars with inventive additions: ginger or cayenne or black sesame and pepper. To add to the experience, she sells it out of her charming camionette. She uses raw, natural chocolate; I'm sure it's very healthy as I tell myself as I buy yet another mini-tablette.
I love this scene of a woman painting our town square, in plein air. I admire her skill and willingness to create in public.
I'm grateful for open markets and the chance to discover people and their products. The convivial atmosphere, especially under a bright blue sky, is a gift. During the pandemic, and even after when many restrictions were still in place, we didn't have the freedom to have such experiences. May we never take for granted the liberty to gather, share, and enjoy one another.
La vie est belle!