Market Talk

France is a country of real markets. By which I mean that although the big ones always have a few sellers of wholesale fruit and veg, in the main the participants are just local farmers, growers and producers. They raise livestock and poultry, make their own cheese, paté, and apple juice, cook their own hams and boudin noir, grow vegetables and come in with whatever is in season. Some are specialists - maybe they will only sell potatoes or perhaps just onions. That may not sound like much until you ask for potatoes for puree or onions for a flamiche. Then you will discover one of the real bonuses to shopping in a proper market. You will speaking to an expert - someone who really does know his onions. He will tell you that this is no humble, any old spud, we are on about here, oh no, this is the king of all the roots. As for onions for a flamiche - ignoramus - what you really need are these beautiful leeks, freshly dug today. I love getting my ‘foodie’ education this way and being sent off with a kilo of exactly the right type of potato for the perfect puree.

It’s always a problem to know when market day is when you tie up in some place new. We have on occasion arrived somewhere in the afternoon, only to discover that the weekly market was that morning. Well you can wait there for a week, which we have happily done when we know that there is something worth waiting for. I think though if you know in advance which day this can be useful information and makes planning one’s life a little easier.

I hope that we can, together, build up a useful list of easily accessible waterside markets. If you know of one, please e-mail me with as much information as you can muster and I’ll include it. Listings are alphabetical (canals, then rivers) and in France unless otherwise noted.


At Quai de la Colonne the daily fish market held from early morning to midday - just a line of half a dozen stalls. What’s on sale is whatever the local fishermen have caught that day. The fish are flappingly fresh and cheap to buy.

  1. * Held daily

Canal Latéral à la Marne

Châlons-en-Champagne as it is now known is well worth a visit in it’s own right. Mooring is just above the lock behind the island. If you have a deep draught then don’t venture too far. The market is a just a short walk from the canal and is to be found in and around the pretty market-house in the centre of town. Lots of local suppliers and a good place to buy the famous Champagne speciality of pâté en croute. There’s a wonderful cheese stall, several good organic bread makers, and (in season) sellers of wild mushrooms. Close to the market is a baker, a fishmonger and an excellent charcuterie.

*     Held every Wednesday and Saturday morning

Canal St. Quentin

Cambrai likes its food. The market is held in the Market House which is up in the town beyond the main square. If you are coming up from the Port de Plaisance, you will enter the square bottom left. Exit the square top right and a few steps further will bring you to the clothes stalls which surround the market house itself. There are a good number of small local growers fruit and vegetables in the market as well as several butchers, dairy and poultry producers and bakers and an excellent fishmonger. There’s a stall which will grind your chosen coffee bean and another selling spices, dried fruit, and olives. Don’t miss the tarte Maroilles and the paté de foie.

  1. *  Held every Saturday morning 

River Saône

Chalon-sur-Saône I have only ever been to the Sunday market; it is very lively and has just about everything you could want. I particularly like the Italian pasta stall with its wide selection of fresh pastas and raviolis. The Parmesan cheese is excellent. There are two fresh fish stalls, a couple of Chinese and Vietnamese stalls with freshly made food that simply needs heating later for a really tasty instant meal. The large and excellent butchers shop in the road where the main market is held is also open on Sunday mornings. In season they sell game birds and wild boar. There are loads of small sellers of locally grown fruit and veg. I always prefer to buy from them rather than the bigger retailers.

  1. *   Held every Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday morning 

At Champforgueil, a suburb of Chalon, is to be found a lively North African market which caters to the largely Algerian and Moroccan local population. Spices for tagines, huge bunches of mint and coriander, delicious olives and really fresh Turkish flat bread all contribute to the colour and flavour of this unexpected Moorish market. It’s cheap too, and only a short bike ride from the last lock on the Canal de Centre down onto the Saône. Moor above the lock.

*     Held every Thursday morning

Pont de Vaux is not somewhere to get greatly excited about although it does have an excellent newly enlarged marina which is reached by way of a small canal off the Saône river just below the bridge at Fleurville. It would certainly be a good place to over-winter if one wanted to explore the regions of Bresse and Southern Burgundy. The main street has all the usual shops including a good ironmonger and several bakers. The market is extensive with plenty of local producers mixed in with the usual run-of-the mill sellers of fruit and veg. One excellent stall run by a very nice lady is part rôtisserie and part charcuterie. Alongside her roasting chickens she sells great quiche and wonderful cooked ham and paillassons. These last are a cooked pancake of shredded potato which you can reheat for dinner and it’s the same word for ‘door-mats’ should you need one.

*    Held every Wednesday morning in the centre of town

Tournus is an old and beautiful town on the right bank of the River Saône approximately half-way between Chalon-sur-Saône and Mâcon. It is pretty easy to stop here as there is both the quay above the bridge and pontoon moorings below. The market is fairly comprehensive except there is no fishmonger. Otherwise there are at least two good butchers, several local fruit and vegetable growers and a complement of cheese, wine and bread sellers. Best stall, if you are into that sort of thing, is the true charcuterie, in its original sense. They are there cooking a whole variety of porky things including great sausages and rillettes. The ham is excellent.

  1.    Held every Saturday morning in the centre of town

River Sambre (Belgium)

Châtelineau - I’ve written about this market at some length in ‘The Sunny Side’. If you are stuck at Vankerkoven’s Chantier Navale at Pont-de-Loup a visit to this market is almost the highest point of your stay. It is an ok bike ride from there but better by car as you will be tempted to buy lots of fruit and vegetables. There’s a good butcher and the rotisserie is excellent.

*    Held every Saturday morning

River Seille

Cuisery - ‘the book village’ has a tiny but useful market. Fruit and veg, chicken, cheese etc.

  1. *    Held every Tuesday morning

River Somme

Péronne is a bustling though not beautiful town on the Somme. The market is lively and stocks everything necessary to sustain life between there and Amiens.

*     Held every Saturday morning

River Thames (UK)


Twickenham is in the London Borough of Richmond-upon-Thames in West London and famous as the English home of rugby football. The farmers’ market is held in the Holly Road car-park in the centre of town, a 3-4 minute walk from the river. Highly recommended is my butcher from Leicestershire and the fishermen from Essex. Otherwise a good and varied selection of produce including some organic.

  1. *  Held every Saturday morning

Majorca (Spain)


The Mercat de Santa Catalina (in the Plaça de Navegació) is one of the permanent covered markets in Palma. Smaller than the main market in the centre of town, nevertheless it has everything you might ever be likely to need by way of island produce. The fish counters are outstanding as one would expect  but everything else, fruit and veg, cheese, cooked meats etc are all of a high standard. This is the market I always go to for my final shop of pata negra and sobrasada before we fly back to the UK.

*    Held every weekday

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Thursday, 4 November 2010