The abundance of fresh local produce is one of the principal pleasures of a self-catering holiday in the Quercy and Lot Valley areas of France. You’ll be spoiled for choice where to buy it.
If you know where to go, you can buy what’s in season directly from a farm or a road-side stand. For a wider range, local épiceries and even hypermarkets are stocked with the gamut of produce from the surrounding areas. Look for labels with the département names: Lot, Lot-et-Garonne and Tarn-et-Garonne.
But if you want a real French experience, you’ll have to make a trip to at least one of the many outdoor markets. They are picturesque and that’s one reason to visit. But they’re not just for show. They are also completely authentic, modern, working marketplaces. While farm shops and farmers’ markets have had a revival in recent years in the UK and USA, the outdoor market tradition in France never died. At least 50 percent of the French still shop at least once a week in a market.
Around the Kingfisher area, there are markets in most towns and many villages. On any given day of the week, at least one will be operating. Here, we’ve prepared a guide with information on where to go and assembled a few tips on the rules of engagement, so to speak, at the markets in this area.
What’s a market?
You thought you knew. You probably do, but just to be clear, we’re talking about outdoor, open air and covered food markets. We won’t tackle the night markets, food festivals (like the festivals of cherries or grapes in Moissac), flea markets and Christmas markets (not yet!).
Most markets we’re interested in for your summer visit take place out in the open in a central square or under a roof. In any given locality, they assemble producers and resellers broadly from the South West. However, the vendors are itinerant and you often see the same butcher or cheese seller at different markets on different days of the week.
There’s one other kind of market you may discover on your travels. Some towns have enclosed markets, often inside architecturally noteworthy halls. For example, the indoor market at Moissac was a gift from Paris. The outdoor markets are often adjacent to the permanent indoor markets, which are worth a look in too.
The fact that there’s such diversity just goes to show how important markets are.
How to shop
Here are a few tips about the local market customs that might come in handy.
If you look up the official hours, most markets operate between 8am and 1pm. Don’t believe it. They start a bit earlier and by noon, the vendors are tearing down their stalls. Nine-thirty or 10am are comfortable times to arrive. Earlier makes parking easier. Crowds are thinner. By 11am, you might find less choice – the organic chickens might be sold out – but it’s rarely a real problem.
What to bring
Bring a bag to carry your purchases as you go from stand to stand. Also, try to bring small change. You’ll be surprised what you can buy for a euro or two. But don’t run back home if you forget these. The vendors usually do have some sort of bag and they do happily make change.
Haggling is not the norm. Charm might win you what seems like a deal. But the charm works both ways. Most likely, a merchant will knock off a bit to a round figure or throw in an extra piece. One potential advantage of arriving late is that you may find that some sellers have lowered their prices to sell off a glut of seasonal items like tomatoes, melons or peaches.
Language, Weights and Measures
The vendors often know the English names for fruit, veg and – no surprise – numbers, for telling you the price. Pointing works fine for selecting. Everything is metric. One-hundred grams is just over 3 ounces. You can ask for a pound of things – it’s a legitimate measure – and you’ll get 500 grams, which is technically 50 grams more than a pound.
Producers versus resellers
There’s a subtle difference between the types of seller. By preference, you want to buy from the producteurs, the producers. They grew the food. But some stalls – often the biggest ones with widest choice – are resellers. Their produce may be local or it may be from Spain or Morocco. It will be labelled. Don’t be frightened off. If they have what you want, buy it. It saves you a separate trip to buy the same thing, grown in the same place, at a supermarket.
Picking what you want
It’s normally clear based on how things are arranged whether you serve yourself or the seller serves you. Watch what others are doing. If you see a pile of red or green plastic baskets, ask for one or pick one up and start filling it. This often helps in getting the seller’s attention. Finding your place in the queue (a virtual queue, that is) is not as difficult as it seems. The French usually take note of who is up next, even if they don’t line up. When things are extremely busy, it might take one conscious gesture to make your presence known, hence, the value of having earlier picked up one of the seller’s baskets. In any case, no one gets stressed out.
Beware the cheese merchants!
If you like cheese, France is heaven. But as a foreign visitor on holiday, it’s not likely that you’ll want to buy the same sort of quantities as a French family. Cheese merchants at markets seem unwilling to take this into account. Unless you’re very insistent, if you want just 100 grams, they’ll give you twice or three times as much, or more! So, stand your ground. Cent grammes.
Where to go and when
You can do a market every day of the week in just about any part of the region. On the list below, 46 is the Lot département, 82 is Tarn-et-Garonne and 47 is Lot-et-Garonne.
47 Astaffort, Cancon
46 Puy l’Eveque (small and good)
82 Valence d’Agen ( large and good with interesting market halls)
47 Villeneuve-sur-Lot large and good, Castillonnès
46 Cahors award-winning ‘nicest market in Midi-Pyrenees’ and on 9th May 2018 was awarded ’17th best market in France’ in a TF1 competition
82 Lauzerte, Lafrançaise, Montauban
47 Agen, St Sylvestre sur Lot
46 Monflanquin, Monsempron-Libos
47 St Livrade
46 Cahors, Puy l’Eveque
82 Montaigu-de-Quercy (good small town market), Lauzerte, Moissac (good big market), Montauban
47 Agen, Villeneuve-sur-Lot (both good, large town markets)
46 Montcuq, Castlenau Montratier
82 Roquecor, Moissac (good big market)
47 Agen (good town market), Beauville, Fumel, Pujols (April to September)
Practical, Picturesque and Entertaining
Visiting a market is a practical way to provision your holiday gite or villa in order to enjoy the real advantages of a self-catering holiday. It’s also a great way to take part in something authentically French. The market is both picturesque and practical. It’s also very sociable. If you’ve got the time, stop in an adjacent cafe for a morning coffee. If they don’t have any croissants or chocolatines (the local name for a pain au chocolat), the cafe is usually very happy for you to buy one on the market or from one of the surrounding bakeries. And you’ll see. There are lots of French people around you doing the same.