Each summer, from mid-June to mid-September, La Rochelle unveils its creative side with a series of artisan markets stretching along the waterfront. The Artisan’s Craft Market (Le Marché de la Création Artisanale) takes place daily on Place de la Chaîne, Cours des Dames and Quai des Sardiniers in the Vieux Port and with stalls only available to registered local artisans, the standard of goods is always high. Finely painted ceramics, carved wooden ornaments and hand-blown glass make for some distinctive souvenirs and there are also a number of local artists, jewellery makers and clothing designers selling their creations. Visit during the evening hours, when live musicians, street entertainers and artists add to the atmosphere and you can browse the stalls before adjourning to one of the harbour-side bars or restaurants.
If you’re looking for bargains, the Marché aux Puces (Flea Market) is the place to go in La Rochelle, with dozens of stalls taking over Place de la Motte Rouge twice a week. There are prize antiques and vintage treasures to be found for those with time to browse and a huge selection of jewellery, art, furniture, ornaments and antiques on sale. Put your haggling skills to the test if you want to secure a good price.
The highlight of La Rochelle’s festive season is its Christmas Market (Marché de Noël) and stalls are split between Place du Commandant de la Motte Rouge, Place de Verdun and Cours des Dames. Stalls offer a wide selection of tree ornaments, gifts and handicrafts, with many of the region’s top artisans taking over the traditional wooden chalets, while the scent of mulled wine and roasting chestnuts fills the air. Get in the festive spirit with a horse-drawn carriage ride along the waterfront (leaving from outside the Church of Saint-Sauveur), admire the city’s glittering illuminations and fill up on delicious street food, including fresh oysters, crêpes, gaufres (waffles) and gingerbread cookies.
During the summer season, the small Minimes Market (Marché des Minimes) is one of the city’s liveliest markets, held in the Minimes quarter each Friday morning. Stalls are scattered along the waterfront, affording magnificent views across the marina, and sell fruits and vegetables, souvenirs and local products including regional cheeses, saucisson filled with fruits and nuts, homemade aperitifs and freshly baked pastries that you can tuck into as you stroll along the waterfront. The beach is just a short stroll away, so pick up some picnic goods and follow the locals down to the shore.
La Rochelle’s Friday market takes place on Place de Verdun and runs throughout the afternoon. A popular — and sometimes cheaper — alternative to the Central Market (Marché Central), the emphasis is on edibles and there is plenty of choice for fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses. Top buys include local honey, sweet brioche loaves, homemade yogurt and cognac, while the huge selection of seafood makes for some impressive photos, even if you’re not buying. At the north-eastern corner of the square, the Belle Époque Café de la Paix is a popular pre- or post-shopping destination and the perfect spot for your mid-afternoon coffee and goûter (snack).
Home to La Rochelle’s cruise port and the gateway to the Île de Ré, La Pallice is one of the city’s most varied neighbourhoods and its weekly market follows suit. An eclectic array of stalls stretch throughout the quarter each Sunday morning, with a large section of the market devoted to clothing, shoes and accessories as well as an equally well-stocked fresh produce market. The market’s unique selling point is its variety of international foods and among the usual fruits, vegetables and meats, you’ll find Chinese, Spanish, Indian and Caribbean stalls selling traditional sauces, exotic spices and delicious street food.