The glorious French markets with Gabriel Gaté

Boasting some of the finest cuisine in Europe, France offers an abundance of gastronomy experiences. As well as fine dining, shopping for fresh produce from local farmers’ markets is a cultural delight enjoyed by both visitors and locals alike.
Wander off the typical tourist trail to uncover these vibrant food markets, enjoying a quintessential part of France’s culture. From locally grown fruit and vegetables, to the finest meats and cheeses from nearby farmers and wines cultivated on regional vineyards, visiting a French food market lets you indulge in the authentic flavours of the country. As French-Australian chef, cookbook author and television show host, Gabriel Gaté, describes: “For French home cooks, visiting a fresh food market at least once a week is a way of life”. 

We spoke to Gabriel Gaté about his love of French food markets. Learn more about the art of shopping at these markets, the best produce to purchase, and where to find some of the country’s most iconic marketplaces. 

What inspires you about French food markets?

French markets are a feast for the senses. As a chef, cookery writer and family cook, I feel stimulated and inspired by the great beauty of the colourful displays of fruits, vegetables and other stunning ingredients at French food markets.

I often mentally plan a menu or create dishes while strolling through the atmospheric food aisles. I am inspired by the seasonal smells of fruits and fine herbs, such as basil, tarragon, strawberries and melons.

What’s the best time to visit one?

The best market days are usually Saturday and Sunday when family cooks have more time to plan their weekend feast. I like to visit a market between 8am and 10am when it looks its best and is not yet too crowded. I first walk through the aisles to feel the atmosphere and discover the best stalls. I then reward myself with café and a croissant (or some other irresistible goodies) before returning to the most tempting stalls. I must confess I have a weakness for fromage!

Tell us about some of the popular food markets of France.

My native country has over 10,000 food markets, so when you are on a Scenic river cruise in France you are never far from a market. Paris alone has about eighty weekly markets, most of which are situated in an attractive or historic street and open two or three days a week. The French capital has also twelve covered markets open five or six days a week. The oldest, le Marché des Enfants Rouges, was established in 1615.

The French word for market is marché, and a covered market is called a marché couvert. Larger, long-established covered markets are called les halles if there are several covered sections. You’ll find a stunning example of les halles in Versailles where the market is within walking distance of the extraordinary royal château (The Palace of Versailles).

What about the markets in the picturesque French countryside that Scenic visits?

A visit to a rural farmers’ market is a memorable cultural experience. When discovering a gorgeous hilltop village, charming provincial town or famous gourmet city – such as Lyon, Avignon, Bordeaux or Paris – visiting a market is a fun way to absorb the richness of France's gastronomic treasures. Most rural markets were established centuries ago, in old historic centres where you may also discover ancient châteaux, churches and medieval architecture.

What’s a typical French food market set up like and what are some of the must-try items?

Local farmers set up their stalls early in the central square of the village to sell their homemade cheeses, the freshest seasonal vegetables and herbs, and fruits ripened to perfection. Other artisans – such as butchers and fishmongers, smallgoods makers and cheese masters – sell their goods from a specially equipped refrigerated truck, travelling during the week to a different village every day. These artisans are proud of their products and are usually happy to give you a taste before you buy.

Country markets offer amazing food ideas for a picnic. The charcutier is the shop to buy freshly prepared salads and delicious smallgoods like patés, hams, terrines and salami. Most markets have a rôtisserie stall with the irresistible smell of roast chicken and other succulent, ready-to-eat meats, as well as roast potatoes wafting through the air. 

Around a market square you are sure to find a good boulangerie (bakery) and pâtisserie selling their regional specialities. And, last but not least, you’ll find a wine shop to transform your picnic feast into a celebration.

Epicurean adventures on a Scenic France river cruise

If you’re feeling inspired by the rich culinary heritage of France, Scenic’s collection of France river cruise itineraries provide ample opportunities to embark on an epicurean adventure during an array of immersive experiences across the country. Indulge in the eclectic flavours of France, whether you choose to journey to the beautiful Bordeaux region, Provence in southern France, or the romantic French capital, Paris.
In the south of France, you will have the chance to forage for delectable truffles with a local farmer in Tournus, as well as delight in an interactive chocolate experience at the famous Valrhona Cité du Chocolat museum at TainL’Hermitage. Avignon’s famous food markets are yours to explore on an exclusive ‘Shop with a Chef’ excursion; when you return to your Space-Ship, watch as the fresh ingredients are transformed into fine French cuisine at the on board cooking school, Scenic Culinaire. You can also learn more about fine dining when you witness an authentic cooking demonstration at the restaurant of three star Michelin chef, Georges Blanc. 
In addition to our collection of French river cruises, we have introduced two brand-new Culinary Cruises for 2021. Embrace the very best of France’s gastronomic gifts with a specially curated selection of experiences and excursions – and of course, everything is included in the price. Choose between the Tastes of Southern France or Flavours of Bordeaux. Culinary highlights across each itinerary include dining at a traditional Bouchon, an authentic tasting experience at an organic goat cheese farm, wine tastings at local vineyards, and a food photography workshop, among many others.
Whichever corner of France you choose to explore with Scenic, you will have the chance to immerse yourself in the country’s delectable flavours, travelling in truly all-inclusive luxury.