The Sainte-Foy-La-Grande Saturday market is one of the oldest and largest in southwest France. It is open year round, selling all the foods for alimentation, clothes, beds, even laying hens. During the winter it scales down. But because of the demands of the local population, it is well attended and utilized even during the cold rains of winter. However, when the spring comes it blossoms like the local wildflowers into a grand Saturday morning event. This has happened in the last couple weeks. Our two friends from the US, Cis and Jill, are with us for the week. We decide to show them this gem of local color and commerce.
It is a perfect cool, sunny spring morning. We begin every market journey assembling our various carts and baskets and placing them into the car for the ten minute drive from La Busaneth to Sainte-Foy-La-Grande. We all check our wallets, for we want to be prepared for anything that might call our to us. And of course, we divert to the scenic route through the vineyards of Pineuilh so our friends can get a better sense of the local campagne.
Arriving in Sainte-Foy, we park the car and walk through the narrow 13th century streets toward the palpable bustle of the market. We are soon bombarded by the colors and festivity of the French market in all its glory.
There are bright clothes from the four corners of the world. Hardware and sundry goods are tantalisingly displayed for easy browsing and purchase. We notice brightly colored woven baskets asking to be bought to contain whatever we choose to buy.
One of the first stops is a clothing stall, a moveable boutique, with eye-catching scarves and women’s clothes. Our three women do not disappoint, and through our poor French and hand gestures and smiles, are able to get the advice of the boutiquesse. They and soon are laden with new adornments.
The Market Stalls
As we wander through the crowded marketplace, there are so many sites to see. We hear many people speaking not only French but many different languages.
There are displays of fresh fish and mussels, fruits and vegetables, meats and poultry, breads, and on and on and on. We notice our favorite cheese monger is back, complete with scarf around his neck and a jovial personality. We had missed him for the last few months and told him so. He let us know he had to have surgery, but now he is back and “parfait”. We end up purchasing from him small round chevres fraiches, a divine bleu and a dozen eggs.
The coffee monger is in his corner of the market roasting his beans on his small hand-turned roaster. We exchange banter, in which in response to my prodding he tells me he actually is trying to stop smoking. We come away with a large bag of his Tanzanie coffee, which from experience is as good in the tasting as it is in the anticipation.
Home we go
Eventually all our bags and carts are full of all manner of food and clothes, forcing us to leave for home, grateful for the experience and grateful that the French have maintained this grand, practical, and most lovely institution.