French markets are justly famous worldwide for the range and quality of their produce. In smaller, rural areas, the farmers and artisans sell their produce directly, so the stalls change according to the season.
During our time in France, we’ve been to many markets, as I love them – armed with a shopping bag (I do have a wicker basket, but am a bit self-conscious about using it), I like plunging into the medley of stalls and coming out with all sorts of surprises – white peaches, black radishes, homemade soap or honey, fresh eggs and raw milk. The stallholders are all extremely knowledgable about their products, and will advise on the best area and method of planting your newly purchased plants, or how to prepare and cook any type of foodstuff. I also love discovering the surprises of the area, from walnut products such as oil and cake in our part of the south west, to the apple juices and Calvados of northern France.
Some Dutch neighbours of ours have always been enthusiastic about a particular market at Monbrun Bocage, about an hour’s drive from our house. “It’s really different, and there’s a lovely atmosphere,” they promised us. The market’s on every Sunday morning almost without fail, and they told us stories of going on Christmas Day to find a happy community atmosphere of hot coffee and festive cheer.
The market stocks organic and handmade products, from food and plants to pottery and wood carvings. In the summer, it’s a popular tourist destination, with coachloads of people coming from as far as Toulouse. Although it’s raining on our chosen Sunday, we decide it’s high time to check it out for ourselves.
The village of Montbrun Bocage is a pretty place, set by a river and full of attractive old buildings. The market takes up the whole of the village square, with some stalls set up under the medieval covered marketplace and the others huddling round the edges. There are several stalls selling plants – mainly vegetable plants, but a huge range of herbs and flowers as well. One lady is selling handmade earthenware pots; I buy a little round plant bowl for three euros, with the intention of planting it with herbs.
One stall is selling joss sticks, and despite the drizzle the scent rises and mixes with the smells of coffee, pizza and other hot food on sale at the little kiosks.
The food stalls are mostly under cover. Honey, dried herbs and gourmet coffee, baked goods, jams, charcuterie, fruit and vegetables, olives, cheese, even sushi…..I buy a pack of dried verbena leaves for making tea and some dried oregano, and Mike adds a jar of mango chutney – the first time I’ve seen it in France – and a selection of little cakes. I have a long conversation with the stall holder as I select some white violets – as they apparently like shade, I’m going to plant them under our acacia tree in the garden.
We spot our Dutch friends and stop for a quick chat, before heading over to a trestle table that serves as the market’s coffee bar. Everyone here knows each other – there’s much shaking of hands and exchanging of news going on around us as we sip our drinks.
There’s a bit of a hippie vibe to the market as a whole – as well as the more usual market fare, there are also stalls selling embroidered clothing, embellished with little mirrors; incense and essential oils; and intricate silver and turquoise jewellery, and I think this is what contributes to the market’s reputation as ‘something a bit different’. There’s a lovely, friendly, community atmosphere, and we see several stall holders joining forces to mind each other’s stalls.
There are several dogs roaming happily under the crowd’s feet – all seem to be on their best behaviour, but with all this lovely food on offer, we’re glad we’ve left Monty in the car. Next time, we plan to make a day of it, and visit the market for picnic food before walking with him alongside the river.
For more information on the village and the market, visit www.montbrun-bocage.com.