When you imagine a bustling Provençal street market, you probably picture stalls overflowing with fresh walnuts and olives, men in aprons slicing hunks from giant wheels of cheese, brightly colored produce spilling out of bins and baguettes leaving crusty crumbs on tables. Which means you are probably imagining a snapshot from the markets at L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Often called the antiques capital of France and sometimes the Venice of France, L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue has the largest marchés aux puces (flea market) outside of Paris, and many antique and bric-a-brac set up shop all year ’round.
This compact, medieval Provençal town is built on the islands of five branches of the Sorgue River, whose source is a spring at Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. This lovely town is worth visiting on its own for its quiet, Venice-like feel with bridges, canals and lots of water, but it is also home to a sprawling market that takes place on Sundays. Here you will find mostly local produce, meats and cheese, though there are vendors selling typical Provence-inspired wares—tablecloths, antiques, soaps, etc. As you crisscross the Sorgue River and shop in market stalls alongside giant moss-covered water wheels, you’ll be glad you stopped in this little town.
>>Read more about Shopping in France’s Markets
Events in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
- Provençal market on Sunday and Thursday
- Bric-a-brac every Sunday
- Book market the last Sunday of each month
- Antique fairs at Easter and on August 15
- Festival of the Sorgue in July (music, theatre, exhibitions)
- Parade on the canals at the end of July
- Floating market the first Sunday in August
Market Days in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
During the summer months, when this region of Provence is bursting at the seams with tourists coming from around the world, the market is open daily. During the rest of the year the market takes place on Thursday and Sunday mornings.
The daily summer market and bi-weekly fall/winter/spring market is where you will find lots of great local produce, including melons from nearby Cavaillon, barrels of olives, freshly baked breads, huge wheels of cheese, fresh and cured meats, and all the makings for a fabulous home-cooked meal or great picnic.
The best tip for markets, especially one as huge and gorgeous as this one, is to walk through the entire market before making your purchases. That way, you can get a good feel for prices as well as avoid missing some hidden culinary treasure.
If you are a flea market fan or a brocante lover (the more widely-used word for flea markets in Provençal France), there is a large brocante in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue on Saturdays and Sundays by the train station.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is the chosen home of many antique and second-hand goods sellers. Each weekend the market counts about 300 stalls, and more than 500 during the antique fairs at Easter and August 15, attracting an international clientele.
During these market days you will find a lot less in the food department. These are the markets where you’ll find tables full of antiques, vendors selling a mixture of junk and treasures, shoes, table cloths and almost everything else you could imagine.
The incredible thing about these markets, though, is that the whole idea of “shabby chic” hasn’t really come to France. They don’t have a 24-hour station like HGTV. So, if you keep your eyes open, you can find the perfect little thing to bring back with you. Then you’ll be the one to say, “Oh, I got this at a flea market in Provence, isn’t it lovely?”
Getting to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
By Train and/or Bus
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is located just 25 km from Avignon, between Cavaillon and Carpentras, and is just 70 km from Marseille.
There is no direct train into the city center of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. However, those who want to come shop the markets here can easily get to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue without a car. There are a few different bus lines that connect L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with nearby Avignon (which is also on a TGV line for those wishing to travel by high-speed train).
>>Read more about Train Travel in France
Line 18 runs between Avignon and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (via Morières, Chateauneuf-de-Gadagne, Le Thor). Line 46 runs from Cavaillon to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue with stops in Carpenteras, Pernes-les-Fontaines, Loriol-du-Comtat, Sarrian and Jonquieres.
From Avignon, take the N7 south toward Cavaillon and then the D938 toward L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
Photos: Isle sur la Sorgue , cheese photo