To market, to market on the Basque coast

October 14th, 2012

Enter the St.Jean-de-Luz Market Hall: aromas galore

Bilingual markets are always fun….following signage in both French and Basque, the puzzling, ancient language, adds spice to shopping in the St.Jean de Luz market hall.  And if it’s spice that you are after, this is the place to be.  Amid the aromas of fresh peppers, firm mountain cheeses and hams on a recent Tuesday, the town market hall was bustling.  I can’t imagine trying to shop on Friday when it is even busier.

Tuesday & Friday, the market is in full swing

At one end of the hall, the fish market is clearly the popular spot to buy fresh fish – silvery and pink – and specialties such as little calmary (chipirons) from Atlantic waters.

Chipirons – small cuttlefish, to be sauced or sizzled in a fry-up

Just out of the water, ready to appear on your plate for lunch

Loads of the season’s carrots, onions, cabbages, strings of red peppers and so many cheeses it makes the vagabond’s head spin!

By  mid-morning, a quick coffee stop is routine for the vendors in between surges of customers.

Stop for a coffee or a snack inside the hall, as do the vendors…Or wander back outside to survey the market scene from a sidewalk café…and book a table for lunch at the bistrot:  Kako.

If the afternoon skies clear, consider a trip to La Rhune, the Basque mystical mountain, where a small-gauge railway runs to the top.  Panoramas of the Pyrénées to the east, the Atlantic coast looking west and north, are worth the trip in the little open-sided train.

To the east, a hazy stretch of Pyrénées running south to Spain

Buses run to the village at the base of the Rhune on a rather sketchy schedule across from the train station, where you can also catch buses to Hendaye and other coastal towns.

But the fascinating town of Ciboure is a short walk  across the bridge, so why not take in the bay from a bistrot terrace for supper?

Ciboure’s historic church rises above the busy harbor – both fishermen and pleasure craft dock here

So, when the sirens of the sea air call – the vagabond heads for St.Jean-de-Luz, two hours south of Bordeaux by train, to take in both mountain and seaside ambiance. Thinking – fast forward – when lamb, spring greens and sardines will be on menus, I’m already dreaming of exploring these harbor scenes  when spring breezes blow in from the sea.

Apple Fair alert:  Saturday, 21 October, the Hendaye Fête de la Pomme will draw Basque producers of fruit, cider, and all sorts of regional artisanal products, so if you will be on the Basque coast…put it on your list, and get there early!  This is an especially interesting fair for serious cider enthusiasts – some of the best ciders in France will be available.

Coming up:  Paris market notes, peppers, and more fish!

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