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Provence is market heaven. There are all kinds—foodie, collectibles, antiques, clothing—and there is a (often famous) street market in every town. If you don't buy something, you're missing out on a truly Provençal experience.
There are plenty of châteaux, museums, and Roman ruins to tour in Provence. And yet there always seem to be even more rows of sheltered booths, more tents draped with pink-and-yellow Souleiado fabric, more jumbles of hand-woven baskets. Fight a brief inner battle, but most travelers know that they will yield yet again to the delight of puttering through a village market. Markets are a daily occurrence here, passed from village to town—Sunday is for Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, Wednesday for St-Rémy, Saturday for Arles. The market is a deeply ingrained part of Provençal life, and each one reflects something organic and intrinsic to the town itself. Remember that you'll want to pick the wheat from the chaff, giving wide clearance to products such as bubble-gum-scented olive-oil soaps, pottery mugs with good-luck cicadas, sunflower coasters, and Day-Glo versions of Van Goghs.
Feats of Clay
Many prize the miniature figures called santons, or "little saints." When the French Revolution cracked down on Christmas reenactments, a crafty Marseillais decided to sculpt tiny terra-cotta figures that soon upstaged their human counterparts. These figurines are now sold year-round. In crèches that resemble Provençal villages more than Bethlehem, look for tiny lavender-cutters, goat herders, and Carla Brunis.
Arles and the Camargue
Every Saturday morning along the Boulevard des Lices (which joins Boulevard Clemenceau) Arles hosts one of the best textile markets in the area. Here you'll find the famous boutis (cotton throws), textured fabrics, and an endless array of brightly dyed and embroidered tablecloths, children's clothes, and Arlesian costumes. On the first Wednesday of every month, this same spot converts into an antiques market—all the more interesting since wares are mostly regional.
Avignon and the Vaucluse
Avignon has a great mix of French chains and youthful clothing shops. Every Wednesday morning, St-Rémy-de-Provence hosts one of the most popular markets in France. The Place de la Republic and the narrow town streets overflow with fresh produce, olives, tapenade by the vat, and a variety of other delicacies. In the Vaucluse area, you can find anything made from lavender, including soaps, oils, creams, perfumes, and little sachets filled with dried lavender to keep your clothes—and your suitcase—fresh.
The main shopping drag lies between La Canebière and the Préfecture, but Marseille offers up a large selection of quirky shops, urban youth boutiques, and brand-name stores all over the city.
There are more than 30 street markets, the most renowned of which is the fish market in the port.
Probably the most famous item sold, however, is the Savon de Marseille (Marseille soap).
It can be bought all over the city but some of the prettiest cubed and scented blocks are found at La Compagnie de Provence (1 rue Caisserie 04-91-56-20-94).
Aix has some delightful street markets. Unlike the more traditional markets, the one in Aix is more focused on food: you'll find rare delicacies side by side with dried sausages bristling with Provençal spices, vats of olives and oils from the Pays d'Aix (Aix region), or bags of orange-spice boat-shape navettes (cookies).
The food market takes place every day in Place Richelème, and just up the street in Place Verdun is a very good collectibles market Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday mornings.
Aix is also a very snazzy modern shopping mecca with high-end stores that rival those on any of the other, more famous shopping strips in France.
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