An autumnal mist was stubbornly hanging around as our group browsed the colourful market stalls of Villefrance-de-Rouergue, in the Aveyron region of France. It obscured the high spire at the top of the Church of Notre Dame, and even swirled just above the canopies of several of the stalls.
The markets take place on Thursdays, and seem to take over most of the pretty town, which is known as the “Pearl of the Aveyron”. The main square in Place de Notre Dame was a hustling, bustling hive of activity even as the stalls were opening. The freshest produce, and variety of products is probably available then. The locals are out purchasing their weekly shopping under the large crucifix in the square, before most visitors have enjoyed their first coffee.
It’s not a secret that I’m a big fan of North African bazaars, Middle Eastern souks, or the vibrant fish markets of West Africa, but most markets get excited. Apart from online, they are my only choice for retail therapy, and I love the colourful vibrancy that they offer.
Markets also provide a great insight into the culture, a glimpse of what life is like in a destination. The produce on sale, from fresh fruit, and vegetables, pastries, breads, livestock, or even live fish, such as Riga, as well as local delicacies, which can show slight eccentricities of the people.
The markets of Villefrance-de-Rouergue have plenty to keep the average visitor interested, they are fascinating. It’s little surprise to find fresh-baked loaves, bundles of garlic, powerful aromas of cured meats, and especially goats, sheep or cows milk cheeses. Obviously there are many fruit, and vegetable stalls, selling tomatoes, onions, aubergines, and artichokes, displayed piled high in wooden crates.
There are also herbs, and spices, aromatic as found in any souk in a more exotic destination. A stall displaying bowls of fresh olives, surrounded by bottles of cold pressed oil look especially tempting. Nearby a merchant catches a live trout from an aerated tub, before killing, and gutting it for the customer, it doesn’t get any fresher.
Cheese sellers, and artisan bakers tempt passers-by into buying their produce, by offering a small, tasty morsel,hoping their taste buds will rule their purse. Those needing something more substantial can buy portions of paella, including some local variations on the Spanish dish. The hungry devour it immediately, while others purchase enough to take home for family dinner.
The markets also seem a social event, friends that possibly haven’t met up for weeks, stop to reconnect, chatting animatedly in the aisles between stalls. Several have obviously arranged to meet, pausing from the weekly shop to meet friends, possibly enjoying a conversation over coffee once their shopping basket is full.
It is an eclectic crowd, young, and old, male, and female, and a mix of race, and creed. Some are immaculately dressed, with French flair, others with a more distinct, individual style, and just a few who can only be described as clothed.
It’s a great way to get to know the community, and could easily waste several hours wandering from merchant to merchant, they’re generally amicable, and willing to chat. Especially once they realise you’re not local, interested in knowing your home country, and why you’re visiting.
The markets make a pleasant introduction to this pretty town, there’s still plenty to see as the traders begin to close their stalls. The church shouldn’t be missed, before a leisurely exploring session around the rest of the bastide.
I’m grateful to Tourisme Aveyron for the opportunity to browse the Villefrance-de-Rouergue markets but all opinions were formed while sniffing garlic.