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L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue‘s Sunday market is one of Provence‘s largest and most impressive outdoor flea markets. Walking along the picturesque Sorgue River, you can buy everything from food to antiques, vintage clothing, fine art, fresh cut flowers and best of all; fresh fruits, veggies, cheese and more delicacies from the region’s best farmers. You can truly find some of the best handmade goods the country has to offer here so it should be at the top of your list of places to see while in Provence. There are over 260 vendors here in the market. But with this guide, we’ll be sure to tell you what you need to buy, what to skip and how to make the most of a perfect day out on the L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.
L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is known as the “Venice of Provence” to many locals. Moss-covered water wheels sparkly in the morning sunlight. These water wheels are an important historical icon of the city. Back in the 12th century, the rivers were primarily used for fishing, which was the biggest industry in the city. The first houses built in the area were built on stilts, just like in Venice! Even today, the village still honours their fishing heritage by hosting a festival on the third Sunday in July. Its hosted by the brotherhood of Pescaire Lilien (fishers of the Isle) and features demonstrations of the ancient fishing techniques. If you happen to be in the area around the time of the festival, don’t miss checking it out!
After the fishing industry disappeared and moved closer to the coasts, the city turned to the textile industry. They used the river to power the water wheels used for silk, tanneries, and paper mills. There are still 14 remaining water wheels around the city, and it’s really fun trying to find them all as you explore. I’ve added them all to the map in this guide if you want to easily find them all.
Today the industry is primarily powered by antiques and sightseers perusing the ancient streets. Gorgeous, rustic french houses are still on show on either side of the river. They seem to beam with excitement, green trees hang over sidewalks and even the alleyways smell of freshly baked bread permeating the air.
Table Of Contents
- About L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
- Water Wheels
- Where is the Market?
- When is the Market?
- Getting There
- How Long to Spend at the Market?
- Bring Cash
- French Tips
- Self-Guided Walking Tour of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
- Café de France
- Place de la Liberté
- Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges de L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
- Rue Rose Goudard
- Quai Jean Jaurès
- Avenue des Quatre Otages – Antique Market
- What to Avoid in the Market?
- Picnic in Public Garden
Where is the Market?
The Market in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue is located along the Sorgue river in Southeastern France. Just west of Avignon in the Vaucluse région of Provence. The gorgeous market is located around the Place de la Liberté, Place Ferdinand Buisson, Rue Carnot, Rue de la République and on Place Rose Goudard.
When is the Market?
The Market is held every Thursday and Sunday, but the Sunday market is far superior. On Sundays, you can find what the french call a “brocante” also called a flea market! Some market stalls open as early as 6 am, but most stalls will open around 8 am and close at 2 pm. The cheapest prices of the day can be found just before closing as sellers often try to get rid of their produce before heading home.
If you are planning on taking the train, the station is a short walk from the market. I prefer taking the train if I’m staying nearby as this means you never need to worry about finding a parking spot! You’ll want to find trains on their way towards L’Isle-sur-Sorgue—Fontaine-de-Vaucluse. Luckily Avignon has a direct train to L’Isle-sur-Sorgue, which only takes 36 minutes. From other cities like Arles, Marseille, Aix-en-Provence and Orange, the trip is just over an hour with a straightforward change. Tickets cost anywhere between 10€ and 30€ depending on your starting location.
L’Isle-sur-Sorgue is located at the intersection of the D31, D901 and D938 highways. This makes it an easy drive from a myriad of surrounding towns. The only downside of driving is finding a parking spot but that can easily be remedied by arriving early.
Parking is a premium, so I would advise arriving before 8 am. This ensures a nice spot close to the market and less stress! Watching the vendors magically unfurl their goods into a full-on shop front is one of the best parts of the day. If you arrive late, there often aren’t parking spots available. So you’ll find yourself driving around and around, waiting for someone to leave. If all the vendors are still setting up, head out to find an open coffee shop. I highly recommend Café de France! After nabbing some caffeine and a snack, find a quiet spot on the grass along the river. Here you can enjoy a bit of quiet before the hustle and bustle of the busy market erupt.
Remember: be sure not to leave any valuables in your car. Since this is a popular tourist spot, there is always a chance that someone could break in. Best to make sure not to give them any reason to do so and keep the interior empty.
How Long to Spend at the Market?
I would advise at least three hours to spend in the market. The antique area alone is bound to cast a spell on you. You’ll find yourself just immersed in a treasure hunt! And making your way around the food market and creating your own DIY picnic is the best way to enjoy the goodies you find along the way. Rushing in and out doesn’t allow you to truly appreciate the amazing things on sale in this charming market.
If you’re waiting for the market to open, be sure to stop by an ATM. Or bring lots of cash with you. The vendors will almost always only accept cash, and it’s good to get enough to last you throughout the day. Since it gets so busy here, it is common for ATMs to run out of money by midday. Keep that in mind.
One key thing to making good with the vendors is knowing a bit of French. Although the vendors interact with tourists often, it’s nice to show them a bit of respect. Even a simple please (s’il vous plaît) or thank you (merci) goes a long way. And a warm greeting of “bonjour” is required to be considered polite. If you want to ask the price of something, simply say “c’est combine?” And remember if you don’t want to interrupt or be extra considerate, you can always say “excuse moi” before trying to interject. All these little sayings will go a long way to indear yourself to the vendor for even trying!
Self-Guided Walking Tour of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Café de France
To start your morning in Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, head to grab a coffee at the somewhat famous Café de France. This Art Nouveau coffee shop is the oldest cafe on the Isle, and you can feel the historic atmosphere just walking inside. The counter is stained with water rings from orders past and the charming posters on the walls reflect the ages gone by. Large tarnished mirrors between dark wooden panelling make this place a quintessential brasserie.
If there’s space on the outdoor terrace grab a table. The people-watching opportunities here are amazing, as you can catch vendors on their way to the market, arms full of their goods ready to be set up! Although the food is slightly overpriced, this is often the price you pay to dine inside history!
Place de la Liberté
Place de la Liberté is one of my favourite little streets in L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. So even if you don’t find you need a coffee, I still implore you to walk along this street to enjoy the incredible street signage and old French shops. Colourful window shutters line the second floors, while wrought-iron awnings protect the gorgeous painted exteriors along the street!
Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges de L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue
Walking along Place de la Liberté you have a view, albeit from the side, of the great Église Notre-Dame-des-Anges de L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. While the exterior is a bit austere, you absolutely must head inside! Even if just for a moment, you need a quick peek at the incredible architecture found within.
The original Romanesque church was built in 1222. But the shock and awe of this building lie in the baroque-era decorations that adorn almost every surface inside. Gilded altarpieces, detailed sculptures, ribbed vaulting, rich paintings and fantastical frescos awe and inspire the visitors. As you enter, your eyes will be darting all over the room, trying to take it all in! Although we came here for the market, this church is NOT to be missed, even if just for a moment.
The primary colour scheme within the church is blue and gold, a popular pairing for baroque Provençale.
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Rue Rose Goudard
Head back outside and along the Place de L’Eglise. Often there are a few stands just starting to open up along this street. More appear as you continue south-east along Rue Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But the largest selection of fresh food can mostly be found collected along the Rue Rose Goudard. Seasonal fruit and vegetables, charcuterie and olives pour out of charming wood and thicker baskets under brightly coloured awnings. Vegetables almost beam with brilliance they are so vibrantly coloured. You can’t help but want to try a piece of them all!
What to Buy in the Market?
So what to buy? One of the best things to do is gather items for a picnic luncheon. Fresh sausage is one of the best items in the market. Packed with incredible spices and made from some of the best meats in France, these cured delights are a must-grab!
The produce is some of the best in the country here in Provence. Melons, peppers, strawberries and cherries are as bright as they are juicy. Vendors often have samples out in front, so you can try whichever one catches your fancy.
If you’re looking for something to bring home, there is an assortment of olive oils in beautifully designed bottles. But if you just want something to nosh on today, olives are another great Provencal treat! Plus, they are a great addition to the rest of your picnic goods. You can combine all different varieties, perfect for sampling a bit of everything.
The French are KNOWN for their cheese and bread! There perhaps isn’t a more iconic image of French dining. The cheese on offer here in the market is just as good as any luxury grocery store and often twice as fresh.
If you’re staying for a few days, grab a bouquet of flowers to brighten up your hotel room. The smell and colours are unforgettable!
Quai Jean Jaurès
As you continue wandering towards the Sorgue River, you’ll exit onto Quai Jean Jaurès. This street is where the market continues but where it transforms into more souvenir-type items. Everything from wooden kitchen utensils, textiles, handicrafts and clothes can be found here.
Dried lavender is sold in bags and bouquets all over the market. This is the perfect souvenir to bring home. In a sachet, it keeps the clothing in your drawers smelling fresh and of those memories from Provence. Grabbing a bundle of dried lavender is great to display but can be hard to transport home in one piece!
Soap is another thing you’ll see hundreds of shops selling. All in different designs and prices. Check to see if it was made in Provence before buying! You want the real thing. There will often be a discount if you buy in bulk, making great gifts for anyone back at home.
Avenue des Quatre Otages – Antique Market
The pop-up antique brocante vendors are located on the south side of the river, along the Avenue des Quatre Otages. A tip for shopping here is that haggling isn’t common and neither is getting a good deal. But the selection is great, and I found plenty at prices I thought were more than fair for the quality. The prices are often very well labelled, so even if you don’t speak French you should be able to shop without having to ask to vendors for pricing. Remember, if you see something you love, buy it right away. As it might be gone before you have the chance to return.
Best Antique Finds?!
Although things like furniture might not be able to fit into your suitcase, there are lots of smaller items which are worth considering. Many different vendors sell beautiful prints taken from old manuscripts and books. Once framed, make for a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
Textiles are another great thing to keep an eye out for. Napkins, tablecloths, purses and blankets are often beautifully embroidered. They are sometimes even monogrammed – so keep an eye out, and you might even find one that matches your name!
What to Avoid in the Market?
Now, what are the best items to buy in the market? And what to avoid? The stuff to avoid is quite obvious – anything that isn’t decidedly French. Keep an eye out for “made in China” stickers on clothing, ceramics and even some textiles. I was surprised how many pieces of pottery I came across that were simply painted and not provencal in the slightest bit.
Picnic in Public Garden
After grabbing all you can carry, head back down the river and find a nice spot under the trees in the Public Garden. The park features tons of grassy patches to lay out with your delicious selection of the day. On Sundays, musicians stroll around, playing to entertain the visitors.
Along the river’s edge, painters are set up with their oils and pencils. Sketching the iconic scenery. Watching them work while enjoying your French meal makes for a darling little afternoon treat. Listening to the water wheels peddling in the distance.
This brings us to the end of the self-guided tour of L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. If you want to extend your stay, consider simply wandering through the backstreets. While the market might have the biggest draw, the charming little houses in some unassuming back alleys contain some of the most iconic French sights you’ll see in Provence. Bright window shutters contrast the aging patina of the beige buildings. Cheerful street cats prowl around every corner. Secrets to be found wherever you go!