If you don't know, Vaison-la-Romaine is a quick 6 mile trip down a winding road and then left around the round-about across the Ouvèze River. Vaison-la-Romaine is divided by the Ouvèze River into two parts; on the left bank is the old medieval town with the Castle of the Counts of Toulouse at the highest point shown in the photograph below and on the right bank is the ancient Roman colony and modern town.
We try to get to the market shortly after 8:30 in the morning. Yes, I know it is early to be out and about while you are on vacation. But take my advice, it will be much easier to find parking. By 10:00, it will be difficult to find any parking, let alone a convenient spot close to the market area.
Also, by 10:00, the streets will be crowded with people trying to make their way through the market and it's not so much fun in my opinion. So we get through the market and retire to one of the Cafés that line Place Montfort for a petit Café, hopefully with friends.
|Vaison-la-Romaine medieval upper town|
After we park, usually near Notre-Dame-de-Nazareth Cathedral, we walk along the north side of the Cathedral past a very large field of Roman ruins which border the path to the main market area. I am embarrassed to say we don't give much more thought to these ruins as we walk pass them than we do to walking past houses in our California neighborhood.
|Path to market area along La Villasse ruins|
What makes these Roman ruins unique in my opinion is that they are ruins of a village with streets and shops and houses, rather than individual ruins like the Arena in Nîmes or at the Pont du Gard, the Roman aqueduct bridge built in the first century AD, so you get a sense of the overall layout of the town.
The Roman ruins in Vaison-la-Romaine are spread over two sites; Puymin adjacent to the Office of Tourism with its Musée Théo Desplans (museum) and Théâtre Antique (Roman theater) built in the first century AD and La Villasse which we pass on our walk up to the market.
These are ruins of shops along the central street of La Villasse. The Romans were very practical and built one street for chariots and a parallel footpath for pedestrians covered by a portico (many of the columns remain in place) to shelter the stalls and people from the sun and bad weather.
|Public bath in La Villasse|
One of the best things about owning or renting a house in Provence, in my opinion, is the chance to cook some of the amazing produce, seafood, cheese and meats you find at the various weekly markets as you travel around Provence. And let me tell you, the weekly market in Vaison-la-Romaine is one of the biggest and best.
By contrast when you stay in a hotel or similar accommodation, you will walk through markets, and look, sniff and drool about the possibilities that lie before you on those artfully displayed tables. You will undoubtedly buy a few things for a snack or picnic, but you won't experience the satisfaction that comes from eating a home-cooked meal on your terrace with ingredients bought at that's morning market.
|Cours Taulignan in Vaison-la-Romaine|
The weekly market is a kaleidoscope of colors and smells of Provence with up to 450 vendors in the summer (pottery, arts and crafts, food stalls of all kinds, local fruits and vegetables, linens, soap, regional specialties, clothing) and spreads out over Place Montfort, the main square in the center of town and nearby streets.
Most of the fish, meat, cheese, fruit and vegetable sellers set up their stands on Cours Taulignan or on one of the cross streets. The market is an ancient tradition dating all the way back to 1483.
The photographs which follow show a few of the offerings on display when we were at the market last fall. To confirm the obvious, the offerings at the market change from season to season, ensuring that you have the freshest and most seasonal ingredients to cook.
|Garlic strings from the Tarn|
|There are several vendors selling olives and tapenades|
Even though it was October, we were able to find some nice fresh, tasty tomatoes, that were the base for several salads during our sejour in Sablet.
|Last of the season's tomatoes|
|Olive oils and tapenades|
|Fresh Cèpes, Porcinis or by whatever name you call them are delicious. Don't touch!|
|Other varieties of mushrooms|
|Figs and prunes|
|Fennel, Eggplants and Peppers|
Several cheese vendors set up shop at the market every week. Full disclosure, I don't buy from any of them since I am partial to the cheese that Josiane Deal sells at her wonderful shop called Lou Canesteou just a few steps away on Rue Raspail off Place Montfort, the town's main square.
|Freshly-made artisan cheese|
|Our favorite fishmonger. He also comes to Sablet on Friday mornings|
|There are a number of butchers you can check out|
You have to have spices for cooking. In Provence, spices are not sold in the market in little jars or packages. Buy only what you are going to use for a week or two as there is no reason to use stale spices since you don't have to buy a jar which might last 6 months or more.
|Spices are displayed, uncovered, on tables like these and sold in sachets based on how much you want|
There are olive groves every where so it is not surprising that there are kitchen utensils and dishes made from olive wood for sale in the market.
|Utensils made from olive wood|
|Hand painted images of the Provence countryside. If you have been to our house, you will probably recognize the artist.|
If you want to learn to cook some typical Provençal dishes from seasonal ingredients at the market, I recommend you contact our friend Barbara. Barbara is a contemporary art critic turned chef/cooking instructor at Cuisine de Provence cooking school she runs out of her beautiful home in Vaison-la-Romaine. Quite a few of our guests have taken classes and so have I and she is recommended in Rick Steves' guide to "Provence and the French Riviera".
If you have comments or questions about Vaison-la-Romaine, or elsewhere in Provence, please leave your comments below or send me an email at my address below.
If you are thinking about a trip to the South of France including spending time in Provence, we invite you to visit our website. Our house is available for rent by the week or more. We still have some weeks open in April, June, last part of July and August. You can reach us for further information by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.