he Place des Lices in the heart of St.-Tropez is a delightful place to hold an open-air market. When the Place is clear, you can see how its 100-year old plane trees divide it into seven long arcades and create an overlapping canopy of dappled sunlight. A view down a plane-tree lined arcade today is almost exactly the same as it was when Charles Camoin captured it in 1936.

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Place des Lices by Charles Camoin - 1936

Place des Lices by Ditty Deamer - 1996

On non-market days, boule players start gathering into small groups early in the morning and play until the wee hours of the next morning. But every Tuesday and Saturday from 8:00 am- 1:00 pm, they make way for an open-air market ("marché") that is set up on the Place.

As the vendors' trailers pull into the Place, the marché takes its shape around the trunks of the 60-foot high plane trees that become the backbone of the marché's shopping arcades. With overlapping canopies and umbrellas that the vendors set up around their trailers, you'll only catch an occasional glimpse of a tree trunk.

But you can still feel the stately presence of the plane trees as they shed dappled light on the bustle of shopping activity below.

The present-day Place des Lices began to take shape in the early 1800's when 12 plane trees were planted, although the area probably dates back to the 9th or 10th century when it must have been used as a jousting ground ("Lices" means jousting ground). The Saint-Tropez Tourist Bureau has a website at http://www.nova.fr/saint-tropez where you can find more information about the history of St-Tropez.

The St.-Tropez marché is not a "farmers' market" in the true sense that the vendors grow the produce they sell there. Most vendors buy fruits and vegetables from major regional wholesale distribution centers, such as Draguignan about 50 km north from St. Tropez. While the quality of the produce is all excellent, for the most part you don't get the sense of "vente en direct" -- farmers selling home-grown produce.

However, scattered throughout the marché you can find a few local farmers as well as vendors of prepared items such as olives, breads, and tapenade who do make the products that they sell. These vendors are highlighted in this website.

Fortunately, this marché is still a surprisingly active and viable food market where you can buy delectable provençal specialties. Full-time St.- Tropez residents actively patronize the marché, but in the summer months they know to get their shopping done before 9:00 am when crowds of tourists begin to descend on it.

One doesn't shop at the St. Tropez marché to find bargains. Everything is quite expensive. One goes to enjoy the pleasure of sampling the best that the communities surrounding St.-Tropez produce and to shop amidst a prevailing scent of lavender that permeates throughout the marché.

It would be misleading not to mention a major flaw of this marché. Vendors selling tourist kitsch have slowly begun to outnumber food vendors, detracting somewhat from the marché's charm. Threading your way through the vendors selling Hard Rock Cafe St.-Tropez T-shirts (especially when there is no Hard Rock Cafe in St.-Tropez!) to find the best food vendors, takes patience and fortitude.
Very few vendors have signs identifying them by name. So you'll have to spend some time to get a feel for who they are and where to find them. But once you become familiar with the layout of the marché, you'll be able to find the vendors in roughly the same place every week.

All the vendors are very friendly and if you speak just a little French, the warmth and exuberance of the marché will quickly embrace you.

Take time to savor and enjoy the ambiance!


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