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The five best French food markets

Andy Stevens / 22 September 2016

In a country of such incredible culinary competition in each of its regions, here are five of the best food markets in France for you to enjoy on your next trip.

Fish for sale at open market at Rue Mouffetard in Paris, France.
Fish for sale at open market at Rue Mouffetard in Paris, France.

Markets selling the finest regional produce in towns, cities and villages all over France are as wedded to the beating heart French culture as gastronomic excellence itself. 

Here are five of the best food markets in France for you to enjoy on your next trip:

Marché Mouffetard, Paris

As befits the French capital, Paris is blessed with food markets of peerless quality on certain week and weekend days, especially in some of the streets of its smarter arrondissements. 

These include Marche Bastille on Rue Richard Lenoir (think superlative cheeses and you won't go far wrong), the swanky Marche Monge on Place Monge (noted for bread, of the baked variety), Marche Raspail on the Left Bank of the River Seine (go on a Sunday, likewise for the baked goods) and Marche Montorgueil in Les Halles (go for the cafe culture and a delve into reputedly Paris' oldest shop for pastries, Patisserie Stohrer, which dates back to 1730, no less).

But for charm and the genuine thrill of a street market, on a street that's clearly evolved through time for that exact purpose, Marche Mouffetard in the 5th arrondissement is hard to beat. 

Here you will find all of France's major food groups covered with Parisian panache, including patés, charcuterie, cheese, pastries and fish, on a stretch of street peppered with stylish boutiques.

Marché Couvert Victor Hugo, Toulouse

It's a common source of rivalry among French cities to joust with each other for culinary supremacy in the planet's premier live-to-eat nation. 

Toulouse isn't shy about putting itself in the frame as a Gallic foodie grand fromage, you won't be surprised to hear. It's got its famous sausages and the cassoulet, after all, to make the rest of France sit up and salivate. 

And this singular southern city which marries the traditional with modern industry and innovation also has Marché Victor Hugo as a source of gastronomic excellence.

Established in 1896, Victor Hugo is Toulouse's largest covered market and includes a smattering of restaurants upstairs, where you can partake in the region's finest produce accompanied by a leisurely glass or two. 

Unsurprisingly, Toulouse's famed cassoulet is a source of local devotion among the market's 100 stalls. There are jar upon jar of beans and duck confit for sale, so you can reconstruct this elaborate but deeply rewarding regional great at home.

A good time to visit is mid-morning - or 'pre-lunch' as we guarantee you'll be thinking of it before long. 

You won't fail to be wowed at Victor Hugo market by patisseries, cheeses, charcuterie, fish, bread, butchers' shops and fruit and vegetable stalls of the finest quality. 

Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, Lyon

With much justification, Lyon customarily stakes its claim in an admittedly cluttered field as the winner when it comes to French gastro delights. 

The dazzling produce set out for your indulgence at Les Halles de Lyon market trumpets this sense of pride in the city's noted cuisine with a confident swagger.

You will find yourself soaking up the sights, smells and sounds as you meander among no fewer than five dozen stalls selling superlative regional foodstuffs in what is the largest covered market in France - and named after Lyon's most celebrated chef, no less. 

Although a must-see and a place to savour, make sure you choose your visiting times wisely. Early morning on a Thursday or Saturday are best, and don't get caught out on a Monday when much of the market is closed. 

You will be spoilt for choice at Les Halles de Lyon, but if you have to choose one thing among the bounteous produce on offer, then seek out the cheese stands and treat yourself to a piece of the supremely gooey St Marcellin cheese, something of a star among stars in this celebrated home of Lyonnaise gastronomy.

Marché des Capucins, Bordeaux

Marché des Capucins is the largest market in the capital of the great wine-growing region, and affectionately dubbed 'The Belly of Bordeaux'.

You will be hard pressed to resist a zingy plate of fresh oysters and a spot of wine tasting when you stop to watch the world go by in this Bordelaise food heaven. 

A daily shopping institution for the city's locals, Bordeaux's restaurateurs and chefs also shop at Marché des Capucins, so you can't offer a more resounding accolade than that.

Unlike many older food markets where charming old architecture takes equal billing with the food on sale, don't expect great shakes from the Capucins market building itself. 

But this is more than made up for by this must-see market's excellent fishmongers, wine sellers, butchers, florists, bakers, fruiterers, grocers and more, in this lively and friendly destination. 

Venturing away from the main market, we also recommend a leisurely stroll along the city quays on a Sunday morning, where you will find another delightful and slightly more sedate weekly market boasting some 60 stalls.

Marché des Halles de Menton, Menton

The very last coastal town in France before you cross into Italy, you'll probably know Menton as a genteel, understated seaside treasure, which draws culinary influence from both France and Italy as well it might, being absolutely slapbang on the border. 

Busy enough although not swamped in the summer months, happily Menton retains much of its ineffable, old-world riviera touch. 

This Mentonnais way is reflected in its charmingly restored yet pleasingly old-fashioned covered food market, just off the seafront near the town's pleasant pedestrianised heart.

Also known as the Marché Couvert, Menton market has been plying its sumptuous Mediterranean produce since 1898. 

As the locals know - and as the locals do, every day - you can get everything you need for a snack, lunch or evening meal from its 40 stalls, selling the freshest fish, meat, poultry, fruit and vegetables, in a small market hall atmosphere that is as authentic as Menton itself.

Discover France and it's amazing cuisine on a holiday with Saga. 

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.