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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

the chic shopper does provence

Along with fabulous food, inviting sunshine, and chilled rosé wine, Provence holds many treasures for the shopper. Before your trip, check the website of the ville you are visiting or stop by the tourist office when you arrive to get the weekly marché schedule—markets in Provence are particularly inviting and are a bargain hunter’s delight.

At the markets, you’ll find great deals on everything from handmade soaps [including the famous savon de Marseille] and lavender sachets & bouquets to gorgeous Provencal fabrics by the meter and made up into table clothes, baguette holders, pillows and more. The south of France is also the place to stock up on Provencal pottery with its bright colors and patterns and the santon figurines that are used in Christmas nativity scenes.

Don’t forget to leave some room in your carryon for the delicieux artisanal jams, pestos [called “pistou” in these parts], and tapenades—all the yummy flavors of the south, packaged for you to enjoy later chez vous or at an impromptu picnic. Large bags of herbes de provence, a blend of several different herbs used in Provencal cuisine, also make great gifts.

Other regional foodie specialties include calissons from Aix-en-Provence [diamond-shaped sweets made from preserved melon and almonds], Avignon’s papalines [oregano liqueur chocolates], and Carpentras’ berlingots [hard candies in various flavors]. Olive oil is also a big production in this region, along with wine [especially rosé], and liquorish-flavored Pastis.

To carry it all home? Buy a traditional market basket with leather handles or some of the newer versions in fun, bright colors. And if you aren’t over your weight limits yet, snatch up a set of Petanque [or “boules”] to play in your yard when you get back, to remind you of the laid back lifestyle in this part of France.

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