One of the most enjoyable aspects of a trip to Europe for many
travelers is a visit to local markets. Hunting down the best markets in
a big city, or discovering a pocket market in a tucked-away
neighborhood can lead to a treasured souvenir, or maybe just a picnic
lunch. Either way it’s bound to leave visitors with vivid memories of
the sights, smells, sounds and tastes of the local culture.
1 – Radishes in Paris
The Marché Saint Eustache Les Halles in Paris feels like a real local’s market, perfect for lèche-vitrine (window shopping) on a rainy spring day. If you can’t fit much in your carry-on luggage pick up a 500g package of Guerande sea salt for a fraction of the cost at specialty stores back home. Near this market is the legendary E Dehillerin, the foodie’s nirvana, so if you happen to be in an apartment for a week you can shop for dinner and the glorious copper to fry it up in.
2 – Fish in Santorini
You have to wander the shaded lanes of Santorini soon after dawn in the summer to beat the maddening crowds and broiling sun. But it’s worth rising early to have the streets to yourself before the volcanic island turns into a pressure cooker. And if you’re lucky you’ll encounter an open air fish market where local burly men sell fish that were gliding through the Mediterranean Sea an hour ago.
3 – Lavender and escargot in Provence
The Sunday market in Isle Sur La Sorgue, Provence, draws throngs to a village bursting at the seams with array of food, antiques, fabrics, seafood, cheese and more. Only in France would a traveler need not be surprised to encounter heady bouquets of lavender alongside a bag of squirming escarot.
4 – Bread in Isle Sur La Sorgue
When dreaming of France, crunchy ethereal bread is one of the first thoughts that spring to mind. Make a beeline through the crowds at the Sunday market in Isle Sur La Sorgue to nab a loaf (or three) of the artisinal bread and find a shady spot along a tranquil canal for a picnic.
5 – Lamps in Istanbul
The greatest market in all of Byzantium, the glittering Grand Bazaar in Istanbul spills its wares into musty smoke-filled miles of cobblestoned streets and alleys. Stall after treasure-heaped stall beckon with lokum (Turkish delight) hookahs, painted bowls, and brilliantly colored slippers. But you won’t be able to resist the jewel-toned hanging glass lamps casting a thousand and one shards of crimson, azure and saffron-hued light.
6 – Artichokes in Florence
The only thing better for a foodie than touring Mercanto Centrale in Florence is touring it with a local cooking instructor (Judy Francini) who knows everyone by their first name. Tasting 50 year old balsamic vinegar, beautiful sheeps’ cheeses and sipping a perfect cappucini in the heart of Tuscany is a nothing short of heaven. Hand selected artichokes from Leo Piazzesi’s stand will complete the experience.
7 – Paprika in Budapest
Paprika is a standard condiment on tables across Hungary, so visitors to Budapest’s soaring Central Market Hall will be pleased to find no shortage of the peppers for sale. Come hungry so you can dig into a cheap and amazing local specialty called lángos — a deep fried potato bread slathered in sour cream.
8 – Caviar in St. Petersburg
If you know only one Russian phrase when you visit the covered market Kuznechny in St Petersburg, make it Nyet, spasibo (No, thank you) unless you have an unlimited capacity for tasty samples pressed on visitors by the farmers and producers at the stalls. Siberian honey and fresh berries (though sadly no caviar) are on generous offer to every passerby.
9 – Flowers in Helsinki
Wandering through Helsinki’s waterfront Market Square you’ll find more than the abundant vegetables that everyone here must consume in mass quantities to lend them such a strapping healthy vitality. A profusion of flowers are on hand as well, a colorful reminder of the importance of beauty in the lives of residents here — and in seemingly all parts of Europe.
10 – Black and white Venice
Venice possesses such an otherworldly beauty that it’s easy to forget real live humans live here, have homes and jobs and go grocery shopping. Catching a glimpse of a Venetian going about a task that’s just a daily chore for them can be a window into a way of life we travelers dream of. You can imagine for just a moment what your life would be like if part of your day included choosing your dinner’s vegetables from the Rialto Market.
All photos by Dana McMahan
About the author:
In the last few years Dana has eaten her way from Inverness to Istanbul, along the way finding herself in such improbable but brilliant circumstances as making fresh ravioli with chef Joseph Sponzo in a cooking class in Florence and rising at 4 a.m. to tour Rungis Market (the largest fresh food market in the world) in Paris. She’s stumbled into Alba, Italy, during white truffle season, and finagled an invitation to a three-hour outdoor lunch at the home of newfound friends in Provence. Recent adventures include riding the Blue Ridge Parkway on the back of her dad’s motorcycle and exploring snowy Quebec City. Dana is a freelance food and travel writer who lives in Louisville, Ky., with her husband and two dogs, Alba and Truffle. Follow her travels at http://travelingmcmahans.wordpress.com/.