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 charcuterie, meat, fruit and vegetables, 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.

One store, pictured below, sells nothing but different types of potato (plus the odd onion or garlic head)! Don't miss our favourite cheese stall, La Maison du Fromage - it has a fantastic selection and very helpful staff.

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.

les halles avignon potato stallTo 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 (520 places).

Unlike its namesake in Paris, which became a gigantic underground shopping mall, Les Halles in Avignon has remained true to its origins as a food market. Incidentally the 'h' is aspirated and the 's' is silent, so that it's pronounced - roughly - "Lay Alle".

Vegetable facade, Les Halles, AvignonMatters were improved still further when, in 2006, the city cloaked the stark 1970s façade with a huge and dramatic plant wall (pictured).

It was designed by the botanist Patrick Blanc, who also created a similar installation at the Musée des Arts Premiers in Paris.

Of 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.

Insider tip for Les Halles in AvignonTry to to plan your visit for 11.00am on a Saturday. 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.

You'll find them in one of the southern corners of Les Halles which has been specially set up for the purpose (note that la petite cuisine does not run in August).

A leaflet is distributed with the recipe, which uses ingredients sourced at the market this morning, giving details of which stalls sell them.

Best of all, you get to eat the delicious results of the chef's efforts, along with a wine tasting hosted by a local vintner. 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 bagnolOn one occasion 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.

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.

markets of provence smallWhere: 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

Finally, Markets of Provence is a comprehensive new guide to exactly that by the American travel writer Marjorie R Williams.

It's a survey of the best markets all across the region with interviews, background featurettes and useful tips and you can buy a copy on Amazon here. Click here to read our full review.


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