Les Halles: Avignon's Gourmet Food Market

Tapenade stall at Les Halles, AvignonWith around 40 stalls selling a cornucopia of regional produce, Les Halles is a must for any dedicated foodie in Avignon.

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Here you'll find cheeses, charcuterie, meat, breads and fish as well as more unusual items such as dozens of variants on tapenade (pictured top left) or sea salt perfumed with rose petals.

The original covered market was built right at the end of the 19th century. But in the 1970s the commercial heart of Avignon was threatened by the rise of the grandes surfaces, the vast shopping malls and commercial strip developments which today encircle the Old City.

To combat this, a multi-storey car park was created near the market in the 1970s and the old hall demolished and rebuilt.

The bad news is that the new interior is a little functional and lacking in the panache and elegance of the open-air markets in the Old Town of Aix en Provence. The good news is that, yes, there is limited parking at Les Halles, Avignon: 520 spaces.

And, unlike its namesake in Paris, which became a gigantic underground shopping mall, Les Halles in Avignon (the 'h' is aspirated and the 's' is silent, so that it's pronounced Lay Ahle) has remained true to its origins as a food market.

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Matters were improved still further when, in 2006, the city cloaked the stark 1970s façade with a huge and dramatic plant wall (pictured) designed by the botanist Patrick Blanc, who also created a similar installation at the Musée des Arts Premiers in Paris.

Vegetable facade, Les Halles, AvignonOf course the food is the thing anyway and, as well as the myriad market stalls, Les Halles has a lively programme of food-friendly activities.

Insiders particularly like to plan a visit for 11.00am every Saturday in their diaries. That's when leading chefs from the region - a different one each week - turn up to give cookery demonstrations at the little kitchen - la petite cuisine, also the title of the series - in one of the southern corners of Les Halles which has been specially set up for the purpose.

A leaflet is distributed with the recipe, which uses ingredients sourced at the market this morning, giving details of which stalls sell them. It's a clever and entertaining way of promoting Avignon's gastronomy. Click here to read more about the petite cuisine at Les Halles and to download all the recipes demonstrated (in French only).

Richard Bagnol, chef at L'Oulo in Mazan, France

When we visited, Richard Bagnol (pictured, tasting his efforts), of the reputed restaurant L'Oulo in nearby Mazan, was showing his skill with turkey parcels stuffed with goat's cheese.

It was accompanied by an unusual ratatouille featuring cherry tomatoes, potatoes, nectarines, green peppers, lemon juice and apricots (since the latter were not available, Bagnol improvised with pumpkin instead, the orange colour being of the essence here rather than the taste).

You'll enjoy these sessions more if you speak French, as there's much humorous and good-natured banter between the chef and the bystanders. But the demonstration is fairly self-explanatory and, best of all, you get to eat the delicious results, along with a wine tasting hosted by a local vintner.

Near the petite cuisine is a tourist information point, open at weekends, and just opposite it is a cookery school, Concept Chef, where each weekend (paid) lessons are offered for both adults and children.

Where: Les Halles, place Pie, 84000 Avignon. Tel: (+33) 4 90 27 15 15.

Daily until around 1.30pm. Closed Mondays. Website for Les Halles, Avignon

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