The Markets of Marseille

Market scene at Noailles, Marseille

Marseille's climate and its exuberant character, combined with the sheer quality and variety of Mediterranean produce, make the city a brilliant backdrop for a wide range of street markets.

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This is a guide to the best markets in Marseille for visitors to explore. Of course, there are many other very good small markets all over town catering to residents, and we make no claim to be comprehensive and list them all.

However the ones here have a distinctive - in some cases unique - local character and are in most cases easy to get to. Click here to read our guide to the best shops of Marseille and here to read about Christmas markets in Marseille and elsewhere in Southern Provence.

OLD PORT AREA

Fish Market (Marché aux Poissons) A real Marseille institution, this small, vibrant market is held on the quai des Belges on the Old Port, where you can buy the catch of the day fresh off the boat - expect red mullet, bream, grouper - and have it weighed and cleaned for you while you wait. This is where local restaurateurs source fish for the day's bouillabaisse. Every day, 8am-1pm.

The fish market on Marseille's quai des BelgesJust along the Old Port on the quai de Rive Neuve is the equally legendary Criée aux Poissons. This was once a covered fish market: "criée" refers to the cries of fishmongers or fishwives promoting their wares. Today it has been transformed into Marseille's National Theatre.

The city's wholesale fish market - Marseille's equivalent of Billingsgate - is now in Saumaty, on the road towards L'Estaque. If you are a real pisciphile and must see it, you can get there on the 35 bus.

Craft Market (Les Artisanales du Vieux-Port), also sometimes called the Cruise Passengers' Market (Marché des Croisiéristes). In summer, a craft market offers Marseille soap, santons (traditional Christmas crib figures), provençal honey, olive wood artefacts,indiennes fabrics and more on the quai du Port between the La Samaritaine brasserie and the Town Hall. Sundays 9am-5pm. Crafts are also on sale at the same location in the evenings from 3-11.30pm (dates vary depending on the time of year).

Santons Market (Foire aux Santons) This Christmas market has a grand historic tradition: Marseille's first santons fair was held in 1803.

Santons market, MarseilleToday stalls selling santons, or clay crib figurines, line the Canebière and the place Charles de Gaulle each year starting in late November, when the fair opens ceremoniously to the sound of the tambourin (which is, incidentally, not a tambourine, but a long drum).

The Marseille santons market continues until 31 December, when a mass for santonniers, or santon-makers, is celebrated in provençal at the church of Saint Vincent de Paul, at the top of the Canebière. Every day, 9am-7pm (although this market warms up in the late afternoon). Website for Marseille's santons fair

Garlic Fair (La Foire à l'Ail) Established in 1790, this annual June fair, where you could buy garlic of all colours, sizes and strengths, signalled the beginning of high summer and was another Marseille institution.

Cover image for Two Towns in ProvenceIn Two Towns In Provenceimage!, her excellent book on Marseille and Aix in the early 20th century, MFK Fisher described it thus: "Dealers came from all over France to choose their year's supply of the virile herb. Famous restaurateurs were there, and unknown housewives, and if the wind was right, the wonderful light whiff of all the ivory ropes of the stuff could be caught as soon as one turned up from the quai des Belges."

Tourists still ask about Marseille's famous garlic fair but, alas, it is no more: the market steadily dwindled in size until only three or four dealers remained, and the opening of the tramway in 2007, which forced stall-holders to move to a new, less commercially attractive location, finally finished it off.

COURS JULIEN AREA

The Market at Noailles (Le Marché de Noailles) Also known as the Marché des Capucins, this crowded, chaotic, cheerful food market takes place in the narrow side-streets just off the top of the Canebière, a couple of hundred metres from the Old Port.

The market at Noailles, MarseilleDuck down them and you're instantly confronted by a sensory overload of multi-coloured African fabrics, mangos, loose spices, prayer mats with a compass set in them for locating Mecca, cheap sets of boules and couscousières, bootleg cigarettes and much more.

Many - though by no means all - of the shops and stalls on the rue Longue des Capucins, the market's main axis, are run by and for Marseille's Arab community and have ornate Moorish tiled interiors and grandly evocative names: Au Palais des Viandes, Le Royaume des Saveurs, Au Coin du Bonheur, Le Soleil d'Egypte...

In the back-streets, other shops sell Indian saris, Chinese and Vietnamese groceries or African spices and hair accessories. The two fabric shops on the rue de Rome are an excellent source of traditional provençal materials - les indiennes - as well as African or Indian ones.

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If you have cooking facilities, this is a good place to buy merguez (spicy sausages) and glistening tropical or Mediterranean fish. If you are picnicking, you can assemble a feast from the mountains of fresh vegetables, dozens of different types of olive by the scoop, farm-fresh, unpasteurised milk sold in sachets (pictured), semolina-based oriental flatbreads hot from the oven, pastilla (a North African chicken pastry with almonds and cinnamon) or French baguettes and freshly baked, dirt-cheap slices of pizza.

Street scene from the market at Noailles, Marseille

Although Marseille's overall population is extremely mixed, it has remained relatively free from the ethnic tensions blighting other urban areas in France.

During the violent race riots that erupted across the country in 2005, this was the only big city to remain almost entirely calm.

The market at Noailles offers a perfect opportunity to relax at one of the many pavement cafes with a refreshing mint tea and honey-drenched patisserie and watch the world - literally - go by. Mon-Sat, 8am-7pm.

The Flower Market (Le Marché aux Fleurs des Allées de Meilhan) Even further up the Canebière by the Reform Church, a flower and plant market flourishes. Tues and Sat, 8am-1pm.

The Market at La Plaine (Le Marché de la Plaine) Expect fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish, takeaway hot food such as couscous or paella, cheap shoes and accessories and a very lively atmosphere at this large, bustling street market on the place Jean Jaurès, locally known as La Plaine. Tues, Thurs, Sat, 8.00am-1pm. Flower market on Wednesdays.

The Book Market (Le Marché des Bouquinistes) This ramshackle huddle of rusty shelters conceals a treasure trove for collectors.

Second-hand book and record market, MarseilleHere you will find French and international second-hand books, bandes dessinées (graphic novels), vintage magazine, DVDs and video cassettes, classical and pop CDs, audio cassettes and records. Tues-Sat, 8.30am-6.30pm.

This little market has moved from its previous location on the place Carli to a new venue just round the corner, the place Léon Blum at the top of the Canebière.

There's usually something going on up on the nearby Cours Julien. A farmers' market is held every Wednesday (8am-1pm), stamps are sold on Sundays (8am-1pm) and there is a second-hand book fair on the second Saturday of every month.

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In addition, watch out for frequent special events such as the Journée de Plantes (an organic plant market) every April and September, vides greniers (rummage sales) and markets spotlighting local artists and artisans. These are generally flagged up on the Cours Julien Association website.

Market, avenue du Prado, MarseillePrado Market (Le Marché du Prado) A little further on from the Cours Julien area, the avenue du Prado hosts a whole range of markets on different days of the week.

Strung out along this long, leafy boulevard starting at the place Castellane, dozens of stalls offer the usual array of flowers, fish, cheese, fruit, vegetables, meat, bread, clothes and so on. Pictured: a farmer's van parked on the avenue du Prado in the heart of Marseille advertises suckling lambs and kids.

These local markets aren't really special enough to warrant a detour, but are worth a look if you are staying on this side of town.

OUTSIDE THE CENTRE

Flea Market (Le Marché aux puces) Junk and (to a lesser extent) treasures jostle for position at Marseille's busy flea market out in the 15th arrondissement.

Flea market, MarseilleIt consists of several big sheds which house variously a covered brocante, or bric-à-brac market with about 40 dealers (Tues-Sun, 8.30am-7.30pm) and a predominantly Arab fruit, vegetable and produce market that's a much larger version of the one at Noailles.

Dotted around the car-park and all along the busy main road outside, rows of private individuals sell a motley assortment of second-hand items at the weekends (8.30am-2pm).

There are also dozens of little cafés where you can grab a cheap pizza, couscous, coffee, North African pâtisserie or kebab.

Marseille's flea market is on the avenue du Cap Pinède, to the north of the city centre in the direction of L'Estaque and you can get there by bus 35, 36 or 70. Alternatively, take the metro, line 2, to Bourgainville (from where it's a good 15 minute walk).

There's a car-park which fills up very quickly, but many visitors simply leave their vehicles along the main road. Warning: all the streets around the "official" flea market get very clogged up with unlicensed traders and so it's strongly inadvisable to come by car. Website for the flea market of Marseille

Antiques Market (Brocante) Marseille's antiques dealers are all clustered near the place Castellane around the rue Edmond Rostand (where the author of Cyrano de Bergerac was born). The shops are open all year round but on one Sunday every three months there's a large, all-day, open-air street market with many more sellers and antiques bargains. Details on the Association Rostand website.

Market of the Sun (Le Marché du Soleil) For deep immersion in African Marseille, the Marché du Soleil, beyond Saint Charles station by the Porte d'Aix, is the place to go. Visited by few tourists, it gives you an even sharper sense of being in another country than the more central and relatively integrated market at Noailles.

The Marche du Soleil, MarseilleAt the end of the rue du Bon Pasteur, by the junction with the avenue Camille Pelletan, a small entrance, unobtrusive except for a simple blue and yellow sign, leads into a warren-like souk of stalls.

Unlike Noailles, this is mainly a market for clothing and household goods rather than for food: watch out for huge, baroque brass teapots.

Stalls selling severe grey hijabs and robes sit next to others which are a riot of brilliant colour: the extravagant wedding and banquet dresses (pictured below) and gorgeous miniature children's outfits are marvels to behold.

A word of caution: a large area of the Marché du Soleil burned down in June 2008. Since then relations have been, to say the least, strained between the stall-holders and the landlord, with a stream of demonstrations and evictions.

Wedding and banquet dresses, Marche du Soleil, MarseilleDuring our visit in the spring of 2012, the atmosphere seemed unusually tense compared to elsewhere in Marseille. A Front National supporter buttonholed us to harangue against immigrants, while a stall-holder wanted to know if we were from the Town Hall.

Since then, the mood has deteriorated further, if a report in La Provence newspaper of 5 December 2012 is to be believed, with an influx of black marketeers and an increasingly aggressive vibe on the street.

If you are really keen to visit the Marché du Soleil, it's therefore better to go accompanied by a local and advisable to give it a miss altogether if you don't speak French.

Ask permission before photographing stall-holders and their wares or passers-by. This is a courtesy at all the markets in Marseille, but applies in particular to areas where some people may be sans papiers (without residence permits). Open all day Tues-Sun, but likely to close early on Fridays.

Country Market (Le Marché Paysan) A recent addition to Marseille's market scene is the farmers' market at the artists' complex La Friche La Belle de Mai. On sale are organic vegetables and fruit, artisanal bread, goat's cheeses, jams, olive oil, honey and wine.

Farmers' Market, La Friche, MarseilleLa Friche is a ten minute walk from Saint Charles station, or you could go all the way by bus (nos 49, 52 or 33), or by rented bike (there is a bike rack nearby at rue Jobin).

After the market, you could have an apéritif and/or meal at the Friche's très hip Grandes Tables café-bar, or catch a music gig or theatrical performance. Mondays 5-8pm. Website for La Friche La Belle de Mai

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