Saturday, February 23, 2013

Market Day in Nyons, the Land of All Things Olive

Our village in Provence is 6 miles south of Vaison-la-Romaine, a town we pass with Roman ruins on our way to Nyons across the 15th century Pont Roman (Roman Bridge) on the right bank of the Eygues River in the Drôme. Nyons is in a natural basin, surrounded by hills and small mountains, sheltered from wind and gets an unusual amount of sunshine, earning Nyons the nickname "Little Nice" for its great climate.

I told you here, that we came to Nyons to watch the peloton pedal across the "new" bridge which spans the Eygues River out of Nyons on their way to Gap during the 16th stage of the 98th Tour de France. On this early spring day, we were headed to the weekly Provençal market which takes place every Thursday morning in the center of Nyons (28 kms).

Nyons is the largest town of Les Baronnies region, the historic name for the area East and North of Mont Ventoux, the tallest peak in Provence. The 6950 residents of Nyons are called "Nyonsais." As the old capital of the Barons de Montauban and later the administrative center for the region, Nyons has many historic buildings.

The Randonne Tower is a chapel with an ornamental bell tower with a tall statue of the Virgin Mary on top overlooking the town of Nyons. The tower was erected around 1280 by the Baronness of Montauban, and at the time was used as both a keep and a military prison for the castle. In the 19th century it was converted into a chapel and renamed "Notre-Dame de Bon-Secours".

The Randonne Tower

Saint Vincent's Church with the Saint-Césaire monastery and two nearby cemeteries formed the religious center of Nyons in the Middle Ages. Most of the modern-day building dates from the beginning of the 17th century.

The bell tower of Saint Vincent Church

The church has a nave (center) with five bays, a choir bay with flat chevet ("headpiece") and eleven side chapels built in various styles.

Saint Vincent Church

We had not come to Nyons to see the church or other historical monuments this morning but to walk around the Provençal market underway on "Place de la Liberation" and "Place des Arcades" in the center of town. Our friend Bruce from Villedieu knows we like outdoor markets and suggested we should check this one out.

The roundabout in the center of Nyons

We love to wander through markets even if we don't have anything specific to buy. I can say with 100% confidence that we have never gone through a Provençal market without buying something; linens, soaps, pottery, artwork, or something tasty to eat.

A square full of vendor stalls on market day

In Provence, people go to socialize and meet-up with friends as much or more than shop. As you wander through markets in Provence, you will see friends greeting each other at their favorite vendor's stall with "la bise," face-kissing while they wait for their turn to be served or pay for their purchase.

Shoppers at the Nyons market

You can buy fruits, vegetables, cheeses, meat and poultry, seafood, sausages, spices, honey, candied fruits, olives, and flowers. In the larger markets, you can also buy clothing, shoes, items for the kitchen and many other useful and not so useful knickknacks from Provence.

Market stalls with Mairie (town hall) in background

"Place du Docteur Bourdongle" also known as the "Place des Arcades" dates from the 14th century when it was set aside for markets and fairs in Nyons. The square gets its name from the arcades full of shops that surround the square. Here in this picture, we see the plant sellers that set up shop at the Thursday morning market.

Plant sellers in "Place des Arcades"

Lucky for us, we could go to a different market every day of the week if we so choose. There is a large market in l'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on Sunday, Bedoin on Monday, Vaison-la-Romaine on Tuesday, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence on Wednesday, the Nyons market on Thursday, Carpentras on Friday, and Sainte-Cécile-les-Vignes or Uzès on Saturday. All are within one hour of our home in Sablet. There are almost as many markets as towns in Provence.

More vendor stalls

Dogs are welcome in outdoor markets in Provence unlike in Northern California where signs are posted at the entrance to farmer's markets saying "No Dogs Allowed" by order of this or that health department. Not in Provence; here you see ladies and gentlemen walking through the market with their dogs on leash.

A dog left in a van does a little "dog" watching

Besides the weekly market and monuments like the Pont Roman and the Randonne Tower, Nyons is also known for its culture, oleiculture (olive culture) that is.

An impressive passage through the wall

Nyons is home to the "Institute of the World of the Olive Tree," a cultural, scientific and economic center that in addition to conferences and exhibitions, offers weekly olive oil tasting seminars to the public.

The "Coopérative Agricole du Nyonsais" (the Nyons olive oil cooperative) shop has everything related to olives and olive oil, as well as tapenades, anchoiades, local wine, honey, jams and olive soap.

Next door to the Coopérative is the "Museum of the Olive Tree" with its exhibit of tools and information about ancient and new methods for picking and curing olives to eat and for making olive oil, all set among millstones and different types of olive oil presses.

There is also a 4 kilometer Olive Tree Trail marked with directional signs. Along the way there is a series of informational signs about olive trees and at the 1/2 way point, there is a picnic area. You can pick up a trail map in the Tourist Information Office.

Near the Roman Bridge, you can visit two defunct 18th and 19th century olive oil mills and a soap factory dating from 1730.

Besides the vendors in the market,stores are open with merchandise displayed out front

Olives are celebrated in Nyons year-around with the Fête des Olives Piquées (Festival of pitted olives) the weekend before Christmas, Fête de l'Alicoque (Festival of new olive oil), the first Sunday in February, and Fête des Olivades, the weekend which follows July 14 (Bastille Day). This year is the 50 year anniversary of the Fête des Olivades and will be on July 18 - 21, 2013.

We wandered down this narrow street

In 1994 Nyons became the first region in France to be awarded its own appellation or AOC, for olives and oil, similar to that of wine regions. The rules of the AOC dictate what can be called Nyons olives or oil. For example, oils in this AOC must contain at least 95% of a variety of olives called Tanche.

A butcher with the country of origin for his meats posted on the exterior wall of his shop

Along with the Niçoise olive, the Tanche is probably the best known French olive variety, grown primarily in the Drôme and Vaucluse regions of Provence. The olives grown around Nyons are normally referred to as "Olive de Nyons", or simply "Nyons," and this is the name under which the olive is best known to the rest of the world.

Rose, yellow and blue houses with pretty shutters

The olives can be harvested at smaller size in late November, while for larger olives they wait until December or January. When fully mature, the color of the fruit is a violet black. The plumpest Tanche olives end up as eating olives, after being cured in brine or salt. The rest are used for making olive oil. I should mention that Shirley cured green olives with lye and marinated them in a brine for the first time this year. They turned out really yummy.

Market stalls set up around the war memorial

If you are in the area and thinking about going to shop at a Provençal market on a Thursday, go to Nyons. Shirley asked me this morning what I was going to post about next and I told her the Nyons market. She replied without hesitation: "That was a great market, I want to go back." There are many fields of lavender around Nyons so make sure you go when the lavender is in bloom.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. Sharon"Gouzie"LewisFebruary 23, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    I can almost feel myself there!How I would love to eat those olives and oil!!!!

  2. That tower is really ornate. It looks quite fragile but I am sure it is not. Now an olive festival I could spend all day at tasting. Last one we went to was in Ozz and at that time N did not like Olives, since then I have retrained him so..... Take care Diane

  3. Another great market to visit... we definitely need to add more days on to our next trip! Thanks as always for the great recommendation and bon weekend :)

  4. Sharon - Thanks for stopping in to check out my blog and for leaving a comment. I appreciate this very much. I hope that someday you can come and visit us in Sablet.

    Diane - I guess it's a good thing we love olives because they are included in so many dishes in Provence. Have a great day.

    Tuula - There is way more to see and do in our part of the world than you can find days to do so. I am sure it's the same way in the Toulon area which we need to come and see. Have a great weekend.

  5. I've been to the market in Nyons several times, stayed near there once, and especially like the lavender factory... yes, it is one of our most favorite towns (aside from Vaison!).