For some people, travel — anywhere — is, to some extent, about shopping. Some people travel primarily to shop. They shop for clothes, shoes, food and wine, objects d’art … in endless variety.
I’ve had my share of interesting shopping experiences. I’ve stood agog regarding the astoundingly rich foodstuffs, rare viands and otherworldly desserts in Fauchon in Paris and gawked through Galleries Lafeyette and Printemps there, too. I’ve stumbled around the aisles in Harrod’s in London and FAO Schwartz in Manhattan. Bookstores? Yes: everywhere. Bargained for things I didn’t need in the streetfront shops in Hong Kong but also paid the list price (minus the “Ultimate Special VIP” discount they offer everyone) at the jewelry store recommended by the concierge at the hotel. I spent two hours of intense looking, comparing and bargaining during my final hours in Beijing to find a gift to take home from the silk market (I speak no Mandarin, they spoke no English, but every vendor held a pocket calculator, and it displayed a language we both understood: price.)
Hardware stores, neighborhood groceries, bakeries, paper shops (Venice) and wine shops, I have known them all.
It’s not why I travel, but they’re part of the culture and worth a look, especially when one is abroad and the stores provide a glimpse into the lives of the people who live there.
Particularly appealing are the outdoor markets, whether they’re daily fixtures in Florence and Rome or weekly occurrences in smaller towns: Volterra and Urbino in Italy or Ludlow in the UK.
Typically, The Counselor and I visit outdoor markets to shop for food: fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese and seafood.
The Mediterranean city of Nice has a market that’s distinctive not only for its remarkable setting on the Cours Saleya in the Vielle Ville (Old City), but its wares: flowers. The Marché aux Fleurs fills the long street every Tuesday through Saturday and Sunday mornings.
The street is aflame with color and scent; flowers and plants from everywhere in astounding profusion and beauty. Even on a rainy, chilly April day like the one when we saw it, the marketplace holds your attention irresistably, despite the fact that you’re surrounded by picturesque old city buildings crammed full of restaurants and shops (at least until its time to eat).
When you go to Nice, you’re almost certainly going to tour the old part of the city, and it’s a simple matter to wander the streets toward the oceanfront to take in the scene, even though you probably won’t be shopping to fill your suitcase with flowers to take home.
At the eastern end of the Cours Saleya and in the adjacent Place Pierre Gautier, there are also the more typical vendors for an outdoor market: the fruit and vegetable sellers. There, certainly, you’ll find something to buy, because you need those pears, pomegranates or pommes to put in your pack as snacks for a long day of walking.
Keep your eyes open for my favorite displays: marzipan.
Every shape, color and texture of marzipan you ever imagined, and then more. Even if you don’t like marzipan, you’ll simply have to buy some.
Or, should you be in Nice on a Monday when the flower market isn’t operating, fear not. The antique dealers take over.
Old books, photos, chairs, tables, cutlery, dinnerware, chandeliers and lamps, paintings, bicycles, maps and … well, you’ve been to an antique fair or flea market. You know. Here’s a French one you simply don’t want to pass up, even though you may not need that set of early 19th-Century lace antimacassars that catch your eye.
On our most recent trip, we were, indeed there on a Monday, and in summer, so we had a glorious day on the Côte d’Azur poking through treasures galore.
Nice is a large, busy city, but the pace slows once you cross the Boulevard Jean Jaurès into the Vielle Ville (map: blue square).
If you’re there in summer, expect crowds, because you won’t be the only visitor exploring the narrow streets of the old quarter. The Cours Saleya (red rectangle) runs east-west along the southern edge of the old city.
To help orient you, I’ve marked the Hotel le Negresco with a green oval (far left) and the Galeries Lafayette at the top of the Place Masséna with a green circle.
There’s much more to see, of course, but even if you stroll through, the flower market is a vision that will brighten any day.
What’s your favorite marketplace you’ve visited? Leave a comment.
For more articles about Nice, Villefranche and Vence, please see Travel: France in “Categories”in the right column.
© Brad Nixon 2017. One photo © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.